A few dog newbie questions...

Fori is not pleasedAugust 21, 2009

I'm thinking about getting a family dog in a few months. I don't know much about them--we had dogs when I was a kid but they were outdoor dogs and I have a feeling they were not well-behaved.

So, we have little kids (aged 1.5-4.5, but trainable). We have someone home most of the time. We have a decent-sized yard. We don't want a little dog, but rather something large enough to be a trespasser deterrent (it does not need to follow through and eat trespassers--just look and sound like it). And most likely a dog from a shelter (so probably a mixed breed). Indoor/outdoor, which our weather permits.

I'm not sure what I need to know, but I want to know it before I start.

Like, do I want an itty bitty baby puppy or a half-grown pup? Or a young adult? What age is easiest to train? What age bonds with families easiest?

Are there any books or websites you'd recommend for training?

Am I silly to think I can train a dog to poop in one spot in the yard?

Does a dog need daily walks if it gets active playtime in the yard every day? (Yes, we do plan to walk it, but if it'll be happy with playing fetch some days instead, it would be helpful.)

Why is almost every dog on my local Craigslist a pitbull or Chihuahua?

And if I want a cat, too (we are seasoned cat people, but our last passed away a few years ago), do we get the cat before, after, or (yikes!) at the same time?

Any advice? Do I have unreasonable expectations?

Thanks! I guess I don't know where to start, just that I don't want to start with the actual dog!

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You can get a pure bred dog through rescue organizations. I recommend getting an older dog as with so many children in the house a puppy may be too much trouble for you to handle. For breed I recommend english bulldog. They are not small but not large. They are very good with children and my bulldog has been with cats with no problems. A bulldog also won't require that much exercise, especially in the summer when the weather is very hot. An older dog will most likely be housetrained.

You can get a dog to poop in one spot in the yard. When you get your new dog, take it outside on a leash for a couple weeks to the spot you want it to go in...plenty of praise and treats and your dog will get it. With so many kids you may want to stay away from a very energetic dog as it will be more work for you as your children are still too young to really be of much use.

Research breeds so that you know what you are in for. English bulldogs for instance can get very expensive medically, and while they do not shed as much as long haired dogs they do require other maintainance such as having their folds cleaned and depending on the dog they can be droolers.

I highly recommend a rescue organization as they will be able to fit you with the right dog.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 3:10PM
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There is no set list of things to follow.

A puppy may be the best option, or the older dog might be---it totally depends on the dog, and your family. If your family can all follow the same training procedures and maintain the same set of rules as to the dogs behavior, then the dog you get will be easier to find.

Find a book---or three, that deal with dog training/ownership. Kinda like a Dogs for Dummies type book(Just an example, obviously you are not a dummy since you are smart enough to do it right to start!) Read those books with the entire family.

Find a reputable trainer/behaviorist and talk with them. There are many ways to train/raise animals, so finding the best system for you and your family is as important as finding the best dog.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 3:51PM
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"do I want an itty bitty baby puppy or a half-grown pup? Or a young adult? What age is easiest to train? What age bonds with families easiest?"

Dogs generally bond quickly with a new family and in a new environment. It is a survival mechanism. But I wouldn't get a pup younger than 12 weeks old.
"Are there any books or websites you'd recommend for training?"

Clicker Training - this method is great. Even if you do not keep up with it, it will teach you what works with a dog.

And don't laugh, but watch as many episodes of the Dog Whisperer as you can. I believe Cesar Millan is a real wizard with dogs (and often with people). Most episodes deal with very common issues - and the most common one, which is that people tend to treat dogs like human children instead of dog children.

"Am I silly to think I can train a dog to poop in one spot in the yard?"

Not at all! This is do-able. My potty training document to follow below.

"Does a dog need daily walks if it gets active playtime in the yard every day? (Yes, we do plan to walk it, but if it'll be happy with playing fetch some days instead, it would be helpful.)"

Dogs need a lot more exercise than most people realize. If your yard is large enough so that playing fetch gives the dog a good workout, than that's fine. But if the dog doesn't like to play fetch (yes, there are dogs who don't care to fetch!) then go for that brisk walk. Don't look at it as a chore, look at it as an opportunity to keep the whole family fit - take everyone, including the baby in a stroller!

"Why is almost every dog on my local Craigslist a pitbull or Chihuahua?"

