Home > Dog Behavior, Pet Adoption, Pet Ponderings, Pet Topics > Are you and your dog mismatched?

Are you and your dog mismatched?

Woman Walking Her DogA couple of weeks ago a friend posted on her Facebook page that her brain was hurting after attending a Suzanne Clothier seminar. I had to laugh. I could SO relate to what she was feeling. Back in November, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend two of the three sessions held by Suzanne here in Minnesota.

To say the sessions were mind-blowing would be an understatement. I can still remember driving home after that first session and feeling like the synapses in my brain were going off all at once.  I learned more about dogs in those first three hours than I had ever learned before. I’m pretty sure I said “Wow.” at least twenty times during that first night’s drive home.

The second session was just as mind-blowing as the first and included a lot of real life demonstrations using dogs with real issues. It was exciting to be able to pick out some of the behavioral cues being given by the dogs as Suzanne worked with them.

But the highlight of the session (for me) was a video Suzanne showed during her last session. When I say it was a highlight I mean that it gave me that “A-ha” moment, a moment of insight into myself and into dogs.

Suzanne introduced the video by saying that what we were about to see was an initial meeting between a potential adopter ( a man) and a Shepherd/Husky/Lab mix. The man had come in to meet the dog after seeing his picture on the internet. He was certain that this was the dog for him.

We watched the video in silence as the man met the dog outside. Right away, it was evident that the dog had no interest in the man. As they stood on the gravel driveway, the dog made it clear that he wanted distance. He stood at the very end of the leash and put his back to the man (facing out and away from him). When the man tried to pull the dog in closer to him, he resisted and tried to maintain some distance from him.

When the man sat down on the ground, he pulled the dog in towards him and tried to hug him. The dog tolerated it way more than most people would have, but it was clear from his body language that he wanted no part of it. He pulled away, and even when pulled in close, looked uncomfortable and stiff and always faced away from the man. There were also a lot of yawns and lip-licking (signs of stress in a dog).

As I watched the video, I remember being irritated with the man for not recognizing the dog wanted nothing to do with him. Couldn’t he see the dog was resistant to his attention? Couldn’t he see the dog did not want a hug?

I was so caught up in the dog’s behavioral signals that I had failed to notice something else, something that Suzanne later pointed out – the man’s behavior. In every move and action, he was telling us what kind of dog he wanted,. He wanted a dog  who was affectionate and wanted to be close to him. Throughout the video, he made every attempt to create this closeness – pulling the dog towards him,, hugging him, holding him, etc.. The only problem was that he was trying to create that closeness with a dog who clearly preferred distance. This was a dog who probably preferred to sleep on the floor across the room from you or maybe at you feet, not a dog who wanted to be hugged.

What I had completely missed throughout the video was the dynamic between the man and the dog. Suzanne called it a mismatch, and she was completely right. It was a mismatch. The guy was a perfectly nice gentleman, and the dog was a perfectly wonderful dog – they just wanted very different things from one another.

It was an eye-opening moment for me. Such a simple explanation for something I had made so complex in my mind.Man and Dog Lying on Floor

As I thought about it even more, I started to realize how similarly matched me and my dogs are to one another. I am not someone who wants constant affection and attention from my dogs, and funny enough, my dogs are not interested in giving it back to me on a constant basis either. That’s not to say that I don’t like to cuddle with my dogs from time to time. I do. It’s just I prefer not to have a dog glued to my side and needing to touch me at every moment of the day. I like that my dogs prefer to sleep on  the floor at night. I love that they have some sense of independence from me.

And yet I know, for other dog owners, this would be the exact opposite of what they want. They want that closeness. They want the little dog in their lap at night… and you know what? That’s totally okay. In the end, it’s making sure that the dog you have matches what you want and that what you both have a need for the same things. 

So it made me curious… Do you consider yourself someone who wants that closeness with a dog? Or someone who prefers a little independence and distance? Do you consider you and your dog well-matched? If so, why do you think so?

And, have you ever had a dog that was a mismatch for you and how did you know?

  1. March 10, 2013 at 11:49 PM

    This is so important. I wish more people would pay attention to this, and be more aware of it. The dogs I was very suited to were poodles because of their amazing ability to understand language, their sensitivity, and their need to be physical. Last year when my little loves died (after 14 years), I found myself adopting a rat terrier some time later. It was amazing what a good fit this also was, even though rat terriers are more energetic and a little loony (in a good way). It turns out that they appeal to yet another side of me, which is great. The common theme was the need for cuddling and affection. Humor and complete silliness were also common themes. Then we always have out greyhound to ground us and join in the silliness!

