How To Adopt The Perfect Dog

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.

Honey the golden retriever with flowers.

Are you going to tell everyone to pick up a dog and look at her bottom just like you do a boat?

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.

Honey the golden retriever plays tug with a hound puppy.

Yep, I was one of the quiet ones in my litter. Just imagine how crazy my brother and sisters must be.

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.

Honey the golden retriever lies in the sailboat cockpit.

Wait, you mean to tell me you don’t know how this thing works?
Glad I’m wearing my life jacket.

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.

Golden retriever puppies in a whelping box.

Honey’s in there somewhere.

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.

Honey the golden retriever sleeps with power cord on her paws.

You need a rule that tells you not to adopt a cat if you’re going to run power cords over your pet. I don’t think any kitty would be as calm as me.

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.

Honey the golden retriever dog looks at a blog.

A computer is a boring way to choose a puppy.

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.

Mixed breed dog in bike trailer

Shadow didn’t get along with other dogs. But she didn’t mind hopping into that bike cart, unlike a certain golden retriever I know.

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.

Honey the golden retriever walks on a ladder.

Hard to believe I used to find ramps scary, eh?

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.






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  1. You don’t seem to be the type that rushes into anything, so I think your thoughtfulness will serve you well in boat buying just as it did with puppy selection. Good luck.

  2. I can’t wait to see it (if it passes inspection)! You’re so right about the decision making especially with the Internet and all of its resources. You can end up researching things to death and end up even more confused over what to buy. Sometimes you just have to make a choice and accept it as the right choice, come what may.

  3. Margaret T. says:

    I’m so excited for you! I hope everything works out well.

  4. I’m learning more than I ever knew about boats. I thought you would just go to the boat store and start sailing away.

  5. I happened on my first corgi Dylan purely by accident. I didn’t know a thing about either breed of corgi. I forced myself to sleep on it, but went back the next day! Best snap decision I ever made! I think having grown up with lots of different dogs made dealing with the demands of a herding puppy doable. I’m not sure it would have worked so well had I been a first time dog owner….But I wouldn’t recommend a snap decision on a boat. Too many details to follow up on!

  6. Good luck, I hope things go smoothly and that your hunt is over. I hope the boat turns out to be just as perfect a decision as Honey did. I think you are very thorough and have a good decision making process, and that will work out for you.

  7. This is a great, informative post! We are just going through this process right now (the choosing of our dog but we wish a boat too) and there is definitely a lot of work that goes into it. We spent about 40 minutes yesterday deciding which puppy we wanted. You obviously picked one great dog! :)

  8. Getting a new dog is a big commitment. Good for you for taking your time to figure out what was best.

  9. My mom is pretty impulsive and not into researching at all. Waste of time she says, but everyone is different. If she needs a house and likes one she finds, she buys it. No desire to see twenty others that might be better, she wants the one and that is it. With us pets it is the same way. If she sees us and likes us, she wants us, end of story. So far it has worked pretty well for her. Katie could have been an issue with her breed being a normally vicious guard dog, but a friend made some suggestions on socializing her and it all worked out. The breeder said I was the puppy, take me or get no puppy, so she went with me. Hope your boat works out.

  10. Congratulations Pamela! I’m happy you found a boat. Good luck with the inspection. The waters waiting for you!

  11. I hope the boat works out.

    My bipeds chose the most confident girl puppy in the litter – and then they sometimes have the nerve to tell me I have too much confidence for my own good!

  12. This is the best advice! As they say, just do it. And you have…and you will…armed with knowledge and having done your due diligence, of course. Knowing how careful you are about your decisions in the first place, I’ve no doubt your new floating home will be absolutely perfect. And I can’t wait to be reading about that new life just waiting for you ’round the bend!

  13. Here’s hoping all goes well with the survey!!

  14. No advice here, but I know whatever you choose it will be perfect for you. Looking forward to stories from the sea.

  15. Hoping all goes well with the survey, and I must say I love the line “Just choose something and let it become the right choice.” That’s actually how I feel about the way we went about adopting Laika. She wasn’t my “first” choice because I got denied the older Lab mix I wanted to adopt because I work full time. So when I went to the local shelter a few days later I fell in love with a little puppy and we made it work, looking back it was a completely impulsive decision, which I’d probably usually recommend against. But with enough dedication any dog or boat can become the right choice.

  16. Looks like we’re both moving along with our new adventures. You’ve just about found your boat #sohappyforyou And the for sale sign is up on our lawn #yippee Can’t wait to meet you on the docks in Charleston soon. I’ll be the lady waving frantically with two doodles in tow.