I-9 – Michelle Stern of Pooch Parenting on Kids & Dogs – Important Considerations for Breeders

by | Jul 3, 2024 | People Management

Have your buyers ever been frustrated with normal puppy behavior? They might say – “This dog is aggressive,” or “I thought you said they were good with kids.” These are common complaints that arise from buyers during the first few weeks with their puppies, while trying to integrate the puppy into a home with children.

That’s why I’m happy I was able to talk with Michelle Stern of Pooch Parenting about the important considerations we as breeders need to think about when we talk to buyer with kids.

Podcast Transcript

00:07 | Julie

Today we are so lucky. We have Michelle Stern from Pooch Parenting. Michelle, thanks so much for giving us this MasterClass and being on the podcast.

00:18 | Michelle

Thank you for the opportunity.

00:20 | Julie

Of course. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started and what Pooch Parenting is, and what you do.

00:27 | Michelle

Yes. So I am a certified professional dog trainer and I’m a dog behavior counselor, right, dog behavior consultant, and I specialize in supporting families who are raising kids and dogs of all ages at the same time.

And the path that brought me here is that I’m a mom. I’ve got two kids. They’re now 22 and almost 24, so I survived that. I was a high school teacher for eight years, and I founded a cooking school for kids, that I started with kids as young as two. You didn’t know this about me? Surprise. I started working with kids in the kitchen from 2 years old, up until students were getting ready to leave the nest and go to college.

And dogs were always my passion. I always thought that I would be a vet. Organic chemistry happened, kind of weeded me out. I taught high school biology instead. But I returned to my love of dogs, and what was really fascinating in taking all these classes through, actually, my childhood mentor, which was amazing. Is I noticed a huge gap in the support of general dog training. And my realm of just being an educator and supporting families, right. Because as a teacher, you work with parents a lot, but you also work with kids.

And I decided you know what I think that instead of just being a general dog trainer, like so many people out there, which is great, I’m not saying that’s not good.  But wouldn’t it be amazing if I could take my expertise as a parent and as an educator and as a dog behavior specialist, and apply that to supporting overwhelmed parents. Usually moms, who are raising little kids, maybe they’re pregnant or they’re adopting a baby, or using a surrogate, and they’ve got a dog at home who is their first baby and they’re worried. They’re wondering, “My gosh, maybe my dog is a little extra.” I call these dogs extra. Maybe they’re anxious. Maybe they’re fearful. Maybe they’re just super happy dogs, but they’re 90 lbs and we’re worried about how their baby is going fare in that environment.

And there’s also a lot of mom guilt. I mean, you know, this you and I have talked about this before that as a parent we want to be the best version of ourselves for our kids and our dogs. And we put a lot of guilt on ourselves that maybe our dog isn’t going to get the best of us anymore, because once the kids arrive, they do take priority. And so I work to help families ease that transition.

But here’s the thing, my mentor that I learned from. She ran the behavior and training department of our shelter for 30 years, and I spent a lot of years as both a volunteer and a staff at that same shelter and I saw a lot of dogs coming in who struggled living with kids. And some of the dogs who struggled living with kids bit the kids, which doesn’t bode well for their future. And the parents were desperate and they didn’t know what else to do. And some breeders aren’t as good as you are, and they won’t support their families, and out of desperation, they need to turn them into the shelter. Because they just don’t feel safe in their own home with this dog and child.

And so my goal, I mean in the dream world, I would work with breeders before puppies even go home so that we can set their families who have kids up for success. So they have appropriate expectations before the puppy even gets to their house, right. We’ve got safe zones set up. We have plans in place and more importantly, the parents know that it’s going to be hard. So they’re not surprised and they don’t feel sabotaged. Because I feel like everyone has this vision of snuggly sweet, sleepy puppies. And they are like that for like 5 minutes, but not the rest of the day. You know, they’re busy and they’re fun. And they eat things and chew things and bite and scratch.

But we can do that safely around kids, but parents don’t always know how, and so that’s the role that I am trying to fill. Whether people are getting dogs from a rescue or from a breeder or anywhere else. I just want their experience with that dog to be successful, because then they’re going to be thrilled with where they got their dog and they’re going to tell everyone: “I was supported. I got what I needed. I felt prepared. Everyone should get their dog from this person because they did such a good job with my dog.” So that’s kind of how I want to support people like you, and how I want to support parents and dogs so they feel safe where they land.

05:00 | Julie

Sure. Absolutely. And so you kind of have a couple different approaches as far as helping, so one you can consult with people, but you also are of course today, helping us with breeders, and you’re saying in a lot of ways breeders can really take the lead on this by setting expectations themselves.

And would you agree – I’ve always found that when a mismatch occurs between puppy and buyer, it happens because the expectations were not met.  Either the expectations they had were unrealistic, or the breeder over promised or whatever the case was, it’s just not what they expected. And when that happens, that’s when the mismatch really occurs. Because you’re going to run into a problem like house training and you say, “Oh yeah, I knew this was going to be hard.” It takes the bite out of it.

05:55 | Michelle

Yeah. No, I agree with you completely. I think expectations are a lot and I think social media is a blessing and a curse, because people share only the really sunshine and roses. I joke about that, I’m like it’s all sunshine and roses on social media. People share the cute stuff, or even the dangerous stuff that they think is cute.

And what it does, is it shifts the status quo of what buyers, customers, expect the reality to be. So there’s a mismatch there even of like what they think it will look like living and raising a puppy alongside their kids. Because people want their dog and kid to be best friends.

