DINKs need a dog.
March 6, 2013 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Mr. Motion and I are getting ready to take the plunge and adopt a dog. Please help me figure out what I _should_ be figuring out before we go and meet some dogs. Much beanplating within...

Here are the things we know/have thought about:

We live in a house that we own with 3 cats and 9 fish. We have a 5500 sq. ft. fenced back yard. We live in a suburban area and the neighbors have lots of dogs of various sizes.

As far as I know, our homeowner's insurance does not have any breed specific restrictions (but just typing this has reminded me to check to make sure). That being said, Mr. M is not interested in any pitbull/staf terrier mix.

We both feel very strongly about adopting from a rescue/humane society as opposed to a breeder (and definitely not a pet store/puppy mill -- rescue adoptions via pet stores are obviously awesome). I feel like puppies are adorable but not worth the amount of work, Mr. Motion is willing (and able) to put in extra work with a puppy, so I guess we are flexible about age.

We also want to be flexible about breed. Mr. Motion has a penchant for small dogs, I'd like any dog to we get to be larger than the cats. Mr. Motion is willing to deal with a large breed if it has come kind of useful hunting skill (but he doesn't hunt right now). We've got a list of breeds that sound like they fit our needs, and we are obviously open to mixes/mutts. Besides pits, we are open to most breeds larger than chihuahuas and smaller than labs that aren't too hyper. Breeds on the list that kill us both with cute include: corgi, pug, brittany, dachsund, shiba inu.

We are both the world's biggest softies, and I'm a little worried that the first furball that looks longingly at us will come home with us (what will really happen is that Mr. Motion will go all goopy for some cute thing, and then I, being a slave to his goopiness, will pull out my credit card). I'd like to have some more logical framework on which to base our decision so that I can feel comfortable making a decision right away when we meet the right dog.

To put my concerns in some kind of context: I am greatly comforted by the application processes required by some of the local rescues because it means that someone else will make sure that we are really ready for the amount of responsibility that we are about to take on. Beyond the application though, are there things that we should be considering, personally?

Here's my questions:

1. Are there any hunting (specifically pointing) breeds that we should consider given that we couldn't really commit to much more than a 1 mile walk, plus lots of running around in the yard time daily? We'd probably like to do a few hours at a dog park once a week as well, but I'd hate to get a dog that _needs_ that, and not be able to provide because we are busy at work or somesuch. I'm wary about hunting breeds because the ones I've had experience with (ok, one, and it was a german shorthair) need lots of stimulation/training/actually doing hunting type things in order to be "happy" (not neurotic).

2. Beyond selection of dogs, are some rescues "better" than others? There's some drama around here about certain rescues that ship dogs from areas where there are more dogs than potential owners (like Mexico), to Minnesota, where apparently it's easier to find homes for them. I'm not sure I care about that drama -- should I? Are there any red flags I should be watching for from a rescue to deal with? So far, I'm just looking at Petfinder and getting a feel for the rescues based on whether or not they seem to have good foster care programs (also, the cuteness of their pictures, which seems to be the wrong way to go about it).

3. Are there any books/websites that I should make sure to read before we even get the dog? I feel like once we've chosen one, it will be a little easier to narrow down what I need to research based on that dog's personality/needs. But is there a general "Dog Owners Should Know This" book that I should grab now?

4. If we are pretty happy with our vet for the cats, is there any reason to seek out a new one? We are pretty laid back about checkups for our indoor cats though (by laid back, I mean we sometimes go years in between -- I understand that dogs will need more regular visits).

5. What else am I missing? I feel like no one should get a dog unless they can provide: love, space, time for walks and play and grooming, money (for food and vet needs), and extra love. I also feel confident that we can give a dog all of those things. Is there some other variable in the equation though?

tl;dr: Is there something that you wish you had known before you brought your dog home?
posted by sparklemotion to Pets & Animals (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My Lab Mutt is from from KY Lab Rescue. The owner of the rescue was really really helpful for us. Granted, we took the first one we were shown, but I suspect she did a lot of the work of showing us a good match before we actually showed up.

You're already showing 10 times more responsibility for pet ownership than most people do. You're conscientious about your choices and providing a good home. Let the rescue know you've got a yard and cats and you'll end up with a new friend for life.
posted by DigDoug at 11:59 AM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

We are both the world's biggest softies, and I'm a little worried that the first furball that looks longingly at us will come home with us (what will really happen is that Mr. Motion will go all goopy for some cute thing, and then I, being a slave to his goopiness, will pull out my credit card). I'd like to have some more logical framework on which to base our decision so that I can feel comfortable making a decision right away when we meet the right dog.

I asked a question last summer when I started looking for my new best friend, it could be of some use when it comes to your initial selection process.

Also, we intentionally never brought money with us when we were first meeting a litter, to avoid making an impulse buy. I would advise that even if you feel very very strongly, make your interest known to the shelter/breeder/etc. but go home and talk it over/sleep on it before making the commitment.
posted by mannequito at 12:00 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Most rescues have adoption coordinators that can help you find a goot fit for you based on your needs/resources. I think looking on the internet is fun and helpful but don't shy away from going in and talking to someone at the rescue in person. For you, the biggest thing is probably going to be finding a dog that is OK with cats. Many rescues that adopt out both cats and dogs will test dogs for compatibility.

I chose to adopt from a local rescue. One dog I found through petfinder. The other dog I adopted wasn't listed on-line. I saw him as I was walking through the rescue and it was love at first sight!

A lot of your new dog-related schedule will revolve around going potty. How long will the dog be stuck at home? Will you be able to devote some time to making sure it is potty trained? Will your work schedules work with a dog that needs to go potty? If not, can you hire a dog walker to help you?

