The Fantasy Dog Fallacy

Rather than looks and idealized images, personality and compatibility matter most when it comes to choosing a canine family member.

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“I’m so excited to be getting a puppy,” a future client was telling me before she got her “dream puppy,” as she put it. She always wanted a Border Collie because she had great memories of one from visiting her grandparents’ farm as a young girl.

Oh no, I thought. I could feel a pit forming in my stomach.

Dreams vs. reality

Romantic love is not a good thing. It is based in our imagination and not in reality. We project what we want to see instead of seeing what is there. I see it time and again in the dating world, where people focus on superficial attributes and completely overlook the things that actually matter. People often go into those kind of relationships thinking how great that person is going to make them feel, and not considering the fact that at the end of the day, it’s about how you give (to yourself first and then to the other person) and not about what can you get from them.

This woman selectively remembered how her favorite Border Collie was, not realizing that he was a working dog out in the field all day and that he cuddled with her at night when he was exhausted. She, of course, only remembered the cuddling part. No matter what I said and showed her as far as what a Border Collie’s real needs are, she just said, “I trust that you can fix any problem.”

No, I can’t fix love illusions.

People often choose a dog based on romantic love. They project their hopes and dreams on the dog, basing their desire on breed or looks, not recognizing the individual dog who is in front of them. They visualize how much that dog will love them, how good they will look on the beach with the dog fetching or how everyone will comment when they walk down the street with that dog. I have to say, I see many people — at least in Los Angeles — choosing their human mate the same way. (Well, maybe not the part about fetching on the beach.)

Dogs are individuals

A common question I get is: “What breed is good with kids?” I always reply: “I’ll tell you the answer after you tell me what race or nationality of people is best to date.” You see, over the 25-plus years of coaching dogs and their people, I’ve seen dogs from the same litter have different personalities, not unlike siblings who are raised in the same family by the same parents.

Not all Golden Retrievers and Labradors are nice. Not all pit bulls are mean. Currently, I’m working with four super-aggressive Golden Retrievers who attacked and broke skin on people and other dogs multiple times.

I wish for people to wise up and stop believing the myths that are told about dogs. While they’re at it, they should give up on their own wishful and unrealistic hopes and dreams! I wish for people to really see the individual personality and needs of each dog and not only their own superficial projections.

How many relationships and marriages start with the best intentions only for people to realize that they either married the wrong person or that it will take more effort than they are willing to put into the relationship? We all know that it is more than 50 percent.

The saving grace for people is that no one puts divorcees in the shelter with only 72 hours to prove that they are good people before they get euthanized. However, dogs who have no owners are labeled as defective, and most of them end up in the animal shelters because their owner didn’t consider what it means to spend 15 years with a dog.

Making the right choice

That client of mine ended up getting her “dream dog” from a working farm and had to learn the hard way that her dream belonged in her childhood. She didn’t have the lifestyle that befit a bred-to-work Border Collie.

She finally came to me and asked, “Do you think I made a mistake?” I said yes. The dog was miserable, and there was no time to sugar-coat it. She sent the dog back to where he will thrive as a working farm doggie.

But wait, there is a happy ending after all. We went to the local shelter and found the perfect dog for her. It was a little mutt with the biggest eyes and longest lashes. That little boy didn’t care about working farm animals, he just wanted to cuddle and spend time with her. Because they spoke the same “love language,” it was easy to teach them to communicate with each other. After three training sessions, we agreed that he was a well-mannered doggie and a great match. I was thrilled!

Tamar Geller

Tamar Geller is a famed canine coach and author of The Loved Dog: The Playful, Non-Aggressive Way to Teach Your Dog Good Behavior (Gallery Books, 2008) and 30 Days to a Well-Mannered Dog (Simon and Schuster, 2011). Her nonprofit Operation Heroes & Hounds pairs shelter dogs with injured military veterans who train the dogs to get them ready for forever homes.


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