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Non-Negotiables With Dogs

Which traits are essential?
By Karen B. London PhD, January 2019, Updated June 2021
dog on stairs

For those seeking any kind of relationship, it’s wise to consider the traits that are preferred, but only some of those are essential—the so-called non-negotiables.

In romantic relationships, we may have a long list of desirable qualities, but usually there are only a few that we can’t compromise on. Perhaps your requirements are that the person be an honest, non-smoking dog lover who shares your attitude about whether to have kids or not. Whether they like horror films, are a morning person or know how to cook could be pluses, but lacking any of those qualities may not a deal breaker for you.

When seeking a relationship with a dog, there can be non-negotiable qualities, too. For example, you may want to adopt a dog to go hiking or running with you, so a dog that can’t be that active may not be right for you at all. Similarly, if you have children, you run a day care in your home or socialize with young people a lot, it may be an absolute requirement that your dog enjoy kids. If your favorite part of living with a dog is having a snuggle buddy, a dog who loves petting is probably a non-negotiable for you. Depending on your preferences and living situation, it may be fine if your dog barks quite a bit or requires daily brushing, or those might be serious problems. It’s reasonable to want a dog who you can pick up without injuring yourself (even if you would only do so in an emergency), or one who is small enough to fit in a crate in your car. For many people, color or size are irrelevant or at least traits on which they can compromise.

I use the term “non-negotiables” to refer to traits people are looking for prior to a relationship. Once you and a dog have a strong bond, changes in those qualities shouldn’t sever the bond, and I certainly don’t mean to imply that it’s okay to “break the deal” then. For example, if your elderly dog can’t be as active with you, that shouldn’t mean the deal is broken. Similarly, if a dog requires more grooming than originally anticipated, having to step it up may not be the serious problem a guardian thought it would be. That’s true even if you might have chosen another dog if you had known ahead of time what you were getting yourself into.

Sometimes, a dog comes into your life with qualities that you once considered deal breakers, only to find that this dog and you are the perfect match! Has this ever happened to you? Are there canine qualities that you consider non-negotiables?

Photo: Levent Simsek / Pexels

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life