Finding the Perfect Dogs for Friends

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My young adult son lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his girlfriend, a couple of roommates, and his all-black Black and Tan Coonhound, Cole. Cole is sweet, friendly, calm, and well-behaved, so anyone in the household who walks Cole is constantly fielding compliments on the handsome dog, and asked “Where did you get your dog?”

My son always tells people, “My mom volunteers at a shelter north of Sacramento, and she finds great dogs there.” He’s repeated this so many times that several of his friends have asked if I could help them find a dog, too!

It’s actually one of my favorite things to do – to help people and families find appropriate pets – and I’m pleased to say I’ve had a few terrific successes at this job. At one point, my son was working in a dog-friendly office where two of his co-workers had dogs they had gotten from my shelter with my help, giving the office a total of three dogs from my little local rural shelter.

Looking for two perfect dogs

At this moment, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for four more of my son’s friends in the form of two different young couples.

One couple is actually looking for a second dog to join their family; the young man adopted a dog – his first! – from my shelter in 2015. Because he had never before owned a dog, I was looking for an “easy” dog for him: a calm, adult dog with as few behavior issues as possible. I found a beautiful brindle female who looked like she was possibly a Greyhound-mix, who got along well with other dogs and didn’t seem to have any issues that a novice dog owner wouldn’t be able to handle. Though she didn’t seem to know any cues whatsoever (not even the basics of “sit,” “down,” “come,” etc.), she was very affectionate and loved being petted – perhaps to a fault. Demanding affection and attention by pawing at people may have been her biggest behavior “problem.” I fostered her for a week, gave her some basic training, and then the young man drove three hours to adopt her, as it turned out, on February 14. Inspired by the date, he named her Valentine.

I fostered this beautiful dog for a week before my son’s friend drove three hours to adopt her and name her Valentine.

At some point, he and Val were joined by a human female – and the three of them pursued training so that Val could do work as a therapy dog! I recently got an email from them with this report: “Val is living her best life. She still comes with me to work. She also now volunteers as an Animal Assisted Therapy dog with the SF-SPCA. She visits an emergency shelter for domestic violence survivors where she gets petted by a bunch of kids and their moms. I think Val gets more enjoyment out of her visits than the kids!” I cried when I received that note! A job where she can be petted and petted is absolutely what that dog wanted and deserved.

But the real reason that Val’s family wrote to me: Today, they are looking for another, smaller female dog to join their family, one who must absolutely get along with the older, very submissive, sweet Val, but who might also be a jogging companion for the active couple.

The other couple/friends of my son are looking for a very small breed puppy; they’d prefer a female who will mature to about 10 pounds, so they can take her on their travels in a small bag, but who will be athletic enough to join them on hikes. (My son is an athlete, and so are most of his friends!) There is a darling litter of Chihuahua/Dachshund-type pups at my shelter that will be ready for adoption soon, and I’m hoping that one of them will fit the bill.

Consider Likes AND Dislikes

When I agree to look for a dog for someone I know, I always ask them for information about what they really want and need in a dog as well as what they absolutely do not want, and I try to stick to that criteria, and encourage them to do so, too. I beg people not to get into a rush and bend too far from what they know they need, but to take their time and get the dog who will fit most seamlessly into their lives and homes and hearts. After all, there are more than enough dogs who need homes! The right dog is out there, as long as people take their time and don’t take home a dog they have misgivings about because they are in a rush to adopt on a certain timetable. It can be devastating for some dogs to get adopted and returned a number of times (note that other dogs may be happier to take breaks from their shelter stays and don’t show signs of increased stress or “shutting down” after failed adoptions).

Some people don’t care much about sex or breed or coat, but the dog’s size is an issue – especially in urban areas where people may live in housing with maximum-size rules for pets. I have known several people who are allergic to dogs, but who are able to deal with the symptoms presented by smaller dogs with very short, thin coats. Some people are willing and able to deal with any sort of behavior issue that might arise; for others, a dog-aggressive dog or one with serious separation anxiety might be beyond their ability to address. And, of course, I always keep in mind that young couples, in particular, should be looking for dogs who love kids.

