Should we get a fixer-upper dog (pardon the demeaning phrase), or keep looking?
August 12, 2012 5:55 AM   Subscribe

Is it a bad idea for my partner and I to get a nippy and high-energy - but smart and trainable - hound dog as our first dog together?

My partner and I have been talking about getting a dog for most of the time we've been together. We moved into a new apartment about two months ago and have settled in to the point where we are finally ready to start our dog search.

We found a fabulous rescue operation on a farm a short drive away, and we are set on adopting a dog from there. We actually found our dream dog on the website a couple months ago (a sweet treeing walker coonhound), but we decided the timing was just too close to our move to adopt a dog. So we waited, and he was quickly adopted by someone else. Inevitable, though heartbreaking.

But we're ready now. There is another dog at the farm (Dinah) who is a similar size, age, and breed (either a redbone or redtick coonhound), though female. (We were hoping for a boy dog, although we're not anti girls.) She's been on the farm for a while without getting adopted, and we really want to fall in love with her and make her ours.

We went to meet Dinah yesterday. She was sweet at first, but the manager of the farm had warned us that she tends to nip and bite shoelaces on initial meetings, and Dinah soon noticed that our shoes sported delicious laces. She got laser-focused on them and latched on. Then she grabbed my messenger bag and wouldn't let go - not growling or threatening to bite me, but obviously eager to have something to clench in her teeth. I was not scared, but I didn't feel in control.

So, that was concerning. But the manager (who we trust completely) told us the nipping behavior used to be much worse when Dinah first arrived, and the volunteers on the farm were pretty easily able to train her out of doing it to them, so she has demonstrated she can learn. Also, she only nips laces and pants, not hands or legs, so she's not a vicious dog. Later we took Dinah for a long walk in the woods, and she did pretty well. She pulled the leash a fair amount, but not anything out of the ordinary, and at only 45 pounds she's not too strong for us. We had a lot of fun on the walk and started to think that maybe we could be happy with Dinah. But back at the farm she ignored us and spent the next hour playing very nippily and tirelessly with a fellow hound.

I know she only ignored us because she doesn't know us yet, and the manager pointed out that she would bond with us if we took her home (as she has bonded with all the farm volunteers). So that's not necessarily a mark against her. And she has been to a nearby dog park and did extremely well there, being friendly and not aggressive with dogs she didn't know. So, that's good news. The manager seemed to think we would be a good fit for Dinah, and vice versa, but only if we thought so too.

Other salient details about us: my partner (H) grew up with dogs and is very comfortable around hound dogs in particular. I've only ever had cats, though I've wanted a dog for years. But I used to picture myself with a big golden retriever or even something like a briard, you know, gentle and loyal and floppy. H is more a fan of sleek, short-haired dogs like labs and hounds. We had talked about getting a yellow lab, as that seemed like the perfect compromise in dog appearance and temperament, but then we discovered the treeing walker coonhound and got excited about the idea of a hound. Hounds do have a lot of energy, though, and Dinah maybe more than most, and we live in a medium-to-small apartment. We are pretty active people and could give her plenty of exercise, but we also want a dog who will chill out sometimes and snooze with us on the couch.

I'm not naturally assertive around dogs, so I don't love the idea of getting one that needs a fair amount of behavioral work (though I'm certainly open to going to obedience classes, etc.). It's not that I want a submissive dog, but an affectionate temperament is important to me. When I was a kid my grandparents had a mean old dachshund that bullied me and once bit my hand open, so I don't know how well I can deal with a mouthy dog, even if she only bites laces.

On the drive home H acknowledged that if she were making the decision alone, she would already have Dinah in the backseat, although she did have concerns about the nipping and rough playing. I said that if I were making the decision alone, I would most likely pass on Dinah. Neither of us wants to pressure the other. H doesn't want us to get a dog that I don't feel comfortable around, and I agree that wouldn't be healthy. But on the other hand, I know that any dog is going to require some work on my part, and there is a lot about Dinah I could learn to love, with some training on her part and some confidence on mine: she's the perfect size, she's smart, she will be happy to go running and hiking with us, etc.