It's the same where I live. Some breeds need a firmer hand than others (all dogs are individuals of course), and some people are not meant to be responsible dog owners. So they give up that stubborn dog instead of training it properly. Some folks will never get it unfortunately.

"And if I want a cat, too (we are seasoned cat people, but our last passed away a few years ago), do we get the cat before, after, or (yikes!) at the same time?"

I will defer this question to those with this experience.

"Any advice? Do I have unreasonable expectations?"

Of course not! You will enrich your family's life with bringing a dog into the household, and enrich a lucky dog's life too!


1) Don't give the puppy the run of the house. When you are home, keep the dog leashed to you or in a crate.
2) Feed and go potty on a schedule - don't do free-feeding - at least for now while he's still being trained. This will help put his body on a potty schedule too. Then take him out at the same times each day. (And since he's so young, after playtimes and naps as well).
3) Choose one spot specifically for "potty". When you take him out, at the door say "Let's go potty." Take him (on leash) to the same spot immediately.
Go to the spot and use a catch-phrase command like "go potty" repetitively. Do not let him out of the spot. Don't go for a walk. Walk him around and around the spot and tell him "go potty".
4) When he does go potty - praise him loudly, immediately and very excitedly - "GOOD POTTY!" and if he has a treat he goes nuts over, throw him a small treat. This has to happen immediately after he potties.
5) If he doesn't potty, bring him inside, keep him leashed to you, then try again in 5 minutes.
6) Only AFTER he potties, he can go for a walk and smell his favorite "pee-mail" spots, etc. Going for a walk should be a different activity than going out for potty. He will learn the difference eventually.
Accidents may still happen but they will get fewer and farther between.
Crate training should be fast if you are doing it methodically. It will take longer if you stray from the rules. Depending on the pup, after a week or two you can let him loose in one room of the house at a time, under your supervision. When he has not had an accident for a few weeks, you can try the run of the house, but when you are not there continue to confine him to one room.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 4:24PM
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The reason Craigslist is full of chis and pitts is because Chis are treated like dolls and not dogs, and will become out of control if not trained. Converseely Pitts are a muscle dog and usually do not get the stimulation they need in order to keep them under control. 99 percent of the dogs out there are going to have behavioral problems
SO - your best bet is to contact a rescue organization like Best Friends or something locally in order to adopt your dog, this way the dog is not just sitting there being ignorned most of the time, they are being socialized and trained.
NOW - here is the deal. You need to figure out a schedule. Puppies are going to need more attention and jjust to potty train them can take a weekend or two of taking them outside every 2 hours and watching them - positive reinforcement training is the best. IE - to potty train your dog, you take it outside, when it pees, give it a command to p and praise it. They learn super fast this way, same thing for #2.
You should be finding a basic training class BEFORE getting a dog, and sit in. Watch to see if the trainer is a positive reinforcement trainer. That is the best way to train.
Ideally you will need to walk a dog for 15 to 30 minutes in the morning, again in the afternoon, after you eat dinner and again before bedtime. If you can find a dog park to help socialize your dog - great, if you can spend weekends with your dog at a nearby park or lake or beach or fire road, go for it.
Most dogs will be okay with kids, the kids just have to be trained to respect the dog.
You most likely WILL HAVE issues with seperation anxiety (which is why leash walking is so important before you leave the house)
You will want to provide chew toys for your dog to chew, so it does not chew your stuff. Most important a good well balanced diet. Pay a bit more for quality food - your dog will poop less and be healthier. Natural Balance makes meat sticks for training treats and they have a number of good lines of dog food. You will walk to talk with others about getting a good vet as well.
Good luck with your decision - good for you for doing homework please repost and let us know how you are doing in your decision.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 4:35PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks for the tips and suggestions.

There are only 2 kids and they seem to be quite trainable. I'm thinking Christmas would be a good time so everyone would be home to help settle in for a week. Ooooooh I just realized I wouldn't be able to visit the inlaws over the holidays if I were puppy training. Darn. :D

That gives me time to replace my fence. Nobody mentioned I should fix the holes in my fence!

Separation anxiety shouldn't be too bad as I work at home.

I'll look into rescues. I'm not sure what they do that makes them better than a shelter except maybe some vet services? I'm sure I'm missing something.

And a real "Dogs for Dummies" question: crates. Is crate training just teaching your dog to be comfy in a cage so he has a place he feels secure that you can also conveniently lock if needed?

