Choosing Your New Best Friend

Choosing Your New Best Friend

In This Chapter

  • Locating a mixed-breed dog
  • Knowing which questions to ask
  • Testing a dog’s temperament before you bring her home
With the exception of designer dogs, mixed-breed dogs are far easier to find than purebred dogs, because there are more of them available. In this chapter, I fill you in on where to look.
When you decide on where you’ll get your mixed breed, you need to know which questions to ask and how to determine if a specific dog is right for you. I arm you with a list of questions and a series of simple tests you can do with any dog to see if she’ll be a good fit in your home.

Finding Your Very Own Mixed-Breed Dog

So many places, so little time. Mixed-breed dogs are everywhere! You’ll find them in your local newspaper’s classified section, on ads posted at pet shops and grocery stores, at animal shelters and humane societies. If you like surfing the Web, you’ll find them there as well. In the following sections, I give you all the details you need.


If you’re searching for a designer puppy, finding a breeder is the best first choice. The best way to locate a breeder is either through your local newspaper’s classifieds section or on the Internet. Based on my observation, accidental breeders (people who didn’t intend to breed their dog) are most likely to advertise in the newspaper, whereas designer-dog breeders are most likely to have Web sites. This is just a general rule, though — as with any rule, there are exceptions, which is why you need to know what to look for in any breeder, no matter where you found him.


Whether you’re talking to a designer-dog breeder, or an accidental breeder of a non-designer mix, here’s a list of questions to ask:

Was this litter planned? If so, it’s more likely that your pup will be healthy because the breeder wants to produce good-quality pups.

How long have you been breeding dogs? If the breeder says that the breeding wasn’t intended, it’s likely that his dog got loose and was bred by the neighborhood Casanova. If the breeder tells you that he’s been doing it for several years, there’s a good chance he is knowledgeable about the process.

If the litter was planned, how did you choose the parentage for this litter? The breeder should relate the good genetic background of the parentage (for example, good health and temperament).

If the litter was planned, what types of health screens were done on the parent dogs? A responsible breeder will have the parents’ hips, eyes, and heart checked for abnormalities.

Can you give me the names and phone numbers of people who have bought puppies from you in the past? A good breeder will be proud of his puppy placements. References shouldn’t be a problem.

What do you look for in a potential puppy purchaser? A concerned breeder wants the best homes for his pups.

Can you give me a copy of the pup’s health records? All pups should get their first worming at 5 weeks, another at 7 weeks, and their first vaccines at 7 weeks.

What are the puppies being fed? If they’re receiving a good-quality food (see Chapter Chasing the Chuckwagon: The Basics of Feeding), the breeder cares about giving the pups a good start.


If and when you actually visit the home of the breeder, ask yourself the following questions:

Is the odor overwhelmingly bad, tolerable, or nonexistent? You want your puppy to come from a place that’s clean, so the less offensive the odor, the better.

Where are the puppies being contained? If they’re inside the breeder’s home, they’re likely to get lots of early socialization, which is very important to their future behavioral development. If they’re outside in a kennel, or merely with the mother, who is tied up outside, the pups probably never received proper handling or care.

How big is the operation? Is this the breeder’s profession? If so, the kennel may be large, but should not contain more than two different types of hybrid mixes.

Do you see external parasites (such as fleas, flea eggs, ticks, and mange) on the puppies? If the pups are kept outdoors in unsanitary conditions, they’ll probably have one or more external parasites along with some internal ones.


With all the money to be made on designer dogs, lots of breeders are popping up claiming to have designer puppies, without giving any thought to the backgrounds of the parents. Many of these breeders have become puppy mills, merely churning out pups without regard to the welfare of the animals.


Animal shelters (including humane societies) are great places to find a mixed-breed dog. If you get a dog from a shelter, you’re helping in many ways. You’ll be saving a life. Plus, your adoption fees go toward helping other homeless pets.
Getting a dog from a shelter does carry some risk — you may be bringing home a dog who’s sick. But the rewards outweigh the risk. (To minimize your risk, be sure to ask questions — see “Knowing Which Questions to Ask,” later in this chapter.)

Rescue groups

Most rescue groups are dedicated to specific breeds, but they often take in dogs who are mixes of the breed they work with. Other rescue groups take in dogs of any breed.


The best place to locate a rescue group is through the Internet. Most rescue groups and humane societies tend to advertise their adoptable dogs on The AKC also has a page on its Web site that lists breed-specific rescue organizations (

Knowing Which Questions to Ask

When you’ve found a dog you’re interested in, your work has only just begun. You need to ask questions (either of the breeder, the shelter workers, or the rescue-group guardians) so that your decision is a rational one, not one based on how adorable the dog is. Here’s a list of questions to start with:

What breeds are part of the dog’s makeup? The breeds that are part of the dog’s family tree will give you a better idea of what to expect in terms of personality, size, and other attributes. (See Chapter A Little of This, a Little of That: Deciding Which Mixed Breed Is Right for You for more on all this.) The dog’s current guardian may not be able to recognize every breed, but she should be able to give you an educated guess.

