A jar on the counter at Kerri Well’s home in Mansfield has been accumulating change for the last year. Her kids—Natalie, 14; Kaitlyn, 12; and Jackson, 9—are saving up, not for a new gaming console or a trip to Universal Studios. For a dog.
As it turns out, finding the funds might be the easiest part of the whole pet process.
Well wants a small dog. Her husband, John, wants a big dog. The kids will take anything. “We really aren’t sure how to even start to choose a dog or what we would do once we got one,” the mom confesses.
Her family isn’t alone in their uncertainty. Before adding a furry member to the family, there are lots of variables to consider: Should you get a rescue with an unknown past? Buy a purebred from a pricey breeder? And how do you get the kids to help care for it?
Relax. Adding a dog to the family should be fun, so we begged—er, asked—Dr. John Harvey, a veterinarian at Cross Timber Animal Medical Clinic in Flower Mound, and renowned dog trainer Pam Martin (recently featured on America’s Got Talent), of Top Dog Obedience Training in Garland, to give us the do’s and don’ts of getting a family dog.
Choosing the cutest pup at the pet store is a bad idea. Martin suggests that families look at their lifestyle first, then compare to different breeds’ temperaments, activity levels, trainability, shedding habits and other characteristics to find a good fit. “If you’re an active family, then a larger, sporty breed might be best,” she says. “But if you’re looking for a dog to cuddle with while you watch TV, you would want a smaller companion dog who doesn’t need a lot of room to run.”
The American Kennel Club (akc.org) is a goodplace to start if you have a few breeds in mind. If you don’t have a breed preference yet, look at the Dog Breed Info Center (dogbreedinfo.com) to sort by breeds that tend to drool, make good guard dogs or will jog with you on a morning run.
Don’t Assume You Want a Puppy
“The younger [the dog], the more dependent it will be on you,” Martin explains. A puppy needs to be house trained and requires constant supervision, so an older dog may be better for families without loads of free time.
Do Let Someone Else Play Matchmaker
Some rescue groups, such as Paws in the City in Dallas (pawsinthecity.org) and Animal Hope in Fort Worth (animalhope.org), will swipe left or right for you, Harvey says. He advises families to work with rescue groups who foster dogs because foster owners get the inside scoop on potential pets. “Even within a breed, there is so much variation on personality that you really never know what you will get,” he explains. “But a foster owner can tell you exactly what you are getting.”
Don’t Choose a Breeder Lightly
If you’ve settled on a purebred instead, Harvey and Martin agree that breeders should be researched thoroughly. Arrange a tour so your family can see the facilities and meet the breeder, the dog’s parents and the puppies.
Do Make an Appointment With a Vet—Soon
Collect all of the new dog’s medical data, Harvey says, including shot history, deworming history and heartworm prevention care. Then try to get her to a vet within the first week or so.
Don’t Neglect the Bonding Process
“Creating a bond is crucial,” Martin stresses. “You must build a trusting relationship with your dog.” Plan to be home for the first few days after Lassie joins the family, and sign up for a local training program. “Basic training opens up the [obedience] world to the family and the dog,” Martin says. “And better behavior gives deepened trust and freedom for dog and owner.”
Do Make Caring for the Pup Fun
Little ones might not be able to walk or clean up after their new friend, but they can help you feed her. Make a game of it. Count the strokes while brushing her fur or see how many cups it takes to fill the water dish.
Don’t Let the Dog Babysit
For at least the first few months, you shouldn’t leave the kids alone with the dog—for the safety of both. “Neither of them really knows the rules yet,” Martin explains. “They are both still learning. Adults need to be present in that learning process until they both know what is acceptable and what is not.” Be prepared for school-age kids to grasp boundaries quickly; younger tykes will likely take longer.