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 5:08PM
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Crate training refers to a method of potty training using the crate. Here's a simple explanation: Crate training.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 6:33PM
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Fori is not pleased

Ah. Thanks (bookmarked)! This all makes sense as a good way to get the poop where you want it. Poop is a concern of ours.

But then you still use the crate as his bed and for travel (if it's that kind of crate) when he's potty trained, right?

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 6:59PM
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IMHO, I don't mean to be a wet blanket, but I think your kids are too young for a dog. Kids that age need a lot of time and attention from their parent(s) and I don't think you understand the amount of time you need to invest in a dog to have a well behaved pet. Dogs take a lot of time and energy. I will estimate that the "least" amount of time needed for the dog, per day, is one to two hours, for feeding/walking/training/grooming. I know most parents of toddlers don't have that much time to devote to a pet.

I have seen a happy friendly Lab knock down a 2 year old kid like he was a bowling pin. The dog was playing, the child was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fortunately the child was unhurt, but the potential was there for an injury.

Based on this, if I were you, I'd wait until the youngest child was about 5-6.

However, if you really think you are ready, I recommend borrowing a dog from a family member or friend for a weekend (or, ideally, a whole week). You will get a taste of what it takes to own a dog, without actually having to commit to one. Of course, if you can borrow a dog similar to the kind you think you want, so much the better.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 7:37PM
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Yes, if you want to. Mine never liked the crate, so he sleeps wherever he wants now. No he's not spoiled, not spoiled at all, what makes you think that? LOL. I didn't crate-train him, I playpen-trained him effectively though. Your mileage may vary!

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 7:39PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks. I do know larger bouncier dogs can knock over small people. :)

    Bookmark   August 21, 2009 at 8:03PM
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As a vet, I would say do NOT get an English Bulldog. I see $$$$ every time a new one walks through the front door, and I don't even get paid on production. I wouldn't want to spend what these owners spend on medical issues for a dog. And I adopt dogs who people can't afford to fix (parvo dogs, broken dogs, dogs with heartworms, etc.). They are VERY sweet dogs, no denying that, but the maintenance on them (cleaning the skin folds, cleaning ears, making sure they don't drop dead of heat stroke in hot and/or humid weather, washing eyes +/- multiple surgeries to fix eyes, etc.) is too much for anyone with a life outside maintaining dogs. This from someone who has 3 huskies, a rottie, and a lab- I'd never get even 1 English Bulldog.

There isn't much difference between a rescue and a shelter except that many rescues specialize in one specific breed and shelters take all animals. Each shelter and rescue operates under their own rules, so I would be careful about making any generalizations. I've worked with both shelters and rescues and the quality of animals and care provided to the animals varies greatly in both groups. Many dogs in rescues are taken from shelters. Some rescues use only foster homes while animals wait for adoption, other rescues aren't much different than a shelter that just cages the animals and provides basic care. You could get a purebred dog of any age or a mutt from either source. I'd check out all resources and carefully choose a dog that meets your family's needs.

As far as exercise requirements for a dog, leash walks offer much more than just exercise. You are reinforcing control of the dog (as long as you are, in fact, controlling the dog). This is also a good opportunity for socializing the dog to behave in public with strange people and other animals. Dogs benefit from both playing in the yard and from leash walking.

Think honestly about how much time you have to maintain a dog. I spend about 30 minutes every morning just taking care of my dogs' basic needs- food, potty, getting the house ready for us to be gone all day. Then a couple hours at night with walks, food, potty, playing in the yard. Trips to the vet can be a big ordeal when you also have to pack up 2 young children. And if you get a puppy, it'll be a trip every 3 weeks as long as nothing goes wrong.

You'll need to also factor in health care costs, which can be substantial in any dog. What if it ingests something and needs emergency surgery at a cost of $2000? Dogs of all ages need a quality diet, heartworm prevention, flea and tick control, vaccines, health exams, and routine dental work. It can add up quickly. Pet health insurance may be a good idea. They get even more expensive as they get older, when you factor in routine lab testing.

Not to be discouraging, just trying to help factor in all the consequences of having a dog. Obviously, I think they are all worth it, otherwise I wouldn't have 5. But I don't have children, too, and being the vet has many perks.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 12:44PM
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Fori is not pleased

Thanks! I really do appreciate everyone taking the time to help me out.

