So you're about to adopt a new family member and you want to make sure you get a nice dog, one that's fun to be around and easily trained. Whether you are looking to adopt a puppy or an older dog, the signs to look for in a dog that's eager to please are essentially the same.
If you are looking to adopt a puppy and want to be sure you get one that is eager to make you happy, look for the puppy among the litter who is trying to get your attention. All dogs are individuals. Even though purebred dogs may share certain traits with others of their breed, they are still individuals in their motivations, choice of currency, ability to handle new situations and other factors that make up the dog's personality. If the parents are on the premises, spend time with them and see if they have that "eager to please" gene themselves.
Older Shelter Dog
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If you are looking to adopt an older shelter dog, that is, any dog older than 6 months, look for the one keeping an eye on you, not one cowering in the back of the kennel. Some people are drawn to those dogs because they want to rescue a hard-to-adopt dog and have the skills to turn the dog around. If this isn't you, bypass those dogs and look to the dogs who are coming to the kennel door, eagerly trying to lick your hand or attract your attention. The dog who jumps up on the door and barks may be eager to please, but when you stop and lower your body to his level and put your hand up against the door, not in the kennel, he should sit and look at you for further direction. This demonstrates submissiveness.
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Take the dog's breed into consideration. Some dog breeds are known for being people-pleasers, others are known for being more aloof. Research the breeds and learn which is more likely to suit your needs. Even mixed-breed dogs retain much of the influence of the genetic makeup of their various breeds, so keep that in mind when choosing a mixed-breed dog. High energy dogs, those who run toward the front of the kennel and bark at you, may end up to be a dog who wants nothing more than to please you, but that dog will need a little time to settle into a routine and get to know you first. The submissive dog sitting quietly, hoping to catch your eye, is more likely to look to you for direction from the outset.
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Eye contact is important but often misunderstood. A dog staring at you with a look that makes you feel uncomfortable, as if you are being challenged, is not a people-pleaser. The look is accompanied by a stiffening of the body, the tail held high, straight and still, ears forward. This is not a dog who is eager to please. A dog who refuses to look at you probably is fearful and will take some time to get to know you before deciding if he wants to please you. Look for a dog who is watching you, who will look you in the eye, break contact and look at you again. Murmuring soft words and allowing the dog to sniff your hand as you continue to make eye contact with him will put him at ease enough to show you his true nature.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.