Hi blog friends, I have a special treat for you today! I’ve invited a long-time friend, who also happens to be a writer and a dog-hearted soul, to tell you about adopting one of my foster dogs. I’ve known Tracy since she was a little kid bouncing around a riding ring on a pony. It’s been a treat to also get to know her as an adult, a mom, and a friend. She’s a talented writer, a great mom, and a smart dog person. I just know you’ll enjoy what she has to say:
I’ve been listening to Cara’s memoir 100 Dogs and Counting (highly recommend the audiobook!). In her frustration of trying to find a home for Gala, she discusses how many families are looking for a “turnkey” dog to adopt. By this, she means a dog who is housetrained, crate trained, walks nicely on a leash, and won’t take too much work to integrate into a family. These dogs are few and far in-between.
Well, I adopted such a turnkey dog, and spoiler alert: even so-called “turnkey dogs” take work to safely integrate into your family.
Here’s my story of adopting one of Cara’s fosters, a “turnkey dog,” and the work I did to successfully integrate that dog into our family.
[Caveat: I am not a dog trainer or dog safety professional. Just someone who has done a lot of work and research to safely have a dog and toddler!]
When my beloved rescue dog Ollie died of cancer in 2019, I found myself in search of a turnkey dog to help fill the gaping hole Ollie’s death left in my family. I work, write books, and have a toddler, so I could not deal with a major challenge or heaven forbid, a puppy. I knew from adopting Ollie that even an adult, crate trained dog could present their fair share of challenges.
The most important consideration in adopting a new dog would be whether it would get along with my toddler, Ava. With the help of a trainer, I had developed systems to keep Ava and Ollie safe and happy. But I had done that before Ava arrived. This was going to be different: training a dog with the toddler already around!
My husband wanted to wait until Ava was a little older, but I worked from home even before Covid, and I was desperate for a new companion as soon as possible. We were going to need a very special dog.
I’ve known Cara since she taught me horseback riding many years ago, and I follow her foster journey closely. I was intrigued when Cara started posting about Bowflex, a gorgeous dog she described as “a family dog or a first-rate best friend to go on adventures with.”
Alas, before I could convince my husband to go to meet him, Bo was adopted. I figured it was fate; that my husband was right about waiting longer to adopt a new dog.
A few weeks after Bo’s adoption, Cara posted that he had been returned. It seemed like the issue with the new adopters hinged mainly around his relationship with their dog, even though Bo had gotten along fine with the other dogs at Cara’s house.
Something in my gut told me this was fate. Bo had been returned because he was my dog.
I convinced my husband to go meet Bo. “Let’s just meet him,” I said. “We don’t have to take him home unless we’re absolutely in love.”
Well, we all know how that story ends! Bo came home with us. We decided to name him “Beau,” to be a little fancy, but my toddler doffed him “Bobo,” and that’s what has stuck, so I’ll just keep calling him “Bo” here!
Now, here’s where the hard work began. Cara had warned us that Bo had issues with the crate at his former home. Sure enough, Bo pulled off his first crate escape on the car ride home. Impressive! However, compared to Ollie, who would spin around and bark at every single passing car while on a car ride, Bo was easy. He stood quietly as long as he wasn’t in the crate.
The crate was a major issue when we got home, too. My plan had been to crate him whenever we had meals to make sure there would be no issues with him and my toddler. Well, we had several arguments about getting him in the crate while our food grew cold, and then he’d bark for the whole meal.
The first time we left the house and left him in the crate, he somehow managed to break the metal crate and escape. Luckily, he was indeed housetrained and not at all destructive. We watched on our security cameras—all he did while we were gone was curl up and nap. Compared to Ollie, who’d eaten an entire bag of pita chips and my favorite sweater the first time he was left alone without a crate, this was easy.
I couldn’t blame Bo when he absolutely refused to go back in the crate after that. I’m sure it was terrifying to have that crate crash down around him! So, we worked around the crate.
At home, I knew he would need a week or two to settle in. I planned to implement as long of a two-week “shutdown” period as I could. Here’s what this meant in our family—sans the use of a crate!
Bo was either on a leash or locked in a place where he couldn’t destroy anything 24/7 at first. Luckily, because Ollie was so destructive, the kitchen, my bedroom, and my office were all relatively dog-safe and comfy. We did a full-length leash and kept a hold on it at all times at first, then switched to a short drag leash. He flinched away if you reached for his collar, so the drag leash helped when we needed to reach for him. He also was a little fearful of my toddler’s sudden motions once he was home without the comfort of another dog, so it was important to keep him close just in case. Within a few days, her silly antics didn’t bother him anymore, but I was glad I’d kept them safe.
For meals, we had Bo stay behind a baby gate in the kitchen. He was happy because he could see us eat in the dining room, but he couldn’t try to steal our food off the table or take food out of my toddler’s hand.
We hand-fed Bo some of his meals to work on basic training commands. My toddler was part of this as well—I held her hand as she held food out to Bo. Of course, I never would have done this if Bo hadn’t already proved himself to be a very gentle eater with me. This helped Bo learn that Ava was one of his providers, and not just a squeaking, running terror. I am convinced that this carefully supervised toddler feeding effort is part of why Ava and Bo get along so well.
We ended up needing to use treats to train him, though, because he didn’t seem that interested in his food, even though it was the same kind Cara fed. I understood why OPH and his former adopters had struggled to keep him from losing weight. Later, we discovered that he had tapeworms, too. Yuck!