Luckily for me, I'm not a single parent so I'm not stuck doing all the dog and kid maintenance on my own. I definitely couldn't handle that (but I know a lot of people do). I don't even haul both kids to THEIR immunizations!

We do plan on walking the critter--we try to take walks daily already--but I don't think we can do the 4 times a day walking Mazer suggests. So hopefully a combination of walking and yardplay would do.

I didn't know English bulldogs were so much trouble. I have to say I've never met one that wasn't a total sweetheart. Or that smelled right!

I'll discuss all these points with my spouse and we'll see how (and if) we can accommodate a dog properly. Reality check!

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 1:27PM
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Meghane its funny what you said about English bulldogs....my vet was also quite happy when he saw us walk in, he even told us we would be sending his kid to college :-) Luckily for me with my new girl we have not had any problems. She does not even snore, and I've rarely heard or smelled her fart :-) She also does not drool. But we do have to clean her folds regularly. We do expect to have to spend quite a bit more money on her as she ages though. We are trying to keep problems away by feeding her top top quality food. We also have to buy her the most expensive toys because she will destroy anything made cheaply, imagine a 30 dollar squeaky toy.

I agree that bulldogs are not for everyone. But if you have the money they are well worth it. I will never own another breed. I have been lucky with my two girls but that is because I bought them from breeders. A well bred dog seems to have much much less trouble than pet store dogs. A rescue bulldog will probably cost a lot in medical bills as that is probably why most of them have been given up in the first place. I am still hoping to adopt a rescue...I just could not take the trouble of dealing with such a needy dog when I had just lost my furbaby.

Below you will see what I think is the sweetest face in the world. Most of the time she is sleeping :-)

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 4:08PM
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I've been toying with the idea of getting another dog recently- not sure I'm ready, but it's a thought running around in my head.

Anyway, as to why to go with a rescue- that's one of the things I've been thinking about. We have an elderly cat and a young child (who is wonderful with animals), so we would need to have a dog that is a good fit. If you were to go to a regular shelter, you can't be sure what you are getting. I would think that if you go through a rescue you would be able to get a dog that has been well assessed by a staff and is suitable to your lifestyle. I was looking at available dogs on the Best Friend's website the other day and noted that a lot of the dogs that I would consider at first sight (labs and mixes thereof) have proven themselves to not be good candidates for homes with cats or children, or sometimes other dogs- these are all good things to know before you take a dog into your home. If it were just me and DH, we could work with a shelter dog, but like you we need to consider our DD and cat, so I would feel better bringing home a dog from a rescue that's proven itself to be cat and kid friendly- especially because by the time an animal is my home, I'm so attached that it would be difficult to give it up.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 8:26PM
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I have fostered for NC Rottie Rescue, and my own fostering adventures (animals taken from work). I think a fostered dog would give you the most information about how the dog gets along in a home situation. The more like your own family, the better. A dog straight from a shelter, or from a rescue that houses dogs like a shelter in cages/runs, may not behave the same in a home situation, and you'd not know about it. I can tell anyone who adopts a dog that I have fostered how well they get along with other dogs, leash walks, how they do being left alone, housetraining, if they try to eat ferrets and birds, etc. You wouldn't know that kind of thing from a shelter dog.

I got my Tatyana from a Husky rescue. The foster mom also had 3 of her own huskies, an infant, and several cats. I knew Tatyana got along with all of the above. Foster mom also told me how Tatyana can jump a 6 foot privacy fence in a single bound, so I was prepared for that as well. Foster homes also provide training, which is very helpful for a busy mom!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 10:50AM
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I got my dog from Petfinders. If you go to their site and put in your zip code you can see what dogs(or any animal) are available in your preferred radius. The minute I saw mine online, I wanted to see him and it's the only dog I saw. He's 22 pounds which is not tiny or big and he's a very sweet and smart dog. He was 8 months old, crate trained where he only sleeps and never in 13 months had an accident in the house. He's half Boston terrier and half sheltie and is the best of both breeeds. He has the body and fur of the Boston and the long nose and brains of the Sheltie. He's the best dog I have ever had and my others were purebreds.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 4:11PM
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Fori is not pleased

Cute, Trini!

I'll check into the local rescues if their approval processes aren't too invasive. It seems there are certainly some advantages, especially with the prescreening and potty training. I guess that would get me an older puppy or adult, which might be nice. At what age are they generally full-sized?

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 12:09PM
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