Why you should care

Because adopting a dog is not a date — it’s a marriage. 

“We choose our dogs the wrong way, which means all too often, we bring home the wrong best friend,” says Jodi Andersen, a New York City dog-trainer-to-the-rich-and-famous who has been working with dogs and people for more than 25 years. 

She knows what makes or breaks a relationship. And what’s often at the root of the problem: Choosing a dog based on its looks, when it’s far more important for us to “dig deep, find out something about ourselves and then determine if the dog is right for us before bringing the dog home,” says Andersen. She wrote the book The Latchkey Dog: How the Way You Live Shapes the Behavior of the Dog You Love.

In the United States, there are “four million failed relationships” a year, says Andersen of the number of dogs returned to shelters (670,000 of which are euthanized annually). It’s why she created How I Met My Dog — a web-based matchmaking service for humans and dogs — with co-founders Mary Ann Zeman and Sharon Mosse. But unlike other matching companies, such as Adopt-a-Pet, Petfinder and All Paws, How I Met My Dog doesn’t use keyword matching. Instead, it uses a custom survey — for both the adopters and the adoptees.

The ComPETibility algorithm, which powers the matchmaking system, gives a voice to the dog, not just the human. That’s done by asking fosters 47 questions and shelters 33 questions about the personality of a dog in their care: what the dog wants and likes, what the dog doesn’t like and what are the specific needs of the dog. 

We only let humans fall in love with a cute face they are compatible with.

Jodi Andersen, co-founder of How I Met My Dog

For humans, the 56-question survey — vetted through human behaviorists, veterinarians and shelter experts — pinpoints expectations, with a focus on lifestyle and behavior. A sample question: “Would you rather have a party or go to a party?” Answers are fed into the algorithm to determine which dog and human would be a good match. Only after adopters-to-be have answered their questions are they shown pictures of adorable dogs. Andersen says, “That way, we only let humans fall in love with a cute face they are compatible with.”

 

A year ago, Callie Spiros, who lives in Sausalito, California, adopted Timber when he was 14 weeks old through How I Met My Dog and they’ve “been inseparable since.” Having never adopted a dog before, she’s impressed how the lengthy questionnaire matched her with a canine companion whose personality and energy level match her own: “We are both active and inquisitive, and love to be social,” but also sometimes just want to “snuggle and hang out.” 

See Callie Spiros and Timber:

It took nearly three years to build the How I Met My Dog team and create and test the algorithm. A seven-month beta test took place in New England in 2017. The free matching service (adoption fees are handled directly with the rescue facility when a match is confirmed) has since expanded into New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Texas, and will soon launch in Florida and California. There’s been positive feedback from rescue organizations and shelters, which depend mainly on walk-in traffic, Andersen explains. The challenge: A potential adopter may be drawn to a dog they think is cute and it’s up to the shelter to determine if it’s a good match — and convince the adopter if they think otherwise. 

So far, How I Met My Dog has placed 100 dogs. The service is web-based (but mobile-friendly) and there are plans in the works for an app. 

How long will it take to reduce that 4-million-a-year dog return rate? That is incumbent on how quickly services like How I Met My Dog can change how people choose their pets, Andersen says. “Bringing a dog home should be looked at as a 12-year commitment … not as a date.” 

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