The younger/smaller a dog is, the more frequently they will need to urinate. I adopted two mid-life dogs because I knew that my work schedule would now work with the demands of a puppy bladder.
posted by dottiechang at 12:04 PM on March 6, 2013

Because you mentioned loving them, and they're a hunting breed: our Brit was awesome and I loved her, but she definitely remained a little neurotic despite a daily walk and lots of time running in the yard. I'm still sort of floored by how relaxed the King Charles Cavaliers my family has had since seem in comparison.
posted by ldthomps at 12:06 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would consider what motivates the dog and what its "job" is in the wild. Dogs that are food-motivated are easy to train; dogs that are bred to be sentries are persistent barkers. Anecdotally, my lab mutt is stupid and sweet and the best hiking companion (for me) and cuddler (for my kid) ever. My chihuahua-mix puppy (also a rescue) is smart and food-driven so already knows a handful of commands at 5 months. Bringing her home has given our sweet old lab mutt a new lease on life -- they're good buds -- but we're working on the barking because good grief, I like it when people walk in the door!

I highly recommend that you only get a dog that you both go all goopy for. Don't be a slave to another's goopiness when it comes to adding a member of the family.
posted by headnsouth at 12:11 PM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

For what it's worth, if you adopt from a shelter, they frequently take responsibility for the animal, meaning that if you decide you don't want it anymore, you're supposed to give it back to them rather than taking it to a different shelter or giving the dog to someone else. So it's in their best interests to be sure that you and the dog are good for each other. So I'm inclined to trust them. Not all rescues are like that but many are.
posted by kat518 at 12:11 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Whatever you decide, I’m sure you’ll make a good decision. You've thought about it a lot more than most people. I got my dog ten years ago from a co-worker that found a stray and was going to take her to the pound.

From my experience, if you get a dog bred to hunt or work, you need to be able to spend the time working the dog. They’re bred to be active so when they get bored, they tend to cause mischief. I have a heeler that I love to death, but the first five years were very trying.

Oh, because of my dog, I spent a lot of time in dog training. In the future, I’m going to ask the trainer to find me a dog. She was frequently looking to find homes for dogs that needed adoption for one reason or another. I remember a few dogs that were selected for service dog training and didn't quite make the cut. They seemed like really smart well-trained dogs.
posted by iscavenger at 12:14 PM on March 6, 2013

Corgis are herders and while adorable, may need a lot of attention and stuff to herd (you cats will NOT enjoy this!)

Shiba Inu are freaking adorable, but a nightmare in real life. Read The Misanthropic Shiba. That is a true nuts-bolts reality check if ever there was one. Remember, your Shiba will try to return home to Japan for visits, by digging his way there.

I would talk to your vet, frequently vets have a line on animals needing homes or re-homing and (s)he will know your cats, know you, and will recommend a good fit.

Have you thought about Cocker Spaniels? They're a hunting breed, of sorts, but lovely little lap dogs and of a decent size.

Oddly enough, the Standard Poodle might be a good choice as well, smart as a whip, non-shedding, large, and lovable.

Of course any mix of any desireable breed is good and mutts are pretty awesome too!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:21 PM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am a twenty-five-year-old idiot who adopted a dog from a shelter (a big, needy dog) and it turned out fine. There are a lot of things you can't control, and I have to roll my eyes at things like "adoption coordinators" and the like. I got a ridiculously awesome dog for $141 through an LA County shelter which is basically doggie death row. A lot of people get problem dogs from rescues. A lot of dog rescuers are full of shit.

The only thing I think you really need to evaluate - honestly - is how active you and your husband are ALREADY. Don't get a dog that needs a lot of exercise and figure that you'll step up to the plate. This is not entirely predictable by breed, though. I have an old German Shepherd who gets 1 1/2 to two hours of exercise a day. (That's a twenty minutes to a half an hour in the morning, a half an hour in the afternoon, and an hour-ish in the evening). I have always been a very active person, though. If anything, I'm bummed that I can't take my dog running with me.

I am greatly comforted by the application processes required by some of the local rescues because it means that someone else will make sure that we are really ready for the amount of responsibility that we are about to take on.

I love my dog to pieces, and I hate those fucking questionnaires. If you have a good heart and common sense, you can take care of a dog. If I can do it, so can you.

But don't get a Shiba Inu. They are super cute, and they are pains in the ass for real. Don't worry too much about the breed. Go to a shelter and bail some cute, mellow mutt with whom you feel a connection out of doggie jail.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:26 PM on March 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

The great thing about rescue groups, as opposed to shelters, is that rescue pups are housed in a home. Their foster family will have tons of information about the dog. Does it get along with cats? Kids? Other dogs? Is it a counter surfer? Housetrained? Does it have a nervous stomach? Any other health issues? All these questions can be easily answered by a foster family, whereas the shelter doggies are more of a mystery. The other side of this is that most shelter doggies are living on borrowed time, unless they are in a no-kill shelter. So you need to pick which issue is more important to you. Also, since you have that great back yard, a doggie door will be a big asset for your new pet.
posted by raisingsand at 12:27 PM on March 6, 2013

Long, long response warning... I tend to wax verbose when it comes to dogs.

1. Unless you plan on giving the dog a good walk/run for over an hour a day, you probably should limit your choice of hunting breeds to basset hounds and greyhounds/whippets. Among the sporting dogs, the only one I can think of off the top of my head that tends to have a lower energy level is the clumber spaniel. If you can't walk the dog for more than 20 minutes a day, honestly, I would not recommend getting a dog at all. But if you're determined, look for companion breeds like the pug, maybe french bulldog (though bully breeds present a whole set of their own challenges), etc. If you really do want a dog that is fine with a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood once a day, look into adopting a senior dog and you can widen your searches to include other dogs that, if younger, would be frustrated by a lack of exercise. Letting the dog run around the yard is great, but hunting/pointing/retrieving breeds also have a need to travel. All dogs do, really, but some are stronger than others.