    • Mel
      March 11, 2013 at 6:53 AM

      I wish they would too Terry. I think we all could learn from knowing what a dog wants and what we want BEFORE we adopt or get a pet. I am so sorry for the loss of your poodles. It sounds like your Rat Terrier has managed to fill a small piece of the hole in your heart. So sweet!

  2. Jen
    March 11, 2013 at 12:05 AM

    That sounds like a great seminar!

    I do love closeness with a dog, and I’m happy that Elka is a dog who likes hugs. She leans into one, she’ll wrap her head/neck around you, all of that.

    There are people she won’t allow to pet her, which is interesting. All she does is move away and look away, clearly interested in other things.

    • Mel
      March 11, 2013 at 6:54 AM

      It was Jen! I think you would have been fascinated too. There was actually a Dobie there who was learning how to walk nicely on a leash with his elderly mom.
      I never would have guessed Elka was a hugger. That is so sweet! It sounds like you are evenly matched!

  3. March 11, 2013 at 4:34 AM

    That is very interesting. Like people, animals also need their own space.Some more than others. Sounds like you had an informative time and lots to think on. Have a marvelous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

    • Mel
      March 11, 2013 at 6:51 AM

      Thanks Molly!

  4. March 11, 2013 at 5:04 AM

    This is so fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing this. The same is true for cats. When I volunteered in the SPCA Auckland cat module looking after cats that were up for adoption, I noticed it was the CATS choosing who they wanted to live with, not the other way round.

    It was extraordinary! These vulnerable kitties trapped in cages still choosing who they wanted to be with.

    I’d go around in the morning, get to know the kitties there that day, then the potential adopters would come in. One day a lovely family said they were looking for a ginger cat. I said, ‘oh, there is a magnificent ginger cat here today, really friendly and lovely, come meet him.’

    When he saw this {to my mind perfect family} he glared, turned away and sulked in his bed at the back of the cage run. I couldn’t believe the change in his personality.

    Later realized the cats were – not all of them, mind you, some were so sadly desperate they just wanted a home, any home, any person – choosing their people.

    • Mel
      March 11, 2013 at 6:51 AM

      Well that last sentence kind of made me sad. Desperate to have a family. 😦

      I hadn’t considered it before, but you make a great point about cats. I believe they do choose their families just as much as dogs do. Thank you for sharing your experience. Very interesting!

  5. To Shea
    March 11, 2013 at 6:55 AM

    Excellent Post Mel!!
    My Wife prefers to be very close with our girl Penny and Penny Loves it. Penny is with her at her side 24/7…ALL THE TIME.
    Myself, I am like you. I Love Penny, but to have her with me 24/7 would drive me crazy. I love giving her hugs and playing, but not ALL THE TIME.
    Penny is definitely a Mommys girl….LOL
    Thanks for the excellent post… 🙂
    Alex, Trish and Penny…Woof Woof!! from Penny

  6. March 11, 2013 at 7:04 AM

    Wonderful. I also have A-ha moments whenever I read Suzanne Clothier or watch one of her videotapes.

    It sounds like the video you watched should be part of training adoption counselors. Realizing the different needs of dogs and people could do a lot for making good matches.

    I tend to be a little more on the close and affectionate side of the bell curve. But I also like discovering a dog’s true nature.

    Before Honey, all my dogs were wildly excited when I got home. Not so excited (positively) by strangers. Honey is just the opposite. She’s mild and calm when we come home and all lovie when a stranger comes over.

    In some ways, I miss that affectionate greeting. But I’ve enjoyed seeing how motivated she is to meet new people. I’m happy to see her as her own dog who doesn’t always fit my expectations.

    While I think it’s good to find a right match, it’s also good to be open and accepting to a dog’s (or person’s) nature once they’re living with us. So we can enjoy what we never expected about them.

  7. March 11, 2013 at 7:54 AM

    Really interesting post – something I have thought about and notice in our dogs. Our dog Tino was what I called “his own dog”. He loved us, but he choose to spend his day outside, on his own, sleeping, eating, monitoring his domain. He’d come to us once or twice a day for a few pats and hugs and then be off on his own again. As he got older, he developed glaucoma and turned blind, but that didn’t change his behavior a bit, he still spent his days outside. If I’d tried to cuddle him, he would not have been happy!

