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How to Choose the Right Dog for Your Family

Dogs make wonderful family pets, especially here in Los Angeles with our terrific year-round outdoor weather. Families can have outdoor play time with a dog anytime, and it’s a great chance for kids to learn empathy and responsibility.

Choosing the right dog for your family is super important and is relatively easy to do. You’ll need to think about the size of your home compared to the size of the dog, the time commitment you can reasonably make to caring for and training the dog, and you’ll want to match the dog’s energy level to your family’s.

MomsLA spoke with experts from the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace to create this resource guide. Both Dr. J.J. Rawlinson, Senior Manager, Community Partnerships and Welfare Initiatives, and Katie McGuire, CPDT-KA, Animal Behavior & Training Coordinator contributed their expertise. See below for their bios.

happy dog with family in background

Big Dog, Small Home?

It may sound overly simplistic, but a big dog in a small space is probably not ideal when choosing a family pet. If you have a large home and a big backyard, then choosing a large breed of dog could make sense.

If you live in a smaller space, it’s much better to choose a medium or small breed of dog for your family. Spend time researching the size of different kinds of dogs before you get your pet.

This is also an argument for getting an adult dog instead of a puppy, since you know exactly how big they are already, and won’t be surprised by future growth.

And be sure to consider the rules of your living space as well. Some apartment buildings and homeowners’ associations may have standing rules in place about the size of the dogs they allow.

Time For Training

Bringing a dog into your family will involve a certain amount of training no matter what – both for the dog and for the humans. The key decision is how much time you have to spend doing the training. A puppy will require much more of your time than an adult dog, so that may make the choice for you.

Maybe your kids are a little bit older and the care a puppy requires feels like something you can all handle together. On the other hand, maybe that much work seems daunting right now, and it would make more sense to adopt an adult dog instead.

Training your dog is important, though, no matter what age they are, and your family will have to learn a new routine as well. Feeding, walking, playtime, and health care are all things your new dog will need and the whole family will need to be involved.

High-energy Puppy running towards camera
High-energy Puppy coming your way!
essential-dog-gear-in-our-amazon-shop

Match The Dog’s Energy To Your Family’s

This may be the most important step in choosing the right dog for your new pet. Not all dogs have the same temperament, and neither do all families.

If your family likes to spend time hanging around the house, watching TV and playing video games, choosing a high-energy dog is not going to be a good fit for either of you.

If you’re a family on-the-go, with a full schedule of activities, a low-energy dog might not be the right choice.

Do your research on the breeds you’re considering. You can learn a lot by asking friends about their pets, as well as listening in forums and discussion groups.

If you’re adopting a rescue pet, ask the shelter staff for all the information they have on the dog first, and try to observe his or her energy before you bring them home.

Puppies Are a lot Like Babies

Remember having a newborn? Along with the joy came sleep deprivation, regimented feeding schedules, and cleaning up messes at all hours of the day and night? It’s very similar with puppies.

Puppies even need tons of specialized equipment, just like babies do. So it’s important to consider whether you’re up for taking on the care and feeding of another baby right now. That may be a strain your family doesn’t need right now.

And there’s no judgement at all with making this decision. It’s better to be honest with yourselves now than to end up in a stressful situation later.

Many people romanticize the idea of getting a puppy when their kids are young, so they can all grow up together. But it’s not the only way to enjoy the benefit of having a dog as part of the family.

Pet Expenses To Consider

All dogs will need a certain amount of gear and health care, not to mention food, which can be mean a big expenditure up front and then ongoing costs as well. Be sure to think about how a pet dog will affect your family’s budget.

You may not need to buy the most expensive dog food on the market, but you’ll still have to buy dog food. And you may not need to buy your dog the Cadillac of collars and dog beds, etc., but you will still need to get them the basics.

Knowing a ballpark idea of the costs of owning a dog may help you decide between a puppy and an adult, or between a purebred dog from a breeder vs. adopting a rescue pet.

Choose a Dog for your Family Pet

Dogs make wonderful family pets. Take the time to find the right dog for your family, and you’re likely to have a loving fur-family member for years to come.

About the Experts

Dr. J.J. Rawlinson, Senior Manager, Community Partnerships and Welfare Initiatives Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

Dr. JJ Rawlinson from Wallis Annenberg PetSpace
Dr. JJ Rawlinson, Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

Dr. J.J. Rawlinson is originally from Canada where, as a student-athlete playing varsity basketball, she pursued a B.S. in biology from the University of Guelph in Ontario and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C. During veterinary school, Dr. Rawlinson focused on caring for the stray and unwanted animals in underserved communities of Los Angeles County and participated in many spay and neuter programs. 

Upon completing her doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, she completed an intensive Small Animal Surgery and Medicine Internship at VCA West Los Angeles. She continues to treat a wide variety of emergency and non-emergency cases as a general practitioner, focusing primarily on the care of dogs and cats.

In 2016, she helped launch a new state-of-the-art animal adoption and education facility, Wallis Annenberg PetSpace, in Playa Vista. As the Veterinarian and Animal Care Manager, she oversees medical procedures, behavioral training, and the adoption process of pets looking for their forever homes. 

She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children. In her spare time, she enjoys ocean swimming and triathlon training.

Katie McGuire, CPDT-KA, Animal Behavior & Training Coordinator Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

Katie McGuire, from Wallis Annenberg PetSpace
Katie McGuire, Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

Katie McGuire is an accomplished professional dog trainer, with more than 13 years of experience, but her training career and education began long before that. Her childhood consisted of as many animal activities as she could find, including care, training, and competing with horses, as well as volunteering for a local animal rescue. She also spent time training her own dogs in multiple activities such as tricks, agility, and obedience.

Katie receive her BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her studies she worked part time as an On Set Safety Representative with American Humane Association, ensuring that animals were being treated humanely during film and television productions. While at UCSB, she also completed an internship training dogs for the entertainment industry.

Additional professional endeavors of Katie’s included a role as professional dog trainer for a pet supply store, overseeing trainers at additional locations, and advising on the well-received publication, “The Big Book of Tricks for the Best Dog Ever.” Her previous video and in-person demonstrations include ACCESS Live, The Pet Collective, and The California Science Center.

She eventually launched her own training business, giving her the ability to grow and develop her skills, as well as focus on dogs with problem behaviors, and training for competition dogs in different venues. In 2020, Katie officially became the Animal Behavior & Training Coordinator at Wallis Annenberg PetSpace, after serving as the exclusive group class trainer since 2018.

Katie is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), AKC Canine Good Citizen and Trick Dog Evaluator, a member of The Association of Pet Dog Trainers, the Dog Trainers Alliance of Southern California, the Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America, and the Valley Hills Obedience Club. With her own dogs, she trains and competes in agility, conformation, Rally Obedience, and competition Obedience, garnering many wins, and competing at the national level. She continues her education by reading, attending seminars, and consulting with other trainers as often as possible.

Sarah Auerswald is the co-Founder and Managing Editor of MomsLA.com.

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