2. A dog is a dog in the end, and as long as you don't think your money is going somewhere it shouldn't, that's fine. Be aware that a long application list does not mean a good or even conscientious rescue though. Many people who work at rescue centers don't know how to pair a dog with an owner properly. Make sure you know what you're looking for in advance in terms of energy level (low) and other traits. Are you willing to adopt a dog with an existing medical condition? Groom? What problem behaviors, if any, are you willing and able to rehabilitate? Educate yourself on breed-specific illnesses, etc. Then, read the entire rescue document and make sure you understand all of it. There is a rescue group that operates near me which has a contract that, among other things, makes the owner guarantee that they will allow a rescue employee into their home without notice and allow the rescue to take back the dog without notice if they don't like something in the home. Other things on this contract include never using an E Collar, slip lead, prong collar, etc, and a host of other overly controlling provisions. Cross out anything you don't like on the contract, and if they won't let you cross it off go to another rescue.

Also, never adopt a dog sight unseen. Pictures don't count - meet the dog in person. Always.

3. Here I recommend three main sources. First, when it comes to building a relationship with your dog, I highly recommend Cesar Millan's books. "Be the Pack Leader" in particular is my favorite. There is some controversy regarding his methods, but I have yet to see anyone who disagreed with his methods who really and fully understood them.

Second, for living with your dog, building a strong bond, and a little on training (though I don't agree with some of their suggestions such as their means of correction), check out "How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend" by the monks of New Skete.

Third, the best book I've ever read on training: Karen Pryor's books, in particular "Don't Shoot the Dog." It's an excellent resource on positive reinforcement training without going on too long about clicker training in particular (a method which, by the way, I recommend looking into especially if you want to get into trick training).

In the end, remember that no one method is perfect. Take bits and pieces from each and use what works for you without worrying about whether it's exactly right.

4. If you're satisfied with your vet, there's no real reason to seek out another. If you adopt a dog with a health issue you may want to look into finding a specialist, but as long as you get along with the vet and haven't had any unresolved disagreements (I switched vets when mine wouldn't stop badgering me about my choice to feed raw food, for example), stick with them.

5. What else am I missing? I feel like no one should get a dog unless they can provide: love, space, time for walks and play and grooming, money (for food and vet needs), and extra love. I also feel confident that we can give a dog all of those things. Is there some other variable in the equation though?

Replace the first "love" with "discipline, rules, and limitations" and you're all set. Love is important, of course, but showing the dog rules from day one and being consistent on them is important. Make sure you and your husband agree on the rules, and remember that dogs aren't stupid. You don't have to decide the dog is or isn't allowed on the couch forever - just make sure it knows that it's only allowed up when you invite it, for example (unless you do want the dog on the couch all the time, which is also fine as long as you agree). In particular, make sure the dog is not allowed to fixate on the cats at all. You're looking for hunting breeds and other breeds with a strong prey drive, while meanwhile having several prey animals living in your house. This is not a recipe for disaster, but it is something to be aware of and to correct quickly and consistently.

Also, try to give the dog more than just a single 20 minute walk per day. Exercise is every bit as important as discipline for a dog. A tired dog is one who doesn't have the pent-up energy and frustration to go do things that you don't like. Maybe take some of your planned dog-budget and spend it on a walker if you really don't have time... But honestly, if you don't have more than twenty minutes a day to spend exercising the dog, maybe you should look into a different animal or reevaluate your schedule.

I hope none of the above sounded discouraging. Dogs are wonderful creatures and your life will certainly be enriched by adding one to it. Just remember that a dog needs to have its basic physiological and mental needs taken care of too, and that first and foremost means spending time exercising its migration instinct. Some dogs will be fine with a 20 minute walk, and those are the dogs you should aim for unless you can move things around and give it more time. If you do adopt with that 20 minute/1 mile frame in mind, make sure you don't fall for an energetic dog with a handsome face - be realistic about both your energy level and its own, and adopt accordingly. That is the single biggest mistake owners make when adopting - getting a "playful" dog who is really just way above their energy level, which then becomes hyper, excitable, frustrated, and ultimately unmanageable.

Best wishes for you and your new addition to the family. :)
posted by Urban Winter at 12:33 PM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

First, you might want to check out one of these "Which Breed is for Best for You?"-type sites to see if you can narrow down your possibilities:
Discovery Channel

Question 1: Given your guidelines, although it's not a hunting breed per se, you should not get a husky or similar; they need near-constant mental and physical stimulation to keep them from wreaking havoc far and wide. (My next-door neighbors bought one as a puppy and then decided to keep it as an 'outside dog,' its life is spent caged in a 10x10 yard and as a 75-pound adult, it has lived its entire life miserable and frustrated. It recently learned how to actually climb (not jump, climb) the chain-link fence between my yard and theirs so it could viciously attack my 20-pound Boston Terrier. Whee! It's awful to see such a beautiful, smart, strong creature get treated that way.) Border Collies are also highly intelligent and need a TON of mental and physical stimulation to be happy. I would also un-recommend Corgis and Shibas, who are mega-adorable but... let's say, uh, willful little buggers.

Question 2: Feel free to ask your prospective rescue organizations about where they get their dogs, what their successful placement ratio is, how long they've been operating, if they're 501(c)3, etc. Most reputable rescues will have you sign an adoption agreement stating that you'll return the dog to them if you EVER become unable/unwilling to care for it, which is a good sign that they are absolutely devoted to the welfare of the animals they're placing. Foster moms and dads will have a good handle on their charges' temperament, housetraining ability or lack thereof, quirks, etc. so you will be able to ask them any/all questions you need answered before you even see the dog in person, in case you're scared about becoming super-attached to and/or simply adopting the first one you meet. (I adopted the first one I met and haven't regretted it for a second.)
Petfinder is a fine way to find your furry companion, but you may also want to contact your local city/county animal control -- there's a very high chance that they don't advertise the animals they have online (or anywhere else), so most/many of them are put down without ever having a chance to see the light of day, let alone be adopted into a loving forever home. Our local animal control has a 75% euth rate on dog intakes -- the puppies and other 'cutest' ones get transferred to the Humane Society, but the rest just while away their last few days/hours on earth stuck in a cage before they are unceremoniously killed. Adopting from animal control is also usually 1/4 of the price of adopting from a rescue, plus you get to know that you are unquestionably and immediately saving that dog's life. There are many 'death row dogs' pages on Facebook you could check out as well; animal control centers put out 'euth lists' on a daily/near-daily basis, which are disseminated to the internet at large in hopes that some rescue, somewhere, will be able to take at least one of the dogs that will otherwise be euthanized that day. You could subscribe to some of those lists (suffocatingly depressing as they may be) and find a new friend there, too.
Also, please consider getting an adult dog -- they're much, much less likely to be adopted/considered adoptable than fuzzy little puppies.