  8. March 11, 2013 at 8:54 AM

    “mismatch” is a really interesting idea. However, I don’t think the “mismatch” in the video means that the guy shouldn’t adopt the dog. Maybe that is not what the woman meant though. The dog’s disinterest could be because the two are strangers. Yes, the man could have helped by recognizing the dog needed distance at that time but the dog could easily be the dog he wants when a little trust is earned. I think the idea of saying “nah…this dog is not for me because it didn’t act like the dog I want the very first time I met it” is a dangerous one and could lead to many potential adopters walking away from a needy pet.

    • March 11, 2013 at 9:41 AM

      I completely agree with you, in part. Many dogs are so afraid in shelters, or are just naturally weary of strangers, that you don’t get a true sense of how warm and affectionate they are with people they love and trust. But I have seen perfectly wonderful independent dogs returned to rescue because they weren’t the uber affectionate lap dog the adopters were hoping for. Adopting or buying a dog solely on a picture, without being aware of your desires/needs, and without paying attention to personality traits the dog presents to you when you meet them, can lead to unsuccessful adoptions and more homeless dogs.

    • March 11, 2013 at 11:16 AM

      Definitely agree that not all dogs’ personalities are apparent right away. Our previous foster was very shy and nervous around new people, and I don’t think he ever would have opened up to someone right away. With his adopter, we discussed his personality at length and I gave her the address for my blog in case she wanted to see some pictures of him in action since he wasn’t going to show her his true, settled in self. It took him a little time to open up fully, and they ended up being a great match.

  9. March 11, 2013 at 8:58 AM

    Awesome post! Like you, I prefer a degree of independence in a dog, and because I recognized this in myself prior to adopting, both of my dogs are perfect matches for me.

  10. March 11, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    Loved this post- it’s definitely something people should look out for when choosing a dog. My dog, Del, LOVES to be close to anyone, regardless of whether they want the attention or not. This works out well for me because I really love a good cuddle, and most of my friends who visit also can’t wait for a cuddle from him.

    It would break my heart if I chose a dog who wasn’t a ‘cuddler’.

    Thanks for this post, really made me think 🙂


  11. March 11, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    I am a cuddler and Sherman is not. He likes to be around me but not with me laying on top of him, I’ve come to accept that and we bond in other ways. Thankfully Leroy loves to cuddle so I just get my cuddle fix with him:)
    Sounds like a great seminar Mel!, i would of been so into something like that!

  12. March 11, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    Sampson is a lovebug. He just eats it up, which is exactly what I love about him. Yesterday he was laying on the floor and I lay down next to him, giving him a quick stroke. Then I lay back and he laid right back into me. So we laid there snuggling. It was heavenly.

    Delilah seeks out snuggies too and when she’s done, she lets you know. She will pull away or get up and move.

    Not Sampson, you could pet that dog 24/7 and he will enjoy every moment of it.

    Great thought provoking post!

  13. March 11, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    I would love to attend such a seminar one day! Dr. Sophia Yin is actually coming to Nova Scotia this summer for a two-day workshop and I am dying to go. Need to save every penny I can!

    Shiva and I were kind of a mismatch in many ways. We still struggle a lot with wanting different things and not understanding where they other is coming from. However, we have also grown and changed together. She started off as completely unaffectionate – which I learned to be okay with – but now there are times when I can’t get her to leave me alone and she drives me crazy with her constant licking to be pet. It took me a long time to learn to really, really love her and I think it took her some time to love me. But now that we do, it gets better every day. 🙂

  14. March 11, 2013 at 6:53 PM

    This really speaks to me. Rufus is, without a doubt, my perfect match. While he enjoys a little bit of cuddling and a good belly rub, his personality is more independent. He sleeps in bed with us and chills on the couch, but he does not NEED our affection all the time. He likes to be close without being suffocated. I am very similar.

  15. March 11, 2013 at 11:37 PM

    What an intriguing post — I guess I never really thought about it that way. I mean, there’s the obvious “fit” things — you don’t get a border collie if you’re a couch potato, and if you’re a frail 80 year old woman, you probably don’t want an exuberant 100 pound Golden Retriever pup. But I guess I never thought about whether you need a personality fit right from the get go.