We only went for short walks, focusing on staying close to our house, so Bo would get exercise but not be exposed to too many new situations. I tried to train him not to pull by offering him treats as we walked, but he was so overstimulated he had no interest in the treats. After a few weeks, he improved and took the treats, but a year later, we’re still working on leash manners, especially when we go out of our few blocks’ radius. Bo does best when I’m able to run him regularly—and I’m a spotty runner at best, especially with Covid throwing wrenches in my childcare.
After a week or so, we introduced him to other dogs on the leash, in mutual territory, by walking together. The best advice I’ve ever heard about introducing new dogs is to simply walk several feet apart, in the same direction, and the dogs start to feel like they’re in the same pack. Honestly, this is magic for making dogs get along on the leash. You don’t walk directly at each other or let them get all tangled up in each other’s leashes—you just go on a walk together. With introductions like this, Bo then got off-leash playdates in fenced-in yards with the dogs of my neighbors, friends, and family. He was great!
We made sure Bo was locked away in my office when visitors or contractors came, and we locked him behind a baby gate before opening the door so he couldn’t escape. This made him feel safe and made it easier for me to deal with welcoming a visitor with a toddler and a dog whose reactions I couldn’t be sure of. Because of the pandemic, he hasn’t been socialized much. Generally, he does best if visitors just ignore him at first, and then he becomes their best friend. He shies away from excited greetings.
We always kept toys nearby to deal with his mouthiness. Bo had a similar problem to my last dog, Ollie: he wasn’t a puppy anymore, but it seemed like no one had taught him boundaries about not putting his teeth on people. He would chew, nibble, and nip when he was playing or excited. We dealt with this mouthiness much like you’d deal with it in a puppy. On our vet’s advice, if he used his mouth with us in play, that play session was immediately over. Bo got kicked off the furniture or locked behind a baby gate.
I learned to keep a toy nearby whenever I sat down so Bo would chew on the toy and not on me. He got excited whenever we walked down the stairs and would nip my legs, so I would grab a toy to give him before going down the stairs. Luckily, Bo is an extremely sensitive dog, and he learned very quickly that his teeth belonged nowhere near my toddler. He still sometimes gets excited and tries to chew on my husband and me, but we simply ignore him or redirect him to a treat.
I trained the toddler, not just the dog. No matter how nice a dog is, dogs have limits. If a toddler pulls on a dog’s tail or falls on them or yells at them, who could blame that dog for freaking out? I knew that my safety mechanisms for Bo and for my toddler would not be fail proof so hopefully by training both of them I’d build a foundation that could weather a few slips.
I taught Ava not to approach Bo when he was resting in his dog bed, eating, or drinking. I taught Ava to talk to Bo when she approached him so she didn’t catch him by surprise. I taught her to pet him gently, and not to pull on his collar, tail, or paws. I taught Ava not to panic or cry if he knocked her over by accident, but rather to just calmly get back up—after all, she’s an only child, so someone has to knock her over every now and then.
I taught Ava never to take a toy out of his mouth, and I taught him never to take a toy from Ava’s hands. When Ava gave him food or treats, I taught him to sit and wait to hear “okay” before taking it. We also try to only let Ava eat when she’s seated at the table, which is a good choking precaution as well as dog safety precaution.
All of this teaching is a work in progress, but so far, they love each other. Bo will tolerate petting that’s not quite as gentle as it should be, and Ava will tolerate being knocked over if she’s in the path of his exuberance.
That’s most of what we did to manage adopting this “turnkey” dog! A huge part of our plan—training classes—was unfortunately derailed because the world locked down for Covid a few weeks after we got him. Certainly, if we ever want to take Bo out to the wider world, I will sign him up for dog classes to increase his socialization before doing so, and I’d love some help to cement his leash training, but for now, we’re doing great.
It has been almost a year with Bo, and he has developed a wonderful relationship with our daughter. Yes, sometimes we need to use those baby gates or shut a door to bring the energy levels down a notch for both of them. Yes, Bo has gotten way too much human food from my daughter and thanks to that he sometimes begs and whines at meals. But that’s nothing we can’t manage, and the love and laughter he brings to our life is worth all the work we did to make him a safe, happy home here.
Tracy C. Gold loves bringing characters to life. She is a writer, freelance editor, and mom living in Baltimore, Maryland. She has two picture books forthcoming in 2021, Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby from Familius in March and Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat from Sourcebooks in August. She also writes short stories, essays, novels, and poems. Her work has been published in several magazines and anthologies. Tracy earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts at the University of Baltimore and earned her B.A. in English from Duke University. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s playing with her toddler, or hanging out with her horse and dog, both rescues. You can find out more about Tracy at tracycgold.com or by following her on Twitter and Instagram at @tracycgold, or by liking her Facebook page.
Tracy’s picture book (coming out on March 2) called Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby has a special rescue dog angle to the book–Tracy’s dog Ollie passed away while she was working on the book, and the illustrator decided to base the dog in the book on Ollie. Tracy is donating a copy of the book to babies in need for every copy that is preordered.
As an author, I know that preorders can make a huge difference in an author’s career–and Tracy is making a difference for babies in need in return. So, just in case there’s a small person in your life, here’s more information about the campaign and where to buy her book, which would make a great baby shower gift.
Thanks for reading!
For information on me, my writing, and books, visit CaraWrites.com where you can also find more information on my book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020) and my latest novel, Blind Turn (Black Rose Writing, Jan 2021)
If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips from OPH training, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.
And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit WhoWillLetTheDogsOut.org where you can follow the blog that shares stories or find the link to our podcast!
Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.
If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs . It’s available anywhere books are sold.
I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at email@example.com.
Many of the pictures on my blog are taken by photographer Nancy Slattery. If you’d like to connect with Nancy to take gorgeous pictures of your pup (or your family), contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.