Question 3: Patricia McConnell! She's just right on, no other way to put it. I would love to mandate all of her books for all dog owners.

Question 4: Doubt it, but just in case, here's a link about picking out a dog vet. If your current vet practice handles mainly cats, I might recommend switching to another office/branch that serves more dogs, simply due to their unique medical concerns and the fact that they usually require more frequent vet visits than cats.

Question 5: Not really! Stock up on Kongs and Nylabones, a crate, a soft bed, food, food and water bowls, harness/collar/leash, a coat if you're in a cold climate, and treats, make sure you get your pup microchipped, and you're pretty much good to go. You are giving this process the amount of time, consideration, and thoughtfulness it deserves. It's a big commitment, but it is so enriching and rewarding and FUN, so don't stress about it too hard. Your dog will love you no matter what!

tl;dr: Is there something that you wish you had known before you brought your dog home?
How seriously and instantly it was going to curtail my social life/travel. I was an absolute die-hard bona fide jetsetter before, I'm a complete homebody now. (And I remember how much that change has been worth it when I see my sweet pup's adorable, perfect face every day.)
Also, how much I would just absolutely completely and totally love him, beyond words -- it's this soul-rending, heartbreaking, almost continually overwhelming sort of love that I had never experienced before in my life, never even imagined was possible. Five years on, it still regularly takes my breath away. He is my little furred Buddha, and I look up to him and his attitude so much whenever I am feeling snarled and stuck, or living outside of the moment. Feeling this was all a huge shock and a total surprise.
Making sure my dog is as healthy and happy as can be has been the most important aspect/priority in my life since the very first second I saw him, whereas for years prior to that it was usually some sort of stupid drama involving unsuitable romantic partners or money problems or long-distance travel snags. It's so good.

Good luck and all the best in choosing your new friend! Dogs are otherworldly creatures; your life will never be the same, in the best possible way.
posted by divined by radio at 12:42 PM on March 6, 2013

I've adopted 3 shelter dogs in my adult life and if I had it all to do over again, I think I would have tried to find dogs more in the 4-years-old and up range. All three were horrendously destructive when they were young no matter how much attention, exercise or "jobs" we gave them.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:44 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

The limited amount of exercise you can offer this dog is going to dictate everything here. Agree that you should get a senior dog or a small companion breed as those are the only workable dogs for your situation. Luckily there are tons of those exact dogs up for adoption so as long as you're honest with the rescue and practical you'll probably find a good fit.

Also don't adopt a dog with known health issues if you can avoid it. There are lots of healthy dogs.
posted by fshgrl at 12:46 PM on March 6, 2013

Breeds on the list that kill us both with cute include: corgi, pug, brittany, dachsund, shiba inu.

One thing I didn't entirely grok before I really got down to the nuts and bolts of adopting a dog is that there is sort of a finite number of dogs available, and thus a finite selection of breeds.

I think if you guys do the research and discover that X breed is perfect for you, and you want to go through the breed rescue process, being specific like "I want a corgi" or "I want a shiba inu" can work well.

But if you guys were just thinking you'd go to the local humane society and find a pup to adopt, know that A) there are a finite number of dogs there that are not pitt bulls, and B) it's less likely that they will be really sought after or rare breeds.

The dog I ended up with is such a mutt that I find that breed comparisons aren't that useful, anyway. He's sort of just an individual, really.

I'd like to have some more logical framework on which to base our decision

I was worried about the goop factor, too, but then I actually went to a few local pounds. None of the dogs there were really on their best human pleasing behavior. A shelter isn't a very shmoopy goopy place. I ended up finding a shelter that had adoption coordinators who could help me choose a dog, and then picking a top 3 list based on sight and kennel temperament alone (e.g. not the shit-smeared one, not the one that lunged at me, etc).

One of my top three was "not good for a first time dog owner". Another had hyperactivity problems noted on its record -- not a great candidate for apartment living. And that left the third dog on my list, a dog that was absolutely NOTHING like the sort of dog I thought I'd be adopting.

When the adoption counselor took him out so we could properly meet, he was way too overwhelmed and excited to do anything like make sad "rescue me now" eyes. But he didn't do any of the problem behaviors I knew to look out for, like any sign of aggression or fear. I knew intellectually that this would be a good dog for me, and the adoption counselor seemed pretty enthusiastic about us being a match. So I took the plunge.

It's really only after a few weeks of bonding that he's gotten into the "I'm so pathetic, don't you want to share your dinner with me" type of behavior. A part of me is a little jealous of dog owners who had that immediate bond with their pet, or maybe I just had weird rosy ideas about the act of adopting my dog.

OK, now to answer some of your questions, after that novel... I can really only shed light on #1 and #2.

My lab mutt (who, again, is such a mutt that it doesn't work well for me to think of him as a lab, at all) is fine with a half hour walk in the morning, 45 minutes to an hour in the evening, and a short bathroom break before bed. We do training and some active play indoors, as well. I find that he can handle a lot more and try to tire him out on weekends with longer walks, hikes, the dog park, etc. So far I find that a better approach to the dog park is to go for an hour or so, rather than making it an all day event. Maybe you could schedule in some dog park time the way you'd do happy hour with friends, or an evening outing, or the like? More often than "weekends only", but not several hours a day, either.