    When I adopted my first dog (a malinois/GSD/collie mix), I met her initially and she was very reserved and aloof. I wasn’t really a shep person, and I spent about 20 minutes with her during which time she warmed up a little, but I didn’t really think she was the dog for me, as I’d most recently had a lab and I liked the affection and enthusiasm common to labs. I did NOT want an aloof dog, and I specifically remember telling her, “Well, why don’t you think about it, and I’ll think about it, and maybe we’ll meet again.” Not that I thought it was likely. But oddly enough, every other shelter I visited over the next eight hours was closed for kennel cough, closed for renovations, was all “out of” dogs (yes, that really happened), or just didn’t have the “right” dog (fate?). I was heading home at 8 at night, when something made me go back to look at her again. And when I got there, it was like she had, indeed, “thought it over” because she was a completely different dog, giving me her paw, focused on me, as eager as could be to come home with me.

    Like many sheps, she is something of a one-person dog, fiercely devoted to me, protective, loyal, scary smart, extremely affectionate with me, yet aloof with strangers. She picks her friends carefully, though those she picks have her full love and devotion. I actually think we have a lot in common. But the dog I got was a far cry from the first impression I had of her. And the dog I thought I wanted may have been less of a good fit than I realized. So I have to wonder, does the “fit” need to be there up front, or do we and our dogs adapt and become the right one for each other as the relationship develops?

    • Mel
      March 12, 2013 at 12:09 AM

      What a great question. Indeed, it’s almost a chicken or the egg kind of situation isn’t it?

      I loved reading your story. I am so very glad you went back.

  16. March 12, 2013 at 5:55 AM

    Loving your blog. I love dogs who are very affectionate. But I wonder, is it the humans who influence the behaviour of the dogs? In that, if the human does not like a lot of affection, the dog learns to stay at a bit of a distance, or conversely, if the human loves cuddles, the dog adapts to this too. Is it more nurture than nature?

    • Mel
      March 12, 2013 at 7:16 AM

      It’s a great question. What I didn’t state in my post was that Suzanne actually spoke with the gentleman and found out that he was the one who wanted a cuddle bug dog. Some dogs have a larger distance zone than others. That was the case with this dog. But, you make a great point.

  17. March 12, 2013 at 11:56 PM

    I was certainly mismatched with my Vizslas when they were puppies. When Vizslas are babies they want CONSTANT attention, they grow out of it when they get older. Dexter was particularly annoying. If he wasn’t sleeping, he wanted to play with someone and since Jersey wasn’t receptive to playtime, I had to take the hit. It made working difficult with a puppy constantly underfoot.

    • Mel
      March 13, 2013 at 7:08 AM

      I bet it did Karen. I did not know they want constant attention. I learned something new today.

  18. March 15, 2013 at 5:33 PM

    Here’s the strange thing. I like an independent dog and the occasional cuddle. Cushion likes a dog that’s a shadow and adores him. Georgia has somehow managed to be both these dogs for us. I suppose she reads the signals and behaves appropriately? The downside is when I want a rapturous welcome home or feel like a cuddle and she says, “NO! not today!” I guess 2 can play the same game 😉

  19. Patricia
    January 12, 2015 at 3:36 PM

    I had a 10 week old puppy I almost ruined by 2 years old. She was lively and loved other pups. By 2 she became agressive towards other dogs, protecting toys and others from my attention. It took some time, stress, tension and mistakes on my part to ‘fix this’. I had been horribly oppressing her with too much affection. She wasnt a lap dog, her value system was play and she needed her own space, not me slathering her with kisses and touching all day.
    After some hard times I was able to learn not to ‘oppress’ my dog and give her what She really needed and curb my own neediness.
    While her anxiety about some dogs never subsided, I learned to read her language and step in quickly and protect her from getting in trouble. I gave her space. I took control in public settings- so she began to refer to me when feeling stressed. We relied on my vigilance to keep her safe, and had many wonderful years together, a true soul mate. She did everything I ever told her to do with complete confidence that I had her best interest at heart. And she was an alpha female.
    If you are in love with your dog, you can curb your own primate instincts (touchy, feely), stop oppressing your dog by ‘reading dog’ , and have the greatest relationship.
    Babying dogs can really mess them up.

  1. March 14, 2013 at 10:00 PM

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