Here’s the hardest part of going to the shelter to look for dogs that meet a potential adopter’s checklist of “wants” and “don’t wants”: Finding dogs that I adore but that don’t meet my potential adopters’ selection criteria. Take, for example, the little guy who caught my eye more than six weeks ago, when I started my on-and-off-again search for these two couples. There were actually two dogs I liked – obvious littermates, an estimated two or three years old – and I spent about an hour with the energetic little guys, teaching them to sit for treats (instead of jumping all over me) – but they didn’t appeal to either one of my adopting couples. Val’s family really would prefer a female, and the other needs a smaller dog; these boys were 15 and 20 pounds and too tall to travel in an under-the-seat bag on an airplane. I wasn’t worried, though; the boys were so cute, and I thought they would get snapped up in a hot minute.

Taking a break from the search


I have had this guy at my house for less than 24 hours and I’m already convinced what a great little dog he is. If he has flaws, I haven’t seen them yet.

I had to take a few weeks off from my search. I was on deadline, we sold a property and there was lots of last-minute moving and cleaning to do, and then we took a week off to travel to the East Coast for Thanksgiving and family visits. So when I went to the shelter yesterday, I was really surprised to see the larger of the two brother dogs still there! No takers after six weeks! It’s true that he barks and jumps in his kennel – but when I gave him a treat through the cage bars, he quickly remembered me and sat in order to get me to give him some more treats, just like that. Super smart! And so cute!

Dang it! I had no choice but to bring him home for fostering; perhaps with some training and decompressing out of the shelter, I can find him a home while continuing my search for a different dog for my son’s friends. Or, breaking all my own rules about selection criteria, perhaps I can see if Val’s family would consider a male dog after all. To me, gender seems like the least important criteria of all – what about you? Maybe it’s more important to other people than it is to me.

I’ll keep you posted!

29 COMMENTS

  1. For us gender can be important. We have Akita’s and generally stick to a male female pair, less chance of aggression will same sex housemates .

  2. You might look for a Schipperke or Schip mix for your friends. Active, small, generally get along well with other dogs, kids and people. Worst problems are barky (they let you know about every falling leaf) and long house trainng. Your little black/white boy is adorable!

  3. I used to be a big dog person, but now that I am a senior, retired and traveling, a small dog fits the bill. We adopted a poodle-mix 7 years ago and she has fit the bill perfectly. I tend to like females although I grew up with male dogs — and I tend to worry a bit about leg hikes in the house. That your the little guy sure is appealing…! And with you getting him off to a good start, he should be The Perfect Dog for some lucky person.

  4. I have always preferred female dogs. I had been looking for a small dog (because I’m getting older) that needed a home. I finally came across a little Chihuahua who is 9 years old and had been in the shelter for 5 years! It was a male dog though. I adopted him anyway and am so glad I did. He fit all the other criteria I had and ended up being a super little guy. My 9 year old golden who is somewhat fearful of larger dogs loves him and he’s even made friends with the cat!

  5. Three and a half years ago, we were looking for a dog. Gender didn’t matter to us. We wanted a medium sized dog, affectionate, but not needy, calm in the house, able to be my walking buddy, house trained, crate trained, not too old, and not a puppy. I searched the internet for local dogs who met our criteria (we even signed adoption papers for a sweet hound/German Shepherd mix. Unfortunately, she didn’t work out). We ended up, after eight months of searching, with a nine year old English Lab/Mastiff mix, 113 lbs, and so tall I can put my hand on his head without bending down.

    I put him through every stress test I know and his reaction was — nothing. He’s literally bombproof (he slept through a hurricane five months after we adopted him). His weight is down to 76.6 lbs (he started losing weight after I started feeding him normal rations).

    So really, you just never know. What you think you might want can be totally upended by a dog wh might not meet your criteria, but who’s the perfect one for you.

  6. I’m a matchmaker at sf SpcA and I’ve had both male and female dogs myself. I tell people that every dog is an individual and individual temperament/ personality is more important than gender. I love reading your articles!

  7. He is an adorable fella. I do hope he finds his forever home soon.
    Gender is not important to me. I have adopted both male and female dogs and they were all fantastic !

  8. Sometimes it just love at first sight, irrespective of sex, breed, and have a shelter-found Pekingese who is the best dog I have ever had. I have always had bigger dogs, a Dobie and a Chow. She is also the most stubborn and difficult to train, so independent.