But should we hold out for a more suitable dog (whatever that means)? The farm seems to get at least one or two new dogs in every week, and those are often labs and hounds. We don't really have a reason to rush the decision other than the fact that H is a teacher so there are a few weeks left of summer vacation where she could be home with the dog more often. On the other hand, her sister is getting married in early October, so we have a lot of busy weekends ahead of us, and we could easily wait til autumn to embark on new dog ownership. But we are impatient, and we'd love to have some summer fun with our dog.

That's a lot of information! So what do you think? Should we adopt Dinah, the nippy but trainable girl dog, or hold out for a more perfect dog who may or may not exist?
posted by quarked to Pets & Animals (22 answers total)
Nearly EVERY dog needs some kind of behavioral work. What you described doesn't sound dangerous, nor does it sound like it can't be dealt with through some skilled training (you might want to get the help of a dog behavior specialist to help you get quickly through the retraining about the laces and pantlegs, but it should be an easy behavior to extinquish).

If you provide the amount of exercise needed, the dog will spend some time chilling. Like your hound, Huskies are a high energy dog, however with many miles of walking each day and some play time at the dog park, my four year old pup will settle in for the evening (and, for much of the day if I let her) and snooze her life away.

Like mattoxic said, get the dog! :)
posted by HuronBob at 6:18 AM on August 12, 2012

There is nothing wrong in waiting for the right dog. If you're in this much doubt wait. Look into labs again. Having a dog is a long commitment and both you and the dog will be better off if you're sure.
posted by Requiax at 6:40 AM on August 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'd suggest that the person with the least experience with dogs should have more say, because it will be important for you two dog-parents to be very consistent in the dog's training (more so with a "troubled" dog and it will be harder for you to fully engage with that if you are uncomfortable. I also grew up with cats, so had no experience when I moved in with my husband and his "grad school level" dog. The challenge of training our dog has soured me on the whole dog ownership concept, and I'd hate for that to happen to you when it doesn't have to.
posted by emkelley at 6:48 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My experience with working dogs (although not this particular breed) is that they are neurotic and/or destructive if they're not getting a huge amount of exercise and stimulation every single day. I personally would not adopt a high-energy individual of a working breed unless I had a lot of room and a willingness to give them a "job", both for my sake and for the sake of the dog. It seems like she's doing well on the farm, so maybe there is a better match for her somewhere in a similar situation.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:16 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I encourage you to wait. We rushed our dog decision a bit, with me (the purportedly more comfortable partner) doing a lot of convincing and wheedling of my previously-dog-inexperienced partner. It was NOT a good move. We ended up rehoming our pup (see my previous questions), and the whole thing was awful.

That said, if *you* think it's a good idea to get this particular dog, here are the things I would have done differently:
- Training, training, training. I would have started right up front with classes and possibly one-on-one training, but it's ongoing, permanent work.
- Make sure there's a schedule for the dog, and that you and your partner agree on that. You're going to have to adjust your lifestyle a fair bit, and you should plan for that. How much exercise does she need? Who's going to do it? With that kind of dog, and an apartment, making sure she gets outside and moves for at least an hour every day is going to be important, as is keeping her brain engaged.

Smart dogs are a blessing and a curse -- they learn quickly, but they also learn how to game your system. I'm sorry if this is all doom-and-gloom, but I think it's really important to be realistic about the impact of especially a smart, high-energy dog.
posted by linettasky at 7:23 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Listen to your gut. This dog isn't right for you. That's fine. Keep looking.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:39 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love hounds! That said, I don't think a hound is a good pick for a first time dog owner who lives in an apartment. It just really isn't.

I think you need to take the traits you and your partner enjoy about hounds and find them in a breed more suited to apartment life.
posted by aviatrix at 8:02 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm going to agree with some others that a hound isn't a good first-timer dog. They need lots of mental stimulation, lots of training, lots of attention; and even then, there's some things about them that will never change. It will require a huge amount of lifestyle changes that you're not going to realize until the dog is in your apartment.