Another thing I failed to grasp before I adopted my dog is the possibility of separation anxiety. One of my strongest criteria for a dog was that I could leave it at home during the work day, and who also wouldn't need hours of exercise after work. Surprise, my dog has severe separation anxiety and can barely be left alone while I go grocery shopping! This is something he'll get better at as he adjusts to his new life, but I would at least be prepared for the idea that you might not be able to just leave your dog at home all day while you're at work, at least at first.

I ended up going with a shelter that was a little less dire than the scary county pound, but not quite a "rescue" (it was a local Humane Society chapter). It was a perfect blend of humane and laid back. The Rescues around me kind of freak me out, though more because of the snooty factor and the prices they charge rather than some kind of moral aversion. I'm sure they're fine people who really care for the dogs in their charge, but oy. That said, if you are set on a purebred of a specific hard-to-find breed, I think a Rescue might be what you need.
posted by Sara C. at 12:51 PM on March 6, 2013

Mr. Motion is willing to deal with a large breed if it has come kind of useful hunting skill (but he doesn't hunt right now).

This doesn't seem sensible. There are plenty of lovely large breeds that don't hunt, that make fantastic house pets. Don't get a specialized dog for a need you don't have.

But then, I am a "mutts" person all the way. I have no interest in breeds, only in individual temperment.

Are there any hunting (specifically pointing) breeds that we should consider given that we couldn't really commit to much more than a 1 mile walk

Don't get anything bigger than a chihuahua if you can only do 1 mile per day for a walk. That's what? Fifteen minutes a day? Most dogs need more than that! I have a six-year-old foster spitz mix right now who would love a lot more than the hour a day she gets now.

I foster dogs for an all-breed rescue that pulls dogs from the county pound. We're saving dogs' lives every day. Both my rescue dogs so far I have house-trained, leash-trained and started on obedience training. I live with the foster dogs and can give an exhaustive run-down of their pros and cons. Adopting shelter dogs is great, but you have no idea what you're getting in that situation.

I would recommend checking into who the big rescues in your area are and looking at their websites. Read the application to see if you can handle the questions. Look over the dogs they have, read the descriptions. Go to local adoption events and talk to the people representing the rescues. See if you like the way they do business, see how they describe the dogs in person to you.

Do some meet and greets with rescue dogs. You'll figure out which one to take home soon enough.

Also don't adopt a dog with known health issues if you can avoid it. There are lots of healthy dogs.

That's fine if that's what you want. I purposely adopted two dogs with valley fever, because I know they are tough cases, and I have the money to pay for meds. Spine-eating fungal infection aside, they're great dogs!
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:53 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

we couldn't really commit to much more than a 1 mile walk, plus lots of running around in the yard time daily?

Woah! That is not a lot of exercise. Did not see that earlier.

Get a senior dog if you must get a dog at all, but twenty minutes a day is not enough exercise, even with a yard.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:55 PM on March 6, 2013

It sounds like you guys are on the right track and really thinking things through already, but since you asked for books and other reading material, I really like Karen Pryor's stuff - Don't Shoot the Dog is good if you need an overview of the notion of clicker training and positive reinforcement, and her website has all sorts of useful info you can start digging in to before you bring your dog home. Please be wary of any of the "pack leader"/dominance-based training techniques; even if there may be some aspects of it that can be of use in some situations for some people, there's also a lot that can easily be misapplied or over-applied in ways that can harm your relationship with your dog. Based on my own experiences I try to steer clear of it; obviously YMMV.

On the subject of training, I'd encourage you and Mr. Motion to look into training classes now and get a general idea of places you'd like to go for that, class times that would work for both of you, etc. Don't wait until you realize that your new dog has some behavior that you'd like to work on; plan on doing basic obedience as part of the adoption and all-important bonding process. Since those classes are just as much about teaching you how to interact with your dog as teaching your dog what you want him/her to do, be sure you and Mr. Motion will both be there at all of the classes (it's more fun that way anyway, and will help ensure consistency in the way you treat your dog).

I guess beyond that, if you haven't already done so I'd have a very clear discussion with Mr. Motion about the expectations you both have about this dog - not just "who will feed and walk the dog," but also questions like: will the dog be allowed on the furniture? Where will s/he sleep? Will you crate train? Will s/he be allowed any people food?, etc. Of course your 'policies' might change jointly over time, but the more you can agree upon right off the bat, the easier it will be on all of you.

Best of luck to you and whatever pooch you ultimately bring into your family - I hope you'll update this thread with pictures once you have your new adoptee!
posted by DingoMutt at 1:00 PM on March 6, 2013

We have pugs, and they are adorable. They do have health issues, though, due to their breeding. A lot of breeds do, so I would recommend looking that information up ahead of time. We leave ours at home for 10-12 hours a day, in the kitchen, and they are good to hold it through that time -as they get older, we expect them not to be able to.

Our younger pug tends to want more exercise than we give her (maybe a 1 mile walk once a *week*, plus time in the backyard), but we try to take her to puppy playtime and drop her off to wear her out. Pug puppies are super-energetic, so beware if you go that route. Our older pug wants nothing to do with walks and the outside, and they both just want to snuggle all the time.

Pugs are sensitive to heat, and tend to overheat, so you couldn't just leave them outside for very long in a warm climate.

The things about dogs vs. cats and fish is that you *have* to be home for them - they have to go outside, and be fed - you can't just leave a litter box and food and water out for them. Also, I'd make sure you had a way of keeping the litterboxes away from the dogs, just in case.
posted by needlegrrl at 1:01 PM on March 6, 2013

Mr. Motion is willing to deal with a large breed if it has come kind of useful hunting skill (but he doesn't hunt right now).

