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Advice for the New Owner of a Big Dog

This article is part of “Adopt Your Love-a-Bull Valentine”, a joint digital event by C.A.R.L. and SPARC. Be sure to check out all the pit bulls and other big dogs available from C.A.R.L.! Adoption fees for pit bulls and dogs 40 lbs or heavier are $25 off through February 28, 2017!

Nala the senior Chow/Shepherd

Nala. Every dog shown is available to adopt!

At Canine Adoption and Rescue League, we adopt out about one hundred dogs each year. Many of those dogs go to familiar homes. They’ve adopted from us before. Most adopters, though, are new faces. Some of them have never even owned a dog before.

Taking a dog into your home is incredibly fun, fulfilling, and even life-extending, but it’s also pretty daunting for first-timers. How much do you feed them? How do you walk them? What about things you don’t even know you don’t know?

Luckily, we’ve set up a great community of people who can answer these questions.

Firstly, we have a Facebook group for C.A.R.L. adopters. It’s called C.A.R.L. Alumni Chat, and you can access it right here. Adopters swap tips, advice, and photos. Lots and lots of photos.

Secondly, there are the C.A.R.L. volunteers. We all handle dogs just a bit more than what might be called normal, and most of us are more than happy to weigh in on the big questions. Questions like “He won’t stop pooping!!!

Cora the Chow-Chow

Cora. Every dog shown is available to adopt!

I reached out to the volunteer base and asked them one simple question: What’s the one piece of advice you would give to the new owner of a big dog?

I got back a wide range of answers, ranging from training advice to medical advice, and more than a couple of poop jokes. Here are the best of them.

  • Be patient! -Sarah
  • Make sure you have a way to lift them if needed. If the dog can’t walk for some reason you may have to carry them or lift them up into the car. -Renee
  • Don’t be afraid of their size. – Marsha
  • Look into pet insurance that covers breed-specific conditions. -PJ
  • Make sure their energy level matches your lifestyle. -Marion
  • Big poop! -Paula
  • Invest in a lot of toys—food and puzzle toys as well. -Lucy
  • Big dogs are big babies, too. They can be very sensitive to your mood, attitude, and anger. Remember to always be gentle. -Laura
  • Teach them to sit and stay so they don’t knock over your guests. -Ann
  • Teach them the basic commands and get ready for their hair to be on everything.
  • Have food & water far from each other to help avoid bloat. -Amy
  • Train them. -Kai

Junior the pit bull

Junior. Every dog shown is available to adopt!

I asked the C.A.R.L. Board of Directors to weigh in as well.

Sharon Clark, Executive Director, says it’s important to “establish boundaries for acceptable behavior so your control of a situation is not dependent on your physical strength.”

Ellen Gilmore, in charge of adoptions, has an enormous amount of experience with dogs of every shape and size. “If you want a good calm dog,” she says, “be ready to set aside the time to give the dog the level of exercise for their breed.”

Mia Emhardt, Secretary of the Board and an agility enthusiast, advises “big dogs do not necessarily need more space and exercise than a smaller dog. Many large breed dogs do well in apartments and can be couch potatoes.”

Susan Carroll, Vice Treasurer, has one simple rule to follow when picking your dog. “Make sure they aren’t so big that you can’t handle them on a leash.”

Ariel the Jindo, Junior the Pit Bull, and Nala the Chow/Shepherd

Junior (left), Nala (front), and Ariel (right). Every dog shown is available to adopt!

And finally, Lynne Bohney sent a laundry list of great tips.

  • No matter how strong you are, they will accidentally knock you over, your kids over and step on the other animals in the house when they greet you at the door, run past you in the yard, etc.
  • If they love water and they want to get in the shower with you, you will not be able to stop them.
  • No matter how well trained they are, they are opportunists and will easily swipe food off of the counter that is at the same height as their nose.
  • It doesn’t matter how adorable and well behaved you think your big dog is, others will fear it and judge it based on its size.
  • Their poop is, well… massive.
  • Their bark can be earth shattering and scare people houses away.
  • They are EXPENSIVE. When you think about the fact the spay and neuter is often times based on weight, medications dispensed are based on weight, the amount of food you feed them, the grooming bills and so on are all based on weight you should expect to pay a lot more compared to owning a Chihuahua.
  • Most large breeds are called “Gentle Giants” for a reason. If you can get past all of the other stuff, they can make the best pets ever.

If you’ve been thinking about adopting but aren’t sure if you can handle it, know that we’re here to provide support and advice. Our goal is to get every dog into a good home, and help them stay there. We want the dogs to be happy. We want you to be happy. And we’re good at making that happen.

Stella the German Shepherd.

Stella and the author. Every dog shown is available to adopt!

So, don’t hesitate to ask! Remember, all pit bulls and dogs over 40 lbs have discounted adoption fees through February 2017!

Thanks to Alyssa Armstrong for the amazing photos of the dogs! She’s available for weddings and more, and she’s a great volunteer!

Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Canine Adoption and Rescue League.

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