Every family has a unique story about how their pets came into their lives. Today, I’m going to tell you about our dogs, Buddy and Cerberus. Buddy is a rescue dog and Cerberus is a pure-blood puppy we purchased. I know there are people who swear by either rescue dogs or pure blood pups, but in our experience, there were pros and cons to each.
We love both of our dogs and each was the right dog for us to add to our family at the time. I’m going to share a bit about how each joined our family and how that went. Perhaps it will help other families trying to navigate the dog world.
When my kids were 3, 5, and 10, they begged for a dog until I agreed. That said, I made a long list of requirements for what I wanted in a dog. I wanted a dog small enough to ride in the car with three kids and myself, but big enough to be left alone in the yard and not carried off by hawks. I hoped for a dog that was about a year old and already housebroken and trained. I knew from a family member’s successful adoption this was possible to find. He also HAD to be a dog that didn’t cause us allergic reactions, which meant a dog with hair, not fur. This was a long list of requirements, but not unmanageable and I was patient.
A friend was running a dog rescue when Buddy turned up. He seemed like a good fit for us. He was the right size and didn’t shed as far as they could tell. I asked lots of questions about how he got along with dogs and kids and how well trained he was. He sounded like the perfect dog for us!
And for two weeks, he was. After that, he tested a lot of boundaries and I had to work with him a lot to help him become a good pet.
Cons of a rescue dog
Buddy came to us with fears of men in baseball hats and little blond girls about age 3-4. Why? We will never know. But he also got upset anytime one family member touched another, including hugs. We believe that in at least one of the several homes he had before us, there was an abusive situation. I suspect a little blond girl abused him, and whatever that story was, is likely why he left that home. The rescue later let me know he had had at least 4 homes before us, not counting the rescue. Thankfully, my youngest had brown curls, and he loved her right away, but he was terrified of her blond friend I babysat weekly.
I was not really prepared to have a dog that had some serious fears. We had to warn the children not to follow him when he hid under my chair because he would growl, and eventually snap if pushed. He never bit, but considering how fearful he was, we were lucky. We gave him a kennel right away and made it off-limits to everyone so that he had a safe space he could hide in when he got upset.
It also turned out that he wasn’t exactly 100% housebroken. At one home or another, he apparently had been paper trained and had a tendency to relieve himself on papers on the floor of our schoolroom. When it was random drawing paper the kids had left there it wasn’t a big deal to clean up, but there were a few lost workbooks that annoyed me.
He also had no clue how to walk on a leash and would drag the kids if they tried to walk him, even though he only weighed 34 pounds. He may have actually been younger than the year we were told, as he mouthed us some and chewed off the legs of several Barbies before I figured out he needed some long skinny bones or dog toys to chew.
Two weeks after adopting him, he stole a whole roast beef off the dining room table while no one was looking! I found him, told him “no”, took the roast away, and put him in the backyard for a time out. I don’t know if there was a better way to handle that, but he didn’t do that again.
The other biggest con is that I just honestly didn’t know what I was getting into and didn’t know much at all about how to train a dog. I thought I was getting a dog that was already trained and easy to live with. All the discussions I had seen about adopting an adult dog instead of a puppy made it sound like it should be easier than it actually was.
One other con many people run into with trying to rescue a dog is that rescues themselves are not always easy to work with. I was lucky this wasn’t the case for us, but I have friends who ran into too many problems to adopt through a rescue. Some rescues want you to be the perfect applicant, and if you don’t meet their criteria for that, they won’t work with you.
Pros for Buddy
Despite the fact his training was incomplete, Buddy did know several commands and in some ways minded better than my kids when he understood what I wanted. “In” and “out” were two words he knew well. He would get in and out of his kennel, the car, and other spaces when told. He knew how to sit and did a cute version of begging when offered treats. And he was generally eager to please.
He learned to play fetch with me with just a little practice and played well with my kids. He had anxiety but it was helped with brushing him often (I couldn’t help but test our some sensory brushing on him) and taking him for lots of short walks around the neighborhood.
As he got a bit older, it became clear he had decided he was going to be our therapy dog, whether we appointed him that or not. He has an uncanny ability to tell if someone in our home feels stressed or anxious, and he immediately goes to them and insists they pet him. I don’t know if I accidentally helped this along by telling my kids to go pet the dog when they felt upset or if we just got lucky. But he is actually a very sweet dog. His fears mostly receded and because we are a homeschooling family and home with him a lot, his anxiety became manageable.
