4dogsOver the years, many people have asked for help on how to pick the perfect dog. I’m always happy to assist when I can. I usually start by asking: How many dogs old are you?

Huh? you say.  Are you asking me how old in dog years I am?

No, it’s not a sneaky way to calculate your age. Rather, it’s a very important question in a list of questions that need to be asked to ascertain what kind of dog would make a good match for you.

Let me first explain what I mean by that question, which was first posed by renowned dog trainer, Suzanne Clothier:  How many dogs have you lived with over your life?

Why does that matter?

Because it’s a pretty good indicator of how much dog experience you’ve had, and therefore how much dog you can probably handle.

For instance, I’ve lived with 21 dogs so far. That makes me 21 dogs old. One could safely assume from that number that I’d have a fair amount of dog experience, as opposed to someone who is only two dogs old. And they’d be right. And that I’d have less experience than someone who is 200 dogs old. And they’d be right again. Perhaps.

Huh? you say again.

While knowing how many dogs old you are can tell a lot, it won’t give the full picture. In order to get that, we’d have to ask how many breeds old you are.

You see, as much as it matters how many dogs you’ve lived with, it also matters what kinds of breeds they’ve been. Because not all breeds are created equal, and not all dogs within the same breed are created equal. What that means is that while each breed type has overarching characteristics and personality traits, within each breed there can be significant variations.

For example, I’ve lived with dogs from each breed category (herding, sporting, working, toy, etc.) with the exception of the non-sporting group. I’ve also lived with a few different breeds from within each of those categories. For instance, from the herding breeds, I’ve shared my life with 4 Shelties, 2 German Shepherds, 1 Border Collie, 1 English Shepherd, and 2 Australian Shepherds.

So even though I’m 21 dogs old, I’m also 14 breeds old. If the person who’s 200 dogs old is only one breed old (say a breeder of Labs), then I would be considered older in dog experience because I’m more familiar with a larger number of breeds.

While people who are several dogs old aren’t likely to be looking for help selecting their next dog, it’s still very telling to find out how many breeds old they are, and whether they’ll be staying within those breeds.

That’s because, in truth, people are most likely to get into trouble when they switch breeds. Specifically, when they switch from a relatively easy breed to a more challenging breed with which they have no previous experience. I’m speaking from both observation and personal experience.

Even though I was 10 breeds old by the time I got Kiera, they’d all been breeds I’d had multiple experience with. When I switched to Australian Shepherds, even though they were herding dogs, they were unlike any other herding dogs I’d had before. The learning curve was steep.

To help shorten your learning curve, here are the important things to remember in selecting your next dog:

If you’re young in dog years, it’s a great idea to seek out the advice of someone more experienced to help you select your perfect partner. You’ll be glad you did.

Even if you’re old in dog years, but you’re young in breed years and you’re thinking of switching to a new breed, it’s incredibly valuable to spend time visiting with and talking to others who live with that breed. You’ll be glad you did.

And then, armed with all that insight and experience, it’s a lot easier to go find that special dog waiting for you. You’ll be glad you did.

So then, how many dogs old and breeds old are you? Which breeds have you enjoyed the most? What breeds have presented your longest learning curves?