Caring For Our Kids

Is your family ready to adopt a new dog?

Make the necessary puppy preparations
With a little prep work, a puppy can be a wonderful addition to your family Photo: m. lorusso

My friends were shocked when I told them I’d adopted a puppy. For years, as my husband and kids campaigned for a pet, I argued adamantly about how dogs were too much work, too messy, too time consuming. Then, one day in August, I was walking through the Castro, where a dog-rescue group had set up a temporary adoption center. I honed in on a tiny, golden-colored mutt with big brown eyes and huge floppy ears and scooped her up. As she licked my ear and then fell asleep on my shoulder, all it took was some mild begging (on the part of my kids, not the dog) to seal the deal. Mochi, named after the tasty Japanese rice cake, is now the center of our family, and we can’t imagine life without her.

Sure, we now have dog bones and squeak toys scattered all over the house, and we need to get up two hours earlier in the morning to take the dog for a walk — just when our kids are finally sleeping in. But overall, having Mochi has been a wonderful experience. She’s teaching our children responsibility and compassion and, with her charismatic puppy ways, has proven herself a fun addition to
our family.

If you, too, are thinking about getting a dog, here are some ways to prepare for your furry friend’s arrival — and be sure it’s the right time to invite him or her into your life.

Do your homework: Consider your kids’ ages and activity levels when deciding on a breed. For example, small, delicate dogs like Yorkies and herding varieties like border collies are poor choices if you have active young children, while Labs and golden retrievers are known to be more even-tempered around kids. Also think about your lifestyle, such as whether you’re home during the day, because certain dogs can handle being alone more than others. If anyone in your household has allergies, don’t chose a high-shedding dog. The website has a great interactive breed selector to help you find the
perfect companion.

Make sure everyone’s on board: If you’re adopting a puppy, explain to everyone that the first year will be like having a new baby who must be potty trained and may not sleep through the night. Puppies require lots of playtime and socialization with humans and other dogs, and even older pets need you to be home for regular feedings and walks. Explain to any control freaks in the family that your home is never going to look like an Architectural Digest spread, at least not while the puppy is young, and that showing up to work with dog hair stuck to clothes may be a regular occurrence. Make sure everyone knows how family life will change and they can deal with it.

Set reliable expectations: If you have thoughts of the kids lovingly scooping up poop from the backyard, or getting up in the middle of the night to walk Rover around the block, knock them out of your head. Ultimately, the parent is responsible for the pet. But give the kids as much responsibility as possible, create a schedule for house-training, exercise duty, and feeding, and talk to the children about being gentle with the dog. Set some house rules; for example, whether the pup will be allowed on the couch, and read a book together, such as The Puppy Primer by Patricia B. McConnell and Brenda Scidmore. To provide your family with support, register for a puppy-training class or schedule a consultation with a
dog trainer.

Prepare your nest: Remember when you were expecting your first child and spent a small fortune at Babies “R” Us? Well, it’s not much different with a puppy, which can cost you as much as $1,000 in supplies, vet costs and classes during the first year. Before the puppy comes home, stock up on the basics, including food, a crate, leash, and collar. Puppy-proof the house, removing exposed wires and toxic plants, and stash away any valuable rugs, which in the puppy’s eyes are just huge wee-wee pads. And forget that classic image of an adorable pooch carrying your slippers to you by the fire; your dog is much more likely to use your sheepskin mocs as a chew toy. But don’t worry — before you know it, you’ll have a well-behaved adult dog, and you’ll be reminiscing about those puppy days!

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Maryann LoRusso is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and editor, and a mother of two. She also writes a blog for women at