How do you find the perfect dog for you?
On reflection, I’m finding the process pretty similar to buying a boat.
No, really. Keep reading and see if you don’t agree by the end.
Choosing The Dog
Bringing Honey home was quite intellectual.
We didn’t make an impulsive decision to get a dog. We weren’t swayed by her cuteness.
The process began when I decided that my next dog would be purebred from a responsible hobby breeder.
Given my love for dogs with crazy, mixed-up genes and appreciation of the number of shelter dogs needing homes, choosing a pure breed dog was intense and guilt-inducing. And then I had to choose the breed.
I read dozens of breed descriptions and narrowed my choices down to three breeds known for being friendly to both humans and other animals (my biggest criteria): King Charles Cavalier spaniels, Labrador retrievers, and golden retrievers.
Once I decided on a golden, I underwent a grilling from a volunteer with the local golden retriever rescue before being referred to a nearby breeder. And then, for several weeks, Honey’s breeder auditioned us to make sure we’d offer a suitable home for one of her pups.
At the end of all this, Honey’s breeder gave us the choice of two pups while making a strong recommendation we take the quieter of the two pups.
If the entire decision had been mine, I would have taken Honey’s livelier sister. But I followed the breeder’s advice and ended up with the right dog for us.
Things could have gone much differently.
I could have interviewed several different breeders. I could have waited to adopt an adult golden from a rescue. I could have made a spreadsheet to help me analyze the different choices.
But in the end, I followed a few simple rules and I found my lovely girl.
And those few simple rules have also helped me choose a boat.
Choosing The Boat
Buying a boat to live on is even harder than choosing a house.
For one thing, I’ve lived in houses my whole life and feel more confident that I understand how they work.
I only started sailing 5 years ago and had rarely been on boats before then.
Another reason boat shopping is harder is that boats move.
We went to see one boat just minutes before the owner sailed it to Florida. Yep, if we decided to make an offer on that boat we would have had to wait for him to arrive in Florida (traveling at about 5 mph) and then would have had to travel to it to complete the transaction.
We had a list of five or six boat models we like. And then we reviewed boats of different ages that sailed in different areas (boats in salt water all year around take more of a beating than boats in fresh water that stay on land over the winter) with different types of equipment.
We created spreadsheets to help us compare the boats we saw and analyze how much it would cost us to bring each boat to our live aboard and sailing standards.
Like choosing Honey to live with us, it was a pretty intellectual process.
But in the end, we followed the same rules to make the right choice.
How To Choose The Perfect Dog And The Perfect Boat
We’ve used spreadsheets and other analytical tools to make important choices over the years. But in the end, I usually base my choice on three rules.
Choose the option that lets you work with people you like or admire.
It worked with choosing a puppy. So far, it has worked with buying a boat.
Honey’s breeders were wonderful resources and advisors. We’ve found the boat owners to be pleasant to deal with.
I can’t see myself being happy negotiating with the kind of boat owner who lists his boat for sale in one town just to sail it over a thousand miles away the next week.
And I certainly wouldn’t be happy dealing with someone who thinks selling puppies is a great money-making opportunity. Or with a rescue whose staff or volunteers love dogs and cats but hate people.
No one writing a book on negotiating or getting the best deal would tell you to seek out nice people. But if you’ve ever done business with jerks, you’ll understand why this might be a good strategy.
Do Your Research (but only to a point)
When I was researching pups, there are tons of dog breeds I adore. But I didn’t review hundreds of breed description to find every dog with a calm temperament toward strangers.
Sure, maybe there’s a wonderful dog out there that I didn’t learn about. But I knew that I had several strong options and that was enough.
When another boat in the model we were looking at came on the market in another state, we had to decide if we should plan a visit.
Maybe it wasn’t wise. But we decided that with a few options that would work for us, we wouldn’t gain anything by adding another boat when we were already having trouble deciding between three others.
Just Choose Something And Let It Become The Right Choice
Honey was actually the second dog I sought with a calm temperament toward strangers.
When I met Shadow, Honey’s predecessor, at the SPCA, I was thrilled at her calm nature when I visited her apartment. I was even more thrilled when she didn’t bark and lunge at every other dog we passed when I took her for a brief walk.
Obviously Shadow was totally at ease with other dogs.
Except she wasn’t.
Once we left the shelter, Shadow never passed another dog without reacting.
Evidently she was so excited at getting out for a walk that she couldn’t be bothered reacting to all the other dogs we passed in the shelter.
Shadow was not the dog I was hoping to find. But she became the right dog.
I fell in love with her and her reactivity toward other dogs (and relative disinterest toward other humans) was just part of who she was.
My husband and I could still be parsing the differences between each boat we saw. But instead, we just chose one to make an offer on.
Sure, it’s a few years older than others we looked at. It doesn’t come with all the toys and even one or two things we consider necessities.
But assuming everything goes well at her survey, she’ll end up being the home we’ll love. And her quirks will just be part of who she is.
The Perfect Dog And The Perfect Boat
Honey’s breeder observed her temperament from birth. But we’ve learned so much more about her in the five years we’ve lived together.
Heck, I’m still learning as she continually surprises me with her increasing confidence.
If you had asked me five years ago if my wee pup who didn’t like to swim and startled easily would be suited to life on a sailboat, I’d have said no.
Of course, five years ago I wouldn’t have thought I’d be living on a sailboat either.
But my decision-making process was good enough get me a wonderful dog who has grown into my perfect girl.
I hope following the same rules is good enough to get me a wonderful boat that will grow into our perfect, floating home.
As this post is published, we’re in Virginia having our new boat inspected by a marine surveyor. If all goes well, we should be living aboard her in less than a month.
Depending on the survey results, we may have more decisions. So if you have better advice for making tough decisions, do share.