That said, it has been done. It's a huge commitment, but it's not impossible.

What are you and your partners schedules like? How much exercise can you give the pup on a daily basis? How long would the pup be left alone on a daily basis? What would you do with the dog if you and your partner wanted to take a weekend getaway?

Give me some semblance of answers to those questions, and I can start giving you ideas about how you can do it.

You mentioned affectionate and "dopey" -- a hound dog is going to give you loads of both.

Citation: hound dog owner myself.
posted by jms18 at 8:17 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

though I'm certainly open to going to obedience classes, etc.

Obedience classes aren't about educating the dog, they're about educating YOU to handle and interact with dogs well. Regardless of what dog you get, you should take at least a basic class to get the general gist of how to shape behavior using positive reinforcement. Don't wait until you're facing behavioral problems.
posted by jon1270 at 8:19 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey, have you considered a Basset Hound? They have bursts of high energy, but only when they're super-stimulated on a walk or going after something edible and delicious. They're so affectionate. Full disclosure: sometimes they just give up on the whole "walking" thing and you have to carry them home, which is the equivalent of toting a 40lb bag of flour. But they might be the perfect intersection of first time lovey dog and hound, for both you and your partner. I had one all through teenage years/university, ended up hiding him in my college apartment...and when my landlord found out about him, he was so charmed that he actually bent his pets policy so I could keep my smelly hound. To be honest, I'd be a little intimidated by Dinah, too. Sounds like she needs a lot of discipline and training. If you're not alpha in this situation, it might not actually be a healthy fit for the dog. You don't want to accidentally reinforce destructive behavior in her that might make her a less desirable dog to live with.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 9:13 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband was the never-lived-with-a-dog member of our partnership, so when we adopted our dogs, I had him be the primary decider. Many rescue dogs come with behavior problems (hence why they end up in the shelter) and need a lot of training/re-training in a positive environment. You need to have a dog who both of you respect and *like* so both of you can forgive him/her for the many mistakes they are bound to make.
posted by apennington at 10:27 AM on August 12, 2012

Nope. As I read your description, I kept thinking "okay, one of them doesn't work and is looking for a hardcore hobby..." that's the only scenario in which I would say yes.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:30 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

An intelligent high energy dog and an unsure, nervous, and inexperienced human is a guaranteed way for the dog to end up back in the rescue system in very short order.

I don't want to sound harsh, you sound like you really want to make a dog work but if you are hesitant, unsure and unwilling to assert yourself than this dog will have you buffaloed and be out of control in no time flat. I'm looking at Rescue dogs myself, and if you pay attention to the back story 90% of the dogs that are surrendered or abandoned are there because someone bought a breed they were unsuited for.

I'd say look for your Golden Retriever or some other dog with the temperment you are after. Buying a dog based on how it looks is a REALLY bad idea, it's fine to say I want a small/medium/big dog, or I don't like dogs with pushed in noses... but choosing a breed based purely on appearance is a recipe for trouble.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 11:51 AM on August 12, 2012

I'd say pass on the hound and get a yellow lab or a golden. High energy dogs are not the greatest fit for an apartment and can be tough to deal with as a first time dog. I really think as an inexperienced dog owner, you will have some trouble with a hound, simply because they are a 'bit different' from other dogs, and every hound I've known has been sweet, but hard-headed, even with obedience training. Often they can be pack (dog) orientated rather than people animals. Granted your partner has had dogs before, but it would be nice to have a dog that both of you can be comfortable handling and bond with.

I'd also pass on a beagle. Again, they're sweet and funny, but there are so many with skin issues (can be expensive) and they often have an ... odor, requiring bathing twice a month, and then you exacerbate the skin issues.

Have you considered a greyhound? Laid back, but loves walks, loyal, easy to get along with, always willing to hang out in an apartment and snooze with you.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:00 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Will the farm let you "foster with intent"? It's totally okay to pass on a dog you're not sure of, too.