  9. I have shelter dogs highly recommend but many challenges. However when you reach the point of decompression and routine es in check I cant Express the joy that comes with it.

  10. Re females vs. males – granted, I only have experience with Cavaliers, but the common saying among breeders and owners is that the females love you – but the males “fall in love” with you.

  11. I have had mini & standard Schnauzers close to 40 years. We lost our mini to cancer in May and have been looking to adopt from a rescue or shelter. Didn’t matter if it was male or female under 30 lbs. Some of the rescue groups are nuts and it’s a wonder they can find homes. I have regularly checked shelters for a small mixed breed, but most are Chihuahua/Doxie mixes or Chihuahuas. Our prefer terrier mixes. The right one may come along at some point, but I am getting a mini-Schnauzer for now.

    • Terry, perhaps you shouldn’t judge the book by its cover. My husband couldn’t stand Chihuahuas until he got his first one. His friend had to get rid of a little 3-month-old Chihuahua because his wife was pregnant and due any day, so he brought it home to foster for a while. That little dog quickly became his best friend and went everywhere with him! We had little Paco for over 14 years and now have two female Chis that are the love of our lives. Don’t believe all the horror stories about them! They will only be barkers if you let them. Our girls only bark when someone drives into our yard, have never bitten anyone, and are very well behaved. They have been taught what we expect from them as acceptable behavior. They don’t get away with being doggy brats! Give the Chihuahuas another chance. Once you’ve owned one, you’ll never go back.

  12. I would ask Val’s family to meet him, if he meets a bunch of their criteria and you decide (after fostering) you can modify or improve his habit of barking. That nuisance barking would be a deal breaker for me!

    In doing Weimaraner Rescue & adoption we found male/female pairings worked BETTER than same gender. And 38 yrs experience, male dogs get a LOT LESS UTI – than females – (not just as puppies, but as adults). And males are super easy to GET to pee, since they will readily MARK. Females are often picky on what surface they will pee on.

  13. I always thought I had to have female dogs until I met my Joey. Out of the 300 plus dogs waiting for homes at our county shelter, he was the only one who pressed his side against the gate of his kennel just trying to get attention from passers-by. I was so charmed by this behavior, I adopted him. He is a delight and has turned out to be the most affectionate and trainable dog I’ve ever had.

  14. I ask for those who are having trouble finding a home. People often overlook animals who are older or have some disability. Never, never have I regretted it. It’s so rewarding to see an animal eventually come of his shell and learn to live again. I want to do what I can for the animals — it’s not all about me. It’s brought me much happiness!

  15. I love this guy–what an adorable fellow! Hope he finds his family soon! We’re in the Midwest; if we were closer, we would take a chance on him. When it comes to dogs, we’ve always adopted the dog who needed us the most, whether it’s an obvious stray (Pearl or Luther), a poorly behaved shelter dog (Bubbie or Bailey), a big old guy who loves cats (Max), or the terrier mix that my niece discovered she couldn’t take care of properly (Popo). My husband and I are old now but active and love our four-legged companions more than ever. Like so many other people who have posted, we’ve never, ever regretted taking any of our dogs in–male or female, big or small, young or old, healthy or special needs. Sometimes a bit of adjustment and/or training is in order, but all of us manage to take new family members in stride and learn to be a loving pack quickly 🙂

  16. I hope you can find this little guy a home! He is adorable!

    Our only criteria for adopting has been that they are older (5+) and need a home. We have adopted seven dogs in total and have only had one issue of them not getting along. We have had one puppy mill dog, two blind dogs, several dogs with heart issues… They all need love and a safe place to call home. And we have always been with them when they cross the rainbow bridge. They give so much love, how could we not return it?

  17. I am looking for a dog to join my loving home with my loving, beautiful Dachshund Sweety Pie. I’ve had 3 dogs at the same time. Then it went to 2 dogs, then back to three dogs. I lost my beautiful son, a Terrier named Hootie. I had him almost 17 years. My Dachshund, Sweety Pie and myself are both still heartbroken and miss him very much a year later. I know that she gets along with every dog, and we both want to have more love and companionship in our home. We’ll glady accept this boy if you can help get him to New York City. I can provide you with many good references and vets who will talk about how well I care for my dogs, and how much I spend on my dog’s food and care. Please try to get him to New York City and I’ll give him more love than is humanly possible. He looks like my Border Collie, Buddy , who I lost years ago and was the smartest dog and the most handsome dog that I have known. I miss all the dog;s that I have ever owned and pray for them every day. Thank you,

  18. Hello, we would be very interested in talking to you about whether you think think this boy would be a good fit for us. My husband and I are looking for a second dog to be a playmate for our two year old, female Border Collie. We are retired and live in Northern California.
    Thank you.

