There are going to be times in your life when you need an easygoing, lower-trouble dog. Don’t feel guilty about it. Those dogs need good homes, too, and you aren’t obliged to adopt only project dogs.
First of all, though, let me remind you that there is no such thing as a perfect dog. Your new dog will need training and reinforcement about the rules of your home. So when I say easy keeper, I don’t mean “living stuffed animal,” or “dog who will tolerate inadequate treatment.” I mean a housebroken dog who understands what it means to live in a house, who can assess situations well, and who seems to understand the big picture.
So where to find the easy keeper?
First and foremost, one of the best ways to get an easy keeper is to go through a reputable rescue that uses foster homes. Rescues don’t have the same time pressure as shelters, so they are able to spend more time with their dogs. Because they use foster homes, they have the opportunity to see how the dog reacts in a home environment, rather than in the stress of a shelter environment. They tend to know how their dog reacts to everyday situations. Read their Petfinder descriptions. Sometimes they’ll spell it out, but you should also look for words like gentle, helpful, kind, thoughtful, and loving. Basically, any words that make a dog sound like a caring nurturer are a good sign.
If you are looking for an easygoing dog and you are dealing with a rescue, tell them what you are looking for. Make sure that you emphasize that you understand that your dog will need training and that you don’t expect perfection. Most rescues get that.
Another place to find an easy keeper is through friends and family. You’d be surprised how often people have to rehome wonderful dogs for very good, legitimate reasons, like allergies (it happens sometimes) or relocation abroad. Keep your ears open. It’s possible a dog you already know needs a new home. I do NOT suggest that you broadcast your intentions, though; people can be dishonest and desperate and the last thing you want is to be pressured or tricked.
Craigslist is another option, but you need to make sure to harden your heart before you read listings there, and be prepared to say no. This might be too hard for you to manage, because some people are simply awful, so know yourself before you go this route. However, it’s a place where people often go first to try to rehome family pets. By the way, don’t be phased by people who charge an adoption fee for their family pet; they have been told (correctly) that doing so weeds out people who want the dog for nefarious purposes or who are too cheap to provide a dog with the care they’ll need.
Another option is to get a failed seeing eye dog. Those dogs are normally beautifully obedient, and have failed the test because they can’t meet the extremely high standards needed for a dog to do this job. For example, failed dogs might be too easily distracted, have too high a startle reflex, or be unable to resist the lure of nearby food or attention. You might have to get on a waiting list, but these dogs are normally gems.
Finally, a good place to start, ironically enough, is at one of those pet store pet shows. Those shows are disastrous and high-stress and our rescue rarely did them, but if you see a dog who is unphased by all the people and other animals, chances are you are dealing with an easy keeper. You can tell the dog is doing well if they approach you in a friendly and appropriate manner. If you come across a dog who flops on their back in the middle of a pet store so you can rub their belly, that’s another excellent sign. You’ll still need a lot more information, but you can get a good idea of basic temperament in a situation that a lot of dogs find absolutely unbearable.
And now here’s the kicker, so please pay attention. If you want an easy keeper, you are going to want an adult dog. If a dog is four or older, chances are they have outgrown a lot of the behaviors that make younger dogs a trial sometimes, like destructiveness or hyperactivity. Many of the absolute best-behaved dogs our rescue has placed have been somewhere between four and six in age and were somebody else’s castoffs.