Which vaccinations has the dog received? Has the dog been neutered or spayed? Is the dog receiving heartworm and flea preventative? Some shelters, such as those in rural areas, don’t have the funds to handle these health issues, whereas most rescue groups make certain that these things are immediately handled upon the dog’s acceptance into their group.

What is the dog’s personality like? How about her social skills? If the dog you’re considering has been in a foster home for a while, the current guardian should be aware of the dog’s overall behavior patterns.

How much exercise does she currently get? Is it enough to keep her satisfied?

What is her behavior like when she’s in the house? Does she live harmoniously with other dogs or cats?

How does she do when walking on a leash?

Has she learned any obedience commands? If so, what are they? Be sure to ask how to perform those commands with her if you decide to adopt the dog.

What is the dog eating? Does it agree with her? The best way of checking this is to ask whether her feces are solid (they should be) and medium to dark brown in color; that her weight is normal; and that she has bright eyes and a healthy coat.

What are the dog’s feeding and relief schedules?

Where is the dog comfortable sleeping? In a crate? In a pen? In the bedroom? Somewhere else?

You need to find out as much as possible about this dog, so don’t be afraid to ask. In fact, the dog’s current guardians will be more likely to accept you as the dog’s new guardian if you ask the right questions with a genuine interest in the answers.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match: Temperament Testing

When you’ve found a dog you think is right for you, you’ll want to do what’s known as temperament testing. Temperament testing is just what it sounds like — a way to test the dog’s temperament and be sure she’s right for you and your home. It informs you of the dog’s overall personality — how she prefers to be touched, what frightens her, how she feels about being a family member, and whether or not she’ll want to share her toys. It will also give you some insight into what her strengths may be (such as enjoying a game of retrieving or having strong herding ability).
There are five general tests you can perform with your potential new dog prior to bringing her into your life. I cover all of them in the following sections.

Be gentle: Testing for touch sensitivity

This test lets you know whether a dog has any special sensitivities in specific areas, as well as how she feels about being touched in a dominant manner. It’s also a great way to break the ice, because most dogs adore being touched and will quickly become great friends with those who offer it.
Here’s how to test a dog for touch sensitivity:

1. Begin by petting the dog: Rub the top of her head, her back, and then her chest and tummy.

Most dogs, even overly excited ones, will calm slightly when getting a belly rub.


Progress slowly while petting a fearful dog. Be patient if she moves away and allow her to approach you. Some dogs aren’t familiar with being touched in certain areas such as their ears, tail, legs, or feet.

2. When the dog has accepted touch on her upper body, move your hands down her legs: Lift her feet (see Figure 4-1), touching her paws and toenails.

Here are some possible reactions you may see:

  • The dog growls. If the dog growls, stop all temperament testing and move on to another dog. She may be injured or ill; ask her current guardian if the dog has shown any symptoms.
  • The dog moves away, growling. A dog who moves away while growling may be aggressive and unsocialized. Don’t force yourself on this dog — she might display fear aggression. Give her the opportunity to return to you without force. She may be injured or ill; again, ask the dog’s current guardian if she’s shown any symptoms.
  • The dog cringes but allows you to touch her. A dog who allows you to touch her but cringes may be friendly but also may have been abused at some point in her life. She would do well in a quiet home with adult guardians who have lots of patience and time for her.
  • The dog allows touch, but doesn’t react. A dog who allows you to touch her but doesn’t react may be ill or traumatized. It’s highly unlikely that she won’t respond to some form of touch — dogs love being massaged and touched, especially on their backs, chest, and tummies. Look closely for a sly grin — you may have missed it.
  • The dog allows touch and responds by moving closer. A dog who moves closer as you touch will be a great candidate for most environments except for being left alone for long periods of time. This is also a dog who might display separation anxiety because she has a great need for pack unity. She’ll likely work out well in a busy family home where there are family members who would like to include him in their activities. 
Figure 4-1: Lift the dog’s feet and touch her paws and toenails to see how sensitive she is.

What’s that? Testing for movement and object sensitivity

Some dogs enjoy new sights and sounds; others get nervous in the same situation. Dogs raised in loving homes or with a conscientious breeder will likely be more inquisitive than frightened at seeing something new rolling around, while a dog who hasn’t had exposure to new things, or had some bad experiences, might become frightened and move away.
This test helps you understand a dog’s reaction to new things and moving objects. Here’s how to do it:

1. Collect several objects, such as a ball, squeaky toy, and bone. Have a baking pan, car keys, and a heavy book on hand.