  19. Hi all, and thanks so much for your interest in this little dog. After Val’s family declined to meet him, I posted photos and a description of him just this morning (Dec 11) on my personal Facebook page — and within a couple of hours, he’s found a home here in my town. Yay! My apologies, however, to others who read about him here and were interested in him.

    This post goes a long way, I have to say, for the power of fostering and promoting dogs in a personal way; this guy has been available at my local shelter for more than six weeks! But the photos were not great and there was no information about his personality given. 🙁

  20. Wise idea: never get a dog bigger than you can pick up and carry! I actually have been looking for a second dog who truly fits the description in your post but I live in the Pacific NW not in California so I’m going to assume I would be “geographically undesirable” to adopt. Unfortunately, in my area the selections for adoption are about equally divided among pit bulls and chihuahas. I had a pittie years ago, loved her to distraction, love the breed – but now that I’m a renter have to honor a lot of breed and size restrictions. It’s not being picky, it’s reality. My dog that needs a companion does not do at all well with other females so looking for a little male. Again – not picky, just realistic.

  21. When we were looking for our first dog as a couple, I thought I wanted a female, but then we found a little older, male poodle mix. He fit all the other criteria we had, so I said it’s ok. We got him a friend, a male lhasa mix. Then when our first dog passed, the shelter found us a female lhasa. She and our male got into many scuffles. Never anything serious, but some skin breaks and a couple of eye scratches. So that totally blew up the male/female being better together. She is a total bitch and has to be in charge. That said, she does give males more leeway than females, so when we foster, we only foster males. Over the years, I have come to love the males more. I owned a doggy day care for several years and we had 3 scuffles in that time – all between females. The male dogs seem sweeter and just more fun. So we now still have the female lhasa mix, but she’s 16 and blind and nearly dead, so not sure how much longer she’ll be with us. We also have a male cairn mix and 2 male cats.

  22. I agree with you. Gender would be my lease consider. Disposition, health, intelligence would come before gender. What cute dogs. To bad I’m 3000 miles away.

  23. Thank you Nancy for continuing to look for the perfect new puppy for Deanna and me! This little guy looks almost perfect, but like you said a little lanky for our needs. The Chihuahua/Dachshund mixes were adorable, but not quiet right either. We’re being picky, thanks for bearing with us – we know it’s best take our time and find the perfect fit. Thanks for helping (and writing such a great journal and articles)!

  24. I prefer male dogs and have had three. But after my last dog passed away my Mother insisted that my next dog be a female. My dogs have gotten smaller and smaller too. Caesar wasa bout 72lbs, Goliath about 65lbs and Ramses was 55 lbs. I thought Diana wouldn’t be much larger than her 65lb Mother but she is now 87lbs and only 13 months. She is very friendly, affectionate and smart. Being food oriented makes training easy. She is a star puppy and has passed her NACSW ORT and is on her way to her Novice title for AKC nosework. My hope is that she will be a therapy dog when she is 2 years old.

    Aside from gender my family prefers big dogs. I just didn’t anticipate Diana would be so big. My Dad calls her the horse and laughs “put a saddle on her.” I did for her Halloween costume. I prefer black dogs because I read that those are the most likely dogs to be passed over in a shelter. We like lab mixes but she has Golden in her and it shows in her personality. We’ve never really been able to chose any traits beside color and gender as we have adopted puppies from rescues. It’s just turned out that way.

    My sister is currently looking for a dog and I’ve sent her some profiles of dogs at her local shelter that might work for her family. Aside from temperament they are all sizes and genders. Just no really small dogs. They also like them big.

    I’ll have to consider a small dog for my next rescue as after Diana passes I will be in my 70s and my days of big dogs will be over.

  25. Nancy
    I would be interested to know which Shelter you are affiliated with in Northern Cal. My year old pup could be a twin of the two brothers. BC mixed with something smaller. Smart, vocal, awesome 😊.

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