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Amberly McAteer sits with Sonic, a Hairless Chinese Crested and two Great Danes, Nessa and Drake, in Berczy Park during the ninth annual Woofstock festival in Toronto on Sunday, June 12, 2011.Matthew Sherwood for The Globe and Mail

A bright blue poodle sniffs my hand as a teacup version swings through the crowd, grinning from a man purse. Two chihuahuas in pink zebra jackets stroll by – that is, they're in a stroller. A mastiff with a bowtie plants himself on my foot.

I'm at Woofstock, a canine extravaganza in Toronto, meeting all shapes and sizes in my hunt for the perfect dog. Sure, I've got a shortlist – bulldogs, boxers, Weimaraners, basenjis – but will any of those breeds mesh with me? I want a dog, but how can one word have so many meanings?

Dozens of owners insist I must own their breed of choice. Karen Kennedy lives in Waterloo, Ont., with Nessa and Drake, two 140-pound Great Danes. Counterintuitively, her two beasts would make excellent apartment dogs, she says. "They've got that couch-potato factor built in, but still have that –" Drake's wet nose drenches my elbow. His massive square head pops out from my armpit. I'm smitten.

I add Danes to my mental list of possible breeds, but I'm trying to visualize being the alpha with a dog who weighs more than I do.

I run my list through some online compatibility tests that are more in-depth than eHarmony questionnaires. They don't raise any red flags. But when I call Gillian Ridgeway, a trainer for 40 years, to ask about my top pick, she snickers. "Boxers? Honestly?"


My childhood dog was terrific in every sense, I argue. Ms. Ridgeway, the owner of Who's Walking Who, a dog centre in Ajax, Ont., doesn't let up.

"Trust me, they're aggressive and problematic. … They're not good-natured dogs," says the trainer, who notes she's "in the trenches" with ill-mannered dogs.

She also vetoes Great Danes (too big) and Weimaraners (too active).

Maybe I should settle for her suggestion, an English cocker spaniel, or go for a miniature version of a boxer, such as a Boston terrier. But do I want a dog I settled for?

I track down uber guru Cesar Millan while he's on a promotional tour in Toronto. The Dog Whisperer shakes his head when I relay Ms. Ridgeway's take. "That's like saying Mexicans are not good people." My fears are calmed (or maybe I'm mesmerized by his charm and glowing teeth).

"The question for a person who's going to get a dog for the first time should be, 'What individual dog is compatible, energy-wise?' Size, breed, doesn't matter … Think about your sibling – same breed, same species – but different energy."

The TV doggie psychologist says a dog with a medium- to low-energy personality, irrespective of breed, size or gender, is ideal for me, a high-energy girl. "You just have to find your match," he assures me, and repeats his mantra that I must give exercise first, then discipline, then affection. "You lead with your heart too much," he scolds.

Theresa Rickerby, breed consultant and owner of All Creatures Great and Small pet store in Cobourg, Ont., is the wisest expert so far. She tells me to write down all the qualities I'm searching for: "It's about breed traits, but it's also so much about personality."

As soon as we hang up, I post my must-have list on my fridge: intelligent, playful, short-haired, loyal and big enough to wrestle and cuddle. My mom, over for dinner, mistakes it for an ideal man list. I suppose she's not that far off.

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