One of the biggest pros though is that I got a dog that fit into our lifestyle the way I envisioned because he was the size and shape I wanted. He fits in the vehicle with the kids for trips to Grammy’s house. He can safely be left in our fenced yard for a while without fear that the local wildlife will hurt him. But he is also small enough I can pick him up and move him if I have to. In his early days with us, he once tried to convince me he did not have to walk home when I wanted to go. I picked him up just like a cranky toddler and carried him under one arm. He hated that, so we didn’t have to do it again.
One other pro was that he was already big enough to either be left in his kennel or in our fenced yard for a few hours alone. While as homeschoolers, we were home a lot, we still had co-ops, classes, and playdates to attend without our dog. Most families need to leave their dogs alone for long periods each day, and I would have worried a LOT about leaving a small puppy. They are a type of baby, after all.
My husband and I had agreed that a shelter puppy was a risk we didn’t want to take at that time. All puppies are cute, but you can’t tell what size they will be, what their attitude will be like, or what their adult coat will be like. I knew I was stretched thin parenting small children, and needed a dog that fit into our lifestyle, instead of a needy puppy we would have to bend around.
When we first started talking about adding a puppy to our family, I did a lot of research and there just weren’t puppies of the breeds we need for our allergies available in shelters or rescues near us. While deciding to buy a puppy instead of rescuing I had a number of people tell me that they had had both rescue dogs and ones from quality breeders and the purebred dogs were healthier, easier to train, and better pets.
Why did a want a puppy this time? My kids are now 12, 14, and 19 and this is probably the only chance they will get to raise a baby anything. My husband is allergic to everything, including my son’s guinea pigs, so our pets have been very few. I wanted to give them the experience of seeing an animal go from a dependent baby to an adult. Buddy is getting older, nearly 10 now, and it just feels like the right time to add another dog.
Cons of the Puppy Experience
Our new puppy, Cerberus, came to us still needing a lot of care and attention. He woke up at night and needed to go out to pee at all hours. It was like having a new baby. Thankfully, my kids were able to help with nighttime care, so we rotated who had his tiny kennel in their room until he started sleeping through the night.
Another con is that he needs to learn everything! We have to teach him every command and trick. We have had to work with him on learning his name and to come when called. And housebreaking is all on us!
All of this means that our new puppy is far more work than I remember having with our older dog. He needs constant care and attention, which can be exhausting. He is, however, insanely cute, which makes up for it.<
Pros of the Puppy
Because my kids are older, puppy care is a family experience and, while we have to do all the training, we are also all learning about dog training together. There are tons of great videos on YouTube and, when he is old enough, my youngest child may take him to obedience classes. This means that he isn’t just a pet, but a homeschool project! There is nothing like a baby animal to bring alive biology lessons! Because we have pictures of his parents, we can even learn about genetics with the puppy as our lesson. I am sure we will find more things to learn before he is fully grown.
We hope that by training him ourselves, he won’t have bad habits, or the excessive fears or anxiety our rescue dog has. So far, he is well adjusted and our older dog is doing well with having a puppy in the house.
Whether you choose a rescue dog or a new puppy, I do recommend you really take some time to assess what kind of dog will fit your lifestyle. Do research about the different breeds and make sure if you are choosing a breed or a rescue dog that you are guessing at the breed that they are a good fit for you.
Spend some time with your friend’s dogs and learn what they are like to live with. While you can’t judge a whole breed from one dog, there are traits that tend to be consistent like size, coat, and energy level.
Our older dog is a Schnoodle, a schnauzer-poodle cross, as best we can tell. And as with any cross breed or mutt, the breed traits he has are a bit scattered. He barks like a schnauzer but cuddles like a poodle.
Our new puppy is a Havanese. I had never even heard of the breed before we started hunting for a puppy. But Havanese are small lap dogs that are happy to be around people. Since my kids wanted a little dog that would lay in their laps while they do school work, this was a good fit. Dogs this small are usually not considered a good fit for very small children who can play too rough and hurt them. Since my kids are all older, it is a fit now that it wasn’t when we got our first dog.
Whatever way you add to your family, I wish you the best with adding a happy, healthy pet!
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.