Recently we decided to embark on a new journey — pet ownership. We brought home a wonderful, loving puppy, a “goldador,” (golden retriever-Labrador). This decision was years in the making — with three young children and busy lives, it never seemed like the right time until now. The process of researching breeds, done mostly by our children, to bringing him home took about a year. It included many family meetings about the breeds, picking names, and discussing chores and responsibilities. We wanted to be fully aware about what it entailed to own a dog — the good and the challenging, and learned a lot in the process. Here are some tips if you are considering adding a furry pet to your family:
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Adding a pet, especially a dog, to your family is not a decision that should be made lightly. Dogs are wonderful companions but a lot of work, and you really need to do your homework to find a good fit for your family. Make sure you know what you are getting into, especially if you are bringing home a puppy. Rescues and shelters have all ages and there are even breed-specific rescues, so please consider adopting when possible. Also, consider your space, how much time you can devote to a dog, and if you have the resources to outsource help like a dog walker or a doggie day camp.
We had some concerns about allergies, so we spent time with different breeds to help our decision-making. We thought about our lifestyle and how we like to be outdoors a lot, so we wanted a dog that could be with us on hikes and at the sporting fields. We even visited dog parks and talked to owners about different breeds and watched how they played and interacted with other dogs and people.
TIME TO TRAIN
A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle featured the booming business of dog training. In a city that boasts more dogs than children, making sure your dog can thrive in an urban environment has become a top priority for many dog owners. The SFSPCA (sfspca.org) offers training and workshops for shy dogs and puppies and has seen their registrations rise 200 percent in the last five years. Also, Puppy Prep (sfpuppyprep.com) has daycare, training, socials, and even parent-teacher conferences for the owner and puppy.
We used Dan Perata Training (danperata.com), where dogs are boarded for training Monday through Friday. Every Friday, our whole family attended a training class and got our “homework” for the weekend. We kept a journal of what worked and what our puppy still needed to work on before returning him on Monday morning. This was a great option for our family — we were all on the same page with the training, and when he came home after the first week, he slept through the night in his crate. It was hard to say goodbye on Mondays, especially for the kids, but it was so worth it to see the progress he had made by Friday when he came home again. After four weeks, he came home for two weeks then went back for another week of “refining.” The cost is high, but we can return him anytime for more training.
PART OF THE FAMILY
I did not grow up with a dog and never considered myself a “dog person,” so when we decided to get a dog, I really hoped I would love him as much as everyone said I would, and after just a few months, we all love him. He has been such a wonderful addition to our family, and brings out something special in each of our kids. Our oldest loves to snuggle — after long, challenging days as a teenager, it is so great to see her pour her heart into him. Our son gets up early and loves the early morning walks and playing ball with him, and our youngest has been his best trainer because he finally has someone he can boss around. He is a great teacher and takes responsibility for him even at the age of 6. This puppy has completed our family in a way I didn’t know it could, and has brought us all closer together.
Whether you opt for a puppy or an older already-housebroken dog, the reward is worth it. I can say this even after several pairs of shoes have been eaten and potty training is still a work in progress. It took a long time for our family (actually just me) to be ready, but now it’s hard to imagine life without him, and I look forward to all the adventures we will have with him.
Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthful conversations around social media and technology. Email: [email protected]