2. Lay all the objects on the floor and allow the dog to investigate (see Figure 4-2).

Figure 4-2: Be sure to include a variety of objects to see how the dog responds.
Here are some possible reactions you may see:
  • The dog moves away: A dog who moves away is very fearful of new things. Unless you’re very patient and live in a quiet household, you shouldn’t adopt this dog.
  • The dog has no reaction: If the dog doesn’t react, she’s indifferent to new things — or at least to these new things. If you have very young children or elderly parents living with you, this dog may be ideal.
  • The dog starts to investigate but stops and moves away: A dog who starts to investigate but moves away will take time to acclimate to new situations.
  • The dog investigates the objects: The dog who investigates the objects is inquisitive but not bold. She’ll do well in most any home.
  • The dog investigates and interacts with the objects: The dog who investigates and interacts is confident. She’ll do well in a home with children and an active lifestyle.

3. One at a time, pick up all the objects and roll them across the floor, observing the dog’s reactions as you do.


Begin with the object least likely to cause a reaction, such as a ball. Then try a bone, a squeaky toy, and car keys. Finish by dropping a pan or book.

Some possible reactions that you may see include the following:

  • The dog moves away: A dog who moves away is fearful and should not be in an active home. This dog may react fearfully when overwhelmed by new events, sights, or sounds.
  • The dog has no reaction: A dog who has no reaction is a very accepting dog who should do well in most environments.

Most healthy dogs have some reaction, though, so be sure that she at least watched the movement or responded somehow to the sound. Otherwise, you may want to check the dog’s health.

  • The dog starts to chase but loses interest: This dog may work out well in a quiet environment, but is unlikely to want to play much with toys. She may like chewing a bone, though.
  • The dog chases, grabs, and carries the object away from you: This dog is bold, possessive, yet playful. She needs to be in a home with structure and consistency.
  • The dog chases, grabs, and brings the object to you: This dog will be ideal if you have an active family. She loves to play, retrieve, and interact with the world.

Who’s the boss? Testing for dominance and submission

This test will help you gauge a dog’s dominant or submissive tendencies — very important to understand, because a dominant dog may be more difficult to control.

You may not see the full extent of a dog’s dominant tendencies in her foster home, because she’s one of many brought into a temporary environment. When she develops a sense of “home,” she may begin to become territorial. Dogs test their boundaries as they’re settling in.

There are several ways to test for dominance. Following is a list of all three tests.


Always begin with the least-invasive test (Step 1) and work your way to the more difficult (Step 2 and then Step 3). If you’re at all unsure and the dog is reacting negatively, you may want to find another dog to bring home.

1. Pick up the dog’s front end, holding just behind the front legs (see Figure 4-3).

Figure 4-3: Lifting the dog’s front legs is a way to test her dominance. 

Possible reactions you may see in the dog include the following:

  • The dog struggles, growls, and tries to bite or mouth you: This reaction shows a very dominant dog. If you adopt her, you must remain assertive at all times and make sure you and she go through a lot of obedience work.
  • The dog struggles, but eventually gives in: This reaction shows a bold dog, but not an overly dominant one. She still needs an assertive household and might do okay with older children who won’t be afraid of her if she jumps on or chases them.
  • The dog shows extreme fear and yips: This reaction shows a very fearful dog. This dog should live in a quiet home where her guardians will be patient and understanding.


I’ve seen dogs who have this reaction turn from being fearfully submissive to being in charge of their household. This can happen when overly permissive guardians give the dog a lot of leeway because she seems afraid. Dogs are smart — she may be displaying the fearful reaction because she wants to be allowed a dominant role. The bottom line: Let her make the first approach, but don’t let her run the household.

  • The dog gives in readily, but moves away when released: This reaction shows an insecure dog. This dog just may not feel at home in her current environment.
  • The dog submits and relaxes, remaining with you when released: This reaction shows a secure dog. This dog would likely do well in any environment, with conscientious children of all ages. She’ll learn quickly and enjoy every minute with you.

If you were able to perform Step 1 without the dog showing any aggression, and you feel comfortable with the dog, move on to Step 2.

2. Sit and stare into the dog’s eyes. Don’t look away first.

Possible reactions you may see in the dog include the following:

  • The dog stares back at you and growls: This reaction is one of a very dominant dog. This is not a dog you’ll want to live with — she’ll challenge you every chance she gets.


If she’s showing dominance at this point, you most definitely don’t want to move on to Step 3. She may just be stressed in her current location, but you have no way of knowing that she won’t be similarly stressed at some point after you bring her home.