Oh sorry, I didn't pick up on this. But it's the opposite of what I was talking about when I said consider its job in the wild. Getting a hunting dog when you don't hunt is asking for trouble. Getting any kind of an outside working dog when you're planning on only a leisurely 20-minute neighborhood stroll every day is asking for your shoes to be chewed up by an unhappy, bored dog.
posted by headnsouth at 1:03 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

1. Are there any hunting (specifically pointing) breeds that we should consider given that we couldn't really commit to much more than a 1 mile walk, plus lots of running around in the yard time daily? We'd probably like to do a few hours at a dog park once a week as well, but I'd hate to get a dog that _needs_ that, and not be able to provide because we are busy at work or somesuch. I'm wary about hunting breeds because the ones I've had experience with (ok, one, and it was a german shorthair) need lots of stimulation/training/actually doing hunting type things in order to be "happy" (not neurotic).

If you go up in age you can get around some of this AND get a dog that already comes complete with hunting skills.

My friends are currently fostering a 10 year old Brittany spaniel who was a serious hunting dog. They (in my opinion) should be walking him much more than they are, since they don't even take him every day. But he is fine, he doesn't appear distressed, he's not acting out. However, since I think he should be walked more and they're not going to, I have been taking him out most days and wow, the guy is an athlete. He has way, way more endurance than I do at high running speeds, uphill, and I'm training for a half marathon right now. Barring something like cancer, I would not be surprised if he had 5 years or more of major athletic ability left in him. And the commands he knows! He pointed at something, and he held the point until one of his legs gave out, and I could not figure out how to release him! I looked up some gun dog commands online to see which of them he knew, and it was crazy. It was like being behind the wheel of a very fancy car I had no idea how to drive.

Brittany spaniels man, senior Brittany spaniels...
posted by cairdeas at 1:06 PM on March 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Pretty much what everyone else has said is great advice.

I would probably try to avoid Shiba Inu's for a first dog. They are great dogs but in my opinion there are a lot easier first dogs as they can be very independent and strong willed. Be open to getting a Mutt, there are a lot of purebreeds in rescues and a lot of purebreed specific rescues if you do decide to go that way, but mutts can be pretty damn amazing and you avoid a lot of breed specific problems. If you are set on a pug maybe look at a pug/beagle cross, I think the trendy name for them is a puggle, it is an attempt to try and breed out some of the problems pugs can have.

As for rescues, I'd suggest looking at ones that use Fosters for the dogs, this usually means the foster parent has a good idea of the dogs temperament before hand and they really do try to match up the dogs to owners well. Also this will help you be sure that the dog is good with cats, as a lot of Fosters have cats as well. The good news is a good rescue won't let you take a dog home with you the second you see it and will most likely want to have a home visit and to check your references first. I know this seems like a lot of paperwork and fussing to some people, but the rescuers do put a lot of time and care into getting these dogs ready to adopt so like to be sure everything is a good match before the dog goes, it also means they will take the dog back if it turns out the adoption is a bad match as they really do want both the dog and new owner to be happy.

Remember just because a dog is a specific breed doesn't mean it will have a certain type of temperament.

I'd stick to smaller dogs that need less exercise and avoid hunting dogs unless you can provide a lot more exercise. A mile a day is fine for a pug or other small lap dog breed if it gets plenty of backyard play time too a lot of the idea of walking is mental stimulation as well as exercise so be prepared to provide a lot more of that with toys and playing with the dog. Also you will find that having a dog, and how much they like walks will actually make you want to walk more, my dogs have made me fitter than I ever thought I'd be.

I avoid Caesar Milan books like the plague as his methods are based on 30 year old research into animal behaviour which has been disproven to a greater extent. I'd recommend Karen Pryors books for teaching myself and my dog clicker training and Patricia McConnell books to really help me understand how my dog was thinking, if those are areas you are interested in.
posted by wwax at 1:14 PM on March 6, 2013

Adopting shelter dogs is great, but you have no idea what you're getting in that situation.

This isn't always true, though I guess it depends from shelter to shelter. My dog was an owner surrender, and the shelter had pretty decent records on him. He'd also been there for a while, and gone through a training program they have, so the workers there seemed to have a sense of him. Multiple people there were able to tell me whether he'd be a good match for my lifestyle, based on his temperament rather than a breed-related stab in the dark.

It's definitely worth looking into shelters in your area and seeing what the conditions are like and asking what information the shelter has about the dog. Any shelter where a person can take time out to talk to you about the dogs is probably a good place.
posted by Sara C. at 1:15 PM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, true, Sara C. We only have the Humane Society and the county animal control here. The animal control is like dog San Quentin. The volunteers are nice but there are 100+ dogs barking in cages, with more dogs coming and going every day.

Our Humane Society might be nicer - but they don't work with rescues that foster so I don't have much experience with them.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:23 PM on March 6, 2013

Please, think of the mutts! There are so many, and they are so good. Your Right Dog might be a mutt! Finding the Right Dog, though, is the difficult part.

(I am going to ramble at length, here. I speak Dog.)

When I was looking for Logan, I looked everywhere. (Do not start with anything that is part Border Collie. Logan is half that and half Labrador, and my god, he's on all the time, unless he's asleep.)

The smaller independent rescues seemed to be the ones with the multi-page applications that all but guaranteed they wouldn't move their dogs. (I checked back since: those dogs haven't moved. Foster in name only, I suppose.) But that's a rant for another time. The bigger breed-specific rescues seemed a lot more relaxed and less persnickety (as in: you get to actually legally own your dog) and if you've got your heart fixed on a breed, that may be a good place to start.

If mutts are an option (YES THEY ARE) you would probably do well to find a shelter with a smaller intake that knows their dogs. Lots of no-kill shelters are like this. I called one nearby and wound up talking with the Playgroup Coordinator for a solid hour about every adoptable dog they had, what my life was like, what the dog was like, and whether anything would fit. I visited with a few, but nobody clicked. Had I asked, they would have kept an eye out for a dog that fit my criteria -- it's nice having more eyes on the ground looking for The Dog.