H is more a fan of sleek, short-haired dogs like labs and hounds. ... We are pretty active people and could give her plenty of exercise, but we also want a dog who will chill out sometimes and snooze with us on the couch.

Have you looked into greyhounds at all? I'm biased, though. :)
posted by mon-ma-tron at 12:21 PM on August 12, 2012

We had a lot of fun on the walk and started to think that maybe we could be happy with Dinah. But back at the farm she ignored us

Just wanted to say something about this one thing. I adopted one of my current dogs based on his listing on Petfinder, and spent no more than about 15 seconds with him before I adopted him (just long enough to locate the correct cage and point him out to the shelter worker as the one I had come for.).

When they brought him out and gave me his leash, he could not have possibly been less interested in me. He did not even acknowledge me at all. He was only interested in sniffing at things on the ground. When I tried to pick him up to put him in my car, he snarled and snapped at my face (background of abuse). That night, when we got back to the house, he found a corner, curled up, and went to sleep alone. When I tried to pet him, he froze and shook. No smiling, no tail wags.

It has now been about a year and change since then. This dog is obsessed with me. When I go from room to room in the house, he follows me. When I move from one side of a room to another, he follows me. If I make him go outside, he stares at me through the windows wagging his tail, and when I move around the house he follows from outside in order to keep looking at me through the windows. He is at the point where he anticipates my movements so much that sometimes before I even get to the other part of the house, when I get there I find he is already there looking through the window. If he is running around outside somewhere and I call him, within seconds I will see him on his way back at top speed. He learned the sound of my car and can hear it from far away, so every time I pull into the driveway I find him waiting right there at the beginning of it.

Now, this is a chow mix and not a coonhound. I am not familiar with coonhounds so I do not know if they are as prone to extreme loyalty. But I am just saying, don't base the potential for bonding with this dog based on how she acts at your first meeting. It can take time for them, too.
posted by cairdeas at 1:06 PM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Without seeing the dog in action, it's hard to tell if it's actually aggressive or has learned this as a playful mode of interaction. Sometimes you see dogs biting their leashes as they walk, and it's generally because they've gotten attention for it, and isn't part of a larger biting issue. I would bet this isn't a sign of aggression, but there's no way for us to actually assess the situation without more information.

However, this kind of dog is really REALLY not a great first dog for apartment-dwelling people. She probably would cuddle on a couch -- even high energy dogs are good cuddlers! -- but my guess is that she'll require far too much activity/interaction/training/jobs for y'all.
posted by barnone at 2:03 PM on August 12, 2012

I can't say whether Dinah is right for you or not, but will say her type of nipping isn't likely to be aggressive in the least and should be pretty straightforward to train out.

I came in to say, any dog you bring home will be a project in one way or another. Dogs are work, but very rewarding work. And the alpha bit has been so thoroughly debunked... ignore it. Your dog will need you to be calm, trustworthy, reliable and a good communicator. The dog you bring home will be a very different dog 2, 6, even 12 months later.

Hounds, including greyhounds and other sighthounds, aren't so much stubborn as they are independent thinkers. Positive training is the way to go, and learn as much about training your dog as you can. Having an answer to my dogs' question of, "what's in it for me?" has gotten me two very well-behaved hounds. You weren't asking about greyhounds, but I have to say, most of them are perfect apartment dwellers; happy to sleep, but ready for a walk any time. And I've never known cleaner, more polite dogs than greys.

My vet says that I can turn any dog into a sweet marshmallow, but I won't ever have a terrier, a pit type or even a Rottie. Border collies turn my hair white, and even rambunctious Labs try my patience. Choose the dog with a temperament that fits both of yours, give him or her plenty of time to settle in and train train train.
posted by vers at 2:30 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

The dog is in a nice safe place, if you are having second doubts I would leave that dog to find someone more suited to her temperament and yours.

If, however, you both want to get the dog there is nothing wrong in getting a "fixer upper" both my dogs were rescues with behavioral issues because I love nothing more than working with dogs to bring out the best in them.

