Do you have any advice for choosing a family pup? What breeds are best? Do I take a chance on rescuing over buying from a breeder? What is the healthiest arrangement for a family with young kids?— Dog Mom Hopeful
Congratulations on choosing to expand your family!
Yes, I consider adding a dog like adding a child. And that’s for good reason: dogs are incredibly smart, emotional, intuitive mammals just like we are. And they need emotional + physical inputs just like us humans, too.
When you lead with that understanding, I think it’s much more about how the adults, children and dog are trained, more so than what breed the dog is or whether it came from a shelter or rescue.
That said, I have rescued a handful of dogs, volunteered for animal shelters, and invested way more money than I’d like to admit on training for dogs.
I’ll share the best of what I know here in this post so that we can shortcut the investment of time + money for you, and so that you + your family can get onto enjoying your fur-baby much faster!
Get Honest About Your Activity Level
There’s a saying “a tired dog is a happy dog” and I’ve found this to be exceptionally true.
No matter which breed you choose, every dog needs some sort of stimulation throughout the day. When a dog gets bored, they create their own entertainment.
Even the big dogs that appear lazy will do this. Big dogs just mean they can get into bigger trouble!
What is truly realistic for you?
Look at how many opportunities you have (or don’t have) throughout the day to walk, run, throw a tennis ball, practice obedience tricks, fill up toys/bones with hidden goodies, etc.
As a stay-at-home mom + entrepreneur, I am home 95% of the time and these opportunities are essentially boundless for me.
But I know that just because I can run the dogs around the neighborhood 4x/day, doesn’t mean that I want to spend my time or energy that way.
Know what your schedule allows for exercise/stimulation + get honest about what you are truly willing to do (on your worst days) to help the dog take advantage of that.
For me, that looks like having a fenced-in backyard big enough for the dogs to run long lengths + back. I know that when our freezing New England weather hits and I don’t want to be outside, I can throw a tennis ball from my back door a few times + the dogs still get their energy out a few times a day.
I recommend judging this energy allotment based on the adults in the house only. Children might not follow through or be as reliable, and you don’t want to make the only dog conversations in the house an argument… “well you said you’d walk the dog everyday!”
Budget for Positive Verbal Training
Not all dog training is alike.
I only recommend positive verbal training. That’s it. Unless you are in a seriously dangerous scenario, I never EVER recommend a different training.
Note: most of the dangerous scenarios you hear about are because of a lack of training. Do this out the gate!
If you were hit, beeped at, zapped, dragged, isolated, pinched, or anything in that realm — time and time again — wouldn’t you eventually snap?
Just because a dog falls in line with enough “discipline” doesn’t mean that you’re not creating mounting distrust and stress in a dog over time. Just like humans — that all will come back up eventually.
When you use positive verbal training, the dog starts out earning your verbal praise and maybe some food-based treats (which you eventually wean off or don’t make as predictable). The dog learns to look for your verbal cues, which means that if Fido ever gets off-leash, you can recall them with your voice and not be fumbling for a clicker-beeper thing.
Even the dogs with the harshest backgrounds can do this. Our Rottweiler/Lab Mix rescue, Penny, LIVES for verbal praise. She comes on the first call. If you tell her she’s a “pretty princess” she nearly dies of happiness. That’s all she needs and any treats are bonuses.
This training has allowed us to rescue and bond with multiple dogs. We’re not slaves to bags of treats, or leashes, or other special equipment. It’s a bond dog-to-person.
If you’ll be using a dog boarding service, or doggy daycare, be sure to seek out a provider that can help you keep this training consistent. You don’t want to mix trainings if you can help it.
Adopt, Don’t Shop
When people say “adopt, don’t shop” the intention is to stop incentivizing breeders by keeping them in-business financially. The goal is to not let so many great dogs (who you could get for a lot less) expire in shelters.
But I want to point out that adopting a dog doesn’t mean you can’t shop around the shelters!
We’ve adopted dogs from Tennessee and Louisiana and Rhode Island. Our oldest, Bruin, was born in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Tennessee. He is the HAPPIEST, most grateful, loyal dog even though his circumstances were embarrassing.
When we went to rescue a dog, we went to the shelter and watched Bruin and his siblings “play”. From there, we were able to pick the personality that would best fit our family. I knew that I needed the second-most dominant dog for our current living situation. Bruin fit that to a tee.
You aren’t limited to just getting the next available dog handed to you. Great shelters will help you evaluate the personalities just like a breeder would. Ask for shelter referrals.
Set Boundaries Before the Dog Moves In
Designate a special dog-only spot in your home, so that the dog has an escape space.
We’re living in an 850-square foot home (until it’s renovated). This includes 3 large dogs, a 2-year-old, my 6-foot-tall athletic husband, and a very pregnant ME due any day now.
The only safe arrangement for us is to give each dog their own kennel. They eat in the kennels, have water bowls attached inside, and they sleep there overnight.
I rotate one dog out in the house at a time, so that they can stretch out, chew bones, play with the kids, etc. For potty breaks or exercise, all 3 dogs go outside together.
Be honest about what your home can accommodate. My house gets covered in the 2-year-old’s toys every day. Keeping 1 dog out at a time inside allows for less moving parts for the dog + family to get stressed out about.
This arrangement also allows the dogs to never have to get possessive due to environment. Food is always safe with them in their kennels. There is no vying for resources. There’s a feeding schedule + a designated feeding location. We eliminate that stress for the dogs right away.
Save Money By Starting Holistic Care Right Away
Dogs are like children — everything in their mouths, picking up germs, having allergies, etc.
With that, I’ve found that starting my dogs on a holistic dog food has been the best return on investment. We’re starting out with quality food that amplifies healthy gut bacteria, and that has established strong immunity.
When you buy cheaper foods from big box stores, you truly are getting what you pay for. From experience, I’ve found that I always ended up making up for the difference (and then some) at the vet office for stomach upsets + ear infections.
Paying more for high quality dog foods up-front is substantially cheaper.
I also recommend finding a holistic or integrative vet, who would be able to help you with specific flea/tick remedies, diet accommodations, and routine shots required for your area.
What other questions do you have about adding a pet to the family?
I’m always happy to share what I know about dog ownership + will always help answer dog questions in the Organic Mommy CEO Facebook Group. Join us there if you haven’t yet!