I wound up getting Logan from the high-kill county shelter. A facility like that, you really don't know what you're getting, and they don't either: all they can do is clean the kennel runs and feed the animals. I've had dogs all my life, I know them pretty well, so I could temper-test Logan when I had him pulled for the meet-and-greet, which told me everything I needed to know about who he is. He's turned out to be a good fit for me.

Look for a place that is determined to keep its animals moving, but also determined to get them into the right homes. And be patient: The Dog may not show up right away.

Dogs that are older, larger, and black (there's a whole thing about Black Dog Syndrome) tend not to get adopted as easily, if at all. Nothing wrong with those three traits, just.... people don't want 'em. Give the black dogs a look, too.

Breeders: unless they're really really good, don't. If they advertise in the paper or on Craigslist, don't. Backyard breeders do it for the cash, not for the breed, and they do not care what happens to the pup once it leaves them. Educate yourself on the breed, what health problems they have, what tests are recommended before breeding dogs of that breed (hips, eyes, etc etc), and if the breeder doesn't do it, feel free to leave a you-shaped hole in the wall as you book it out of there. There are good breeders, but they're rare as hen's teeth and usually have years-long waiting lists.

As for home training: The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson is my dog training bible. I go back and reread it periodically in case I forget things. Also look into the work of Turid Rugaas - she's published a thing called Calming Signals, which is hard to find but a good reference about body language and behavior.

Cesar Milan is not fit to clean up after my dog, much less walk him. The only thing that man does correctly is tire out the dogs and then see if they're still hellions. (A tired dog is a good dog.) His schtick is based on thoroughly debunked research: all of that alpha theory garbage comes from a study done of a captive collection of unrelated wolves. That's like trying to understand human behavior by studying prisons. Dogs don't function like that. Do your dog a favor and skip all that crap.

Another vital thing: when you do get The Dog, you must post many photos so we can all squee over how wonderful and perfect it is. This is mandatory.
posted by cmyk at 2:15 PM on March 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Definitely scope out adoption events and such in your area and go see if you meet any pups that you take a real liking to. We've adopted 3 dogs, and each time there has been that moment when you realize... this is the one, as silly as that sounds. The one that you can't think about not having. We've met lots of dogs each time we are considering, but all three times there has been the moment when both of us look at each other in a "this is the one" moment.

With regard to the puppy consideration, there are some benefits to consider, but there is definitely a lot of work and potential stress involved (be prepared for the 3 days in major freak out when you question all your life choices). The benefits though being that you can potentially shape your dog a little more than you would be able to otherwise. Often times dogs that you adopt can have idiosyncrasies and hang ups that you can't explain, and are hard to break. Also I feel like having a dog from a puppy that is going to be around cats may make that introduction a bit easier. Keep in mind too that any herding breeds, or breeds with a strong prey drive may instictively chase good ole kitties, and stress them out (even if they don't mean any harm).

I know that you are leaning toward smaller dogs, but have you guys considered rescuing a greyhound? They are typically considered great apartment dogs, and actually require little excercise compared to other breeds. They are really just big couch potatoes as far as I have heard. The only thing is not letting them off leash until you have a very strong recall (because once they are gone they are gone, and their tendency to chase small furry things could be dangerous for other small dogs or cat or squirrels). I realize I just said to consider prey drive, however a rescue will probably be able to let you know how they are around other animals.
posted by Quincy at 2:21 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Regarding shelter dogs and personality: the shelter where I volunteer gives all of the animals personality tests to determine what kind of dog they are and what kind of owner would be best for them. They try to figure out whether the dog loves people, is high energy, more of a couch potato and such. Even puppies! The people who work there put color coded cards by all of the dogs indicating what kind of dog it is and they include notes like "no other animals", "has a medical condition"or other issues.

Before, after and during their testing, people work with the dogs to get them to do things that will make them more likely to get adopted. We walk around with kibble and give it to the dogs so they learn to be happy when people come over. We practice putting on a harness and leash and *not* taking them for a walk so they learn not to freak out when someone puts them on a harness and leash.

There's even a program for anxious dogs where people sit and read to them so the dogs get used to hearing humans voices and learn to be in the same room with another person without cowering in a corner or being on top of that person. We also watch movies with the dogs once a month so they can all be in a room together with people and not freak out. We watched Babe, they ate treats. Occasionally there was a lot of barking but it was nice in general.

Also, this shelter is not how I pictured an animal shelter. There's calming music, art, it's very bright and friendly. I don't know what I was expecting but if somehow all of the dogs and cats everywhere had homes tomorrow, this place could easily be repurposed as a school or kindergarten. And if I saw it, I would think it was a good school.

My point is that not all shelters are created equal.

Also, I don't remember if you mentioned whether you were interested in a puppy. I would discourage you from getting a puppy. I have heard several people say that puppies are more needy than babies. And with puppies, you really don't know what kind of dog it's going to be. If you're interested in a puppy, explore why a puppy appeals to you. A dog that is 6 months old or a year old is still a young dog and totally trainable but their personalities are more set.

Finally, a possibly controversial PSA - please consider dogs that have a hard time getting adopted. A ton of the dogs at the shelter where I volunteer are pit bull or Staffordshire terrier mixes because, among other things, those dogs are illegal to own in a neighboring county. Older dogs have a hard time getting adopted frequently because people want puppies. Black dogs, especially big black dogs like labs, have a really hard time getting adopted.