None of your dogs problems sound too bad and seem pretty standard, except for the nipping, and to my mind are nothing that some steady consistent work/training wouldn't fix in not time. The main problem would be the exercise requirements as the dog to be happy in an apartment would most likely need 2 good walks a day and a lot of toys to keep it out of trouble. We kept 2 high energy terriers in a 750 square foot apartment and they got 3 walks a day plus pee breaks as needed.

I'd recommend training classes and even agility classes as a good way for both you and the dog to get to know each other and to use up some of that brain power and energy. Clicker training is a great training technique and I highly recommend it, or any other positive reinforcement method. Just realize if you take the dog knowing it's a fixer upper please don't give up on the dog if it turns out to be more work than you think, though I suspect that you will be surprised how easy the problems work themselves out with a routine, a few classes and once the dog knows you and your expectations, most dogs adapt themselves surprisingly well to their owners they just need to be shown what is expected of them.

As for impulsively getting the dog I really shouldn't say anything I saw one of my 2 dogs for barely a second as I walked into the animal control kennels and said to the woman showing me the way I'll take that one before I even got up to the cage and the second one started out a a random foster dog I took on short notice to help out a rescue group.

Good luck whatever you decide.
posted by wwax at 4:15 PM on August 12, 2012

I love hound dogs, they are great! But I think you should reconsider. Why? As I think folks above have said, hounds require a lot of mental stimulation and the ones who need behavioral help need even more of your attention. It's not impossible, but since you aren't experienced with dogs (and I'm sure your partner is) why not opt for a slightly easier first-canine?

Also, you live in an apartment building and coonhounds can be LOUD. They're not great for apartment living.

I noticed that a bunch of people have already suggested adopting a greyhound and I'm going to add my voice to that chorus. There are lots of greyhounds that need rescuing and they're lovely dogs (even though I'm partial to hounds and shepherds myself). :) Good luck!
posted by blue_bicycle at 5:42 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's fantastic that you and your partner are being careful not to pressure one another about this. Too many dog owners are rushed into accepting a new addition because one person really wanted that one.

Can you visit Dinah a few times? If there's a high turnover rate at this rescue it might make things difficult and/or risky, but try to stop by a few times. She'll become a little more familiar with you and you can begin to get a sense of what she's like when she's not just super-thrilled that there are new people around and she's out of her kennel.

When in doubt, always go for a lower-energy dog. Dogs that are more laid back are very rarely unwilling to join you for an extra-long walk, hiking trip, etc, but a dog who is more high-energy might make you feel resentful about being "forced" to go on that extra-long walk every single day, quite possibly with play periods in between. When you're feeling ill or down, do you want a dog whose needs get you out of the house anyway? Or do you want one who will contentedly lounge near the couch and behave just fine until tomorrow?

As for the nipping, that's probably quite trainable. I would consider how you're going to work with her when she decides to nip someone else's laces/pants/etc, and whether you're willing to work with her until you can trust her not to scare visitors, people you might meet during a walk, etc.

I'm sure you'll make the right decision in the end. You sound like a very level-headed couple. There are lots of dogs out there; if Dinah isn't the perfect dog for you, you'll find one soon enough.
posted by Urban Winter at 8:33 AM on August 13, 2012

My 'love of my life dog'? I saw him at the pound, he got up, looked at me, and walked out the door, totally ignoring me. Damn I loved that dog.

My current dog? Gave me a gentle lick at the pound. I wasn't sure, went home, slept on it. In the morning I woke up knowing her name. I couldn't get there fast enough to pick her up.

These dogs both had issues, first one had serious ones. But I knew I could love them and was willing to work on whatever problems they had. I somehow always just felt it. Like dating.

I did long term foster a dog that I didn't have a connection with. I had him until he died. It was a different kind of relationship, I didn't love him as intensely. But it was still easy to have great fond memories of him, and knowing I gave him a happy last year of his life was amazing.

You just never know. I agree with the idea of bringing her home for a test, as their personalities can really change depending on their circumstance. I think that would be the place of real information for you.
posted by Vaike at 5:37 PM on August 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

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