  • The dog stares back at you and doesn’t look away: This reaction is still a dominant dog, but one who can be. Doing so will take consistency and diligence, as well as an assertive guardian who will make the dog work for everything. This dog will be happiest in a very structured environment.
  • The dog stares at you a moment and then looks away: The dog who stares and looks away is unsure of her position. She may be testy in specific situations, such as when she really wants something, but she’ll easily back down if her guardian remains assertive and insistent.
  • The dog never looks you in the eye: The dog who never looks in your eyes is very submissive and accepting. This dog will do well in most environments.

If you were able to perform Step 2 without the dog showing any aggression, you can give Step 3 a try. If the dog has shown any dominance in the other tests, do not move on to Step 3. Step 3 puts the dog in a totally submissive position where she feels vulnerable.

3. Roll the dog over onto her back.

Possible reactions you may see include the following:

The dog struggles, growls, and tries to bite you: This is the reaction of a very dominant dog. She’s not a good candidate for anyone with children or an active home. She will do best with a single, assertive owner who will work with her and maintain a structured environment.

The dog struggles but eventually gives in: This is the reaction of a dog who has some dominant tendencies but who understands when she’s not in charge. She’ll do well in a home with assertive owners, but not with young children.

The dog has no reaction and remains on her back without any struggle: This dog will do well in any home. The dog feels comfortable and secure in her environment.

The dog gives in quickly, cries, and moves away when released: The dog who gives in but cries and moves away is very submissive and possibly fearful. She should live in a quiet home.

The dog gives in quickly and remains with you when released: This dog should work well in any home, though she should always be approached in a positive manner and be given lots of praise for everything she does.

Chase and retrieve

To do this test, take one of the dog’s favorite toys, and throw it a short distance.
Possible reactions you may see in the dog include the following:

The dog goes after the toy, picks it up, and runs off: A dog who runs off with the toy is possessive. She likes to chase her toys, but she doesn’t want anyone else to share them with her.

The dog goes after the toy, picks it up, and lays down with it: This dog may not be in a playful mood, but definitely wants to possess her toy.

The dog goes after the toy, sniffs it, and turns away: This dog doesn’t have much interest in the toy. Are you sure you chose a favored toy? If not, try again. If you did choose her favorite toy, this dog is one who just doesn’t like to play fetch, or who is so stressed that playing isn’t in her current itinerary.

The dog doesn’t go after the toy: This dog just doesn’t like toys or doesn’t care about that particular toy. Try additional toys until you get some response. If the dog doesn’t have any response, the dog likely either hasn’t gotten the point of toys or hasn’t found anything that floats her boat.

The dog goes after the toy, picks it up, and returns it to you: This dog is highly interactive and social. She wants to play with you and is a natural retriever. She’ll likely do well in an active environment with children of all ages and people who spend lots of time with her.

Follow the leader: Testing for social skills

This test is important if you have other animals at home or live in an animal-filled neighborhood. The last thing you want to deal with is a dog who is aggressive to other dogs or wants to chase cats.
The only way you’ll be able to do this test is if the dog is currently being housed in a facility where there are other animals. If she’s currently in a foster home, she’s probably already acclimated to living harmoniously with other animals so this test may not be necessary. But it can be useful if the dog is in a shelter or humane society without direct contact to other animals on a regular basis.
Here’s what to do: Walk her by the kennels of the other dogs. Then walk her in the cat area.

Possible reactions you may see in the dog include the following:

The dog goes after any other dog or cat: This is a dog who shouldn’t go into a home with other dogs or cats or into a neighborhood that has many other dogs or cats in close quarters.

The dog only goes after other aggressive animals (those jumping, barking/meowing, or growling/hissing as she goes by): This dog will fight if challenged. Again, not a good candidate in a home with other dogs or cats, or in a neighborhood where other dogs or cats are living or walking nearby.

The dog doesn’t show aggression, but does show an eagerness to say hello to a quiet dog or cat: This is a friendly dog who should do well in any environment.

The dog walks by with no reaction: This dog should do well in any environment.

The dog runs by and tries to get away from the aggressive dogs and cats: This dog should do well in a home with other dogs or cats, but should be introduced carefully and with as much positive reinforcement as possible. She’s probably never had the opportunity to socialize with other animals and just needs some time to acclimate.


Some dogs react negatively toward cats but love other dogs. And believe it or not, some dogs love cats and can’t stand other dogs. Pay close attention to how the dog reacts to dogs as well as cats — she may be fine with one species and not the other. Do keep in mind your neighborhood, though. For example, if you live in an apartment complex with other dog owners, and the dog you’re considering doesn’t like other dogs, you could run into trouble every time you take your dog out for a walk.

 by Miriam Fields-Babineau