Don't get a dog that is too much dog for you but try not to make assumptions by just looking at the dog. My parents had a black lab who was super chill. She must have gotten her energy out by running in our backyard because when she was inside, all she wanted to do was follow my dad around. Then again, my brother's black lab is maybe 9 and incredibly energetic. People used to think she was a puppy until she started getting grey hair. Good luck!
posted by kat518 at 3:58 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would recommend looking into adopting a retired racing greyhound. The greyhound rescuers in my state have very good websites with LOTS of info about the personalities of the dogs available for adoption put together by their foster families, folks who have had the dog in their home for some time and really take the time to go into detail about its quirks and personality. They will even test the dog you are interested in to see if it is cat and small animal compatible.

Greyhounds in general tend to be VERY laid back, super sweet family dogs. They need a moderate amount of exercise (almost any breed will need more than one mile a day so I agree with those who said that you may want to look into senior dogs). They are not known for being barkers although some are of course. Individuals in any breed will vary widely. Their hair is short and not as noticeable around the house as many other breeds ( I have a Great Pyrenees so almost all dogs shed less in comparison to him). Chasing things is their game however and so they should not be walked off leash.

As far as general preparation goes it sounds like you guys are doing a very good job and its a delight to hear people being so responsible (if only more people were like you)! I would second finding a good pet sitter in your area ahead of time if you don't already have one you use for the cats and fish.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 5:15 PM on March 6, 2013

Greyhounds are awesome dogs, but keep in mind you'll want to adopt from a rescue group that checks them for cat-compatability and general prey-drive levels, and even then, commit the time to monitor them with the cats until you're sure they actually are - because mistakes happen. But yeah, right now it sounds like you barely have time for a dog. Unless you're going to pay for a dog walker in addition to that twenty minutes... you should hold off until your situation improves.
posted by canine epigram at 9:43 AM on March 7, 2013

Greyhound rescue groups are generally very well-run and you will probably not have to deal with a lot of the dog rescue BS described upthread.

However, like ALL dogs, they need more than twenty minutes of exercise a day. Don't get a dog unless you can walk them more than that.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:01 AM on March 7, 2013

I was just out walking my dog, and I had some thoughts about your dog walking criteria.

You mention in your question that you "couldn't commit to much more than a one mile walk". This is not a really useful way to look at walking a dog, in my experience.

Are you specifying a mile because it takes you about 15 minutes to walk a mile and you have 15 minutes a day for dog walking? Or because you feel like that's "a long walk" and you're not physically up to the task of walking further than a mile on any one walk? Or because you live in a drastically non-walkable area?

This morning I walked my dog for about 40 minutes (which is on the short side for us). Our route: up to the top of our street, around a cul de sac, back down our street a little ways, over to a side street, down to the main road, back along to our street, and all the way back up from the main road to home. There is no way we walked an entire mile.

But. Every hydrant, pole, garbage can, and bit of shrubbery needed to be sniffed. The nearby house with the litter of kittens needed to have its perimeter inspected for anything out of the ordinary. Several houses that usually have somewhat aggressive dogs in their yards did not, this morning, so there was valuable reconnaissance (and marking) to be done. Then there was some sniffing around to find the ideal place to poo. Then it turned out someone had left a half-eaten burger in a takeout bag on the sidewalk. Then some kids were walking to school. On the way back into the house THERE WAS EVIDENCE OF RECENT FELINE ACTIVITY IN THE AREA.

I think you get the idea. If your concern is more about distance, having places to walk your dog to, or your own level of fitness, I don't think it's going to be a problem. Dogs don't walk like humans walk, and at least for my particular dog, I see our daily outings as more a chance for him to explore and experience and play a little bit than walks, per se. It's not like being on a treadmill. (I am fully willing to accept that I am walking my dog "wrong", somehow, though.)

But, yeah, you probably are going to have to commit to 30 minutes or more of being outdoors exploring with your dog every day. This will include the physical activity of walking, but it will also include a lot of other stuff. (Mostly sniffing.) If you absolutely can't find room in your schedule to do this, you probably shouldn't get a dog.
posted by Sara C. at 9:25 AM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you're on facebook you should find rescues. They post specific dogs and tell you all about them. I just adopted a puppy from a massive rescue event in my city. The puppies has all been left in the parking lot of a kill shelter and they called the rescue to get them. They're all adopted now. If you want an adult dog, I'd suggest you get a Shepard or Lab mix. They're smart and loving. You need to take some time to meet some dogs and decide what you want, but you will impulse get your dog. That's ok. If you find one you want to love, take them.
posted by syncope at 4:50 PM on March 10, 2013

Response by poster: I figured I'd pop in an address the whole "1 mile walk" thing.

Sara C. has it exactly right - a one mile walk with a dog will generally take a lot longer than 15-20 minutes. I'm thinking more like 45 mins to an hour.

That 45-60 minutes is also a minimum value: when I am as busy as I possibly get, and Mr. Motion is out of town for training or somesuch, and/or it is the middle of February here in MN and we honestly don't want to be outside for that long. Most of the time, one or both of us will have a lot more time to spend on walks, but I want to get a dog that will be ok with the minimum.

We've filled out an application at a local rescue for a dog that caught our eye (9 year old, black, beagle mix). Hopefuly we'll be meeting him soon and finding out if he likes us or not. If it doesn't work out, at least we'll be "in the system" and the adoption coordinator can help keep an eye out for dogs for us.

Thank you all for your advice, I'll keep you posted!
posted by sparklemotion at 8:17 AM on March 11, 2013

What types of dogs do your neighbors/other Minnesotans you know have, and how do they exercise them in winter?

I think it's fine to do shorter walks or possibly skip a walk in emergency We Just Can't Do This Today situations. I mean, YMMV in terms of the dog's tendency to get bored and start chewing stuff as well as your tolerance for dog hyperactivity, but the dog is not going to die if you have a long day at work and your husband is out of town and it simply can't be done this one time.

(Also, are there dog daycare options in your area? One of my favorite things about the days I send my dog to daycare is that he comes home completely tuckered out and there's no need for a long evening walk. This would definitely be an option for you when your schedules are crazy.)
posted by Sara C. at 8:50 AM on March 11, 2013

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