They just want that and what I am there to do is to support everyone with shifting the message to say, they might be best friends, but also relationships take time, right? Most people don’t fall in love with their spouse the first second they meet. It takes time to get to know each other and their quirks and finding out someone snores. And maybe chews with their mouth open. There’s like good things and bad things, and you have to decide you know where I’m going to celebrate the wins, and where I need to get support to, to deal with the things that are harder.

So yeah, I do think that setting appropriate expectations from the get go just prevents so much disappointment. And also the feeling like you might be failing. Because you’re not failing, you’re doing the best you can with the information you have. And that’s why partnering with people like you is so magical to me because it’s a neat niche. And between you and I, and if we support other breeders out there, you could just imagine that thousands of families we can impact together. Who maybe then raise their kids and dogs in harmony.

But people don’t even know that a dog and child specialist is even a thing. So to remind them, you know what, just like you would maybe have a lactation consultant help you breastfeed your baby. Some stuff is hard and so finding a specialist, you’re not going to go to an orthopedic surgeon for heart surgery, right? Specialists have value. And so I do think it’s really important to keep up these conversations, even just to let folks know that there are resources that are out in the world that can be explored.

08:13 | Julie

Absolutely, absolutely. I think this is such an underserved area in the world. And I have noticed. I’m not sure if you’ve been tracking the same, but I’ve noticed my buyers are less, I would say, robust than they were ten years ago. What I used to think was normal for puppy behavior, now needs to be something I need to address head on because I’m finding less and less people actually believe it. And maybe part of that picture is because social media is coming in and setting this idealistic image that is very unrealistic. Have you been seeing the same that they’re just less robust?

08:49 | Michelle

Yeah, I mean, it’s really interesting. I think the dog training world has shifted a lot anyway, so I’m a little bit different than many dog trainers from the standpoint that I don’t really care if my dog has a sit, stay, or has a heel.  It’s not something that’s important to me. Why? Because what I want is a good housemate. And so I’m going to focus on behaviors that make my life better and easier with my dog.

So, for example, the dog who’s sitting next to me, I have two Border Terriers. She’s 18 months old. She’s a bit of a teenage menace at the moment. She’s actually just coming out of a heat cycle, so a little bit of orneriness. And we just went in our travel trailer and it was her first time going in our travel trailer. We went to the coast and I realized that I need to work on her door dashing behavior because she would throw herself out of the car crate, dangerous. She would try to throw herself out of the trailer door, and we’re in a campground. She not home. She doesn’t know where she is.

So I started working on training those skills on the camping trip because I hadn’t needed them up until then, but I thought, you know what, this is a safety issue and I need to help my dog. So the moral of that little story, sorry for the digression, but I think I think we need to discuss with our clients, with our customers, with our families, what really matters to you. And help them achieve those goals, they may not be the same goals as mine. They don’t have to be for us to work together. But I like to prioritize things that are going to keep the dog safe, that are going to keep your kids safe, and that are going to keep my clients feeling confident and not like a failure.

Those are my priorities because a dog that doesn’t feel safe might do inappropriate things to children or other folks, and that dog is going to get returned to the breeder. And I don’t want that to happen to you, because then you have a dog that you then have to either figure out: “Is there something wrong with the dog? Do I have to retrain the dog? Or do I just need a more resilient buyer for that dog?

I’d rather you not have to deal with that at all and focus on the dogs that you have in your care at the time, not adding more dogs back to your care. And so I think that goes back to expectations. But I think it’s hard and I’m going to go back to social media again. I’m not going to blame it on anything, but I think people want perfection, and I think that’s an unreasonable expectation.

A puppy that comes home from a breeder at 8, 10, 12 weeks of age is going to have potty accidents. They’re going to bite. They’re teething. They’re babies. You would never be upset if a human baby, you know, bit your finger if they’re getting teeth because that’s what they do. They need that oral sensation. Biting is part of how they explore the world. But do the teeth have to be on you? No, not if you know how to handle the situation. Not if you always have a toy in your pocket. I even got some really cool teething bracelets that I wear when I have a foster litter because I raise a lot of foster puppies. And they’re silicone, and they’re not ugly, and it’s a bracelet that I just keep on me at all times when I have a litter of foster puppies, and if they start biting my skin, I pull the bracelet off and we play games with this bracelet, and I give them a better option. Don’t bite me. Bite this instead.

But people don’t know what they don’t know, right? And so little things become big things.

12:27 | Julie

What a great idea.  Well, I’ll need to get a link to that thing.

That’s perfect. Yeah, I agree with you 100%. If people do not know that there are solutions, right? If you figure that you know, the only way to manage the dog, not biting your child is to get rid of the dog, that puts you in a really hard spot. And I mean, I understand that’s an extreme, but I have had people at the end of their rope on the phone with me because they can’t deal with certain things like puppy biting. I had 2, 3-hour long conversations with the same family over time, you know, and then we finally after a while, I remember she texted me. She says we finally got it sorted and it doesn’t happen anymore. And I was like, oh, good, you know.

13:16 | Michelle

Yeah, this reminds me. So I’m good friends with this woman who breeds Basset Hounds in Arizona. Actually, I may have to connect you, but anyway, I at the time lived in California, and she called me in a panic and she said: “Michelle, I love you. I know you love me, and I know you love my dogs. I am begging you. Please go pick up one of my puppies from the home where it is. The family is at the end of their rope. I need you to keep this puppy if you don’t mind for a couple weeks till I find a new home for this dog.”

And what it was, was a family who had never had a dog before, and was so overwhelmed with just an overtired puppy, with their two kids, that they thought she was aggressive. She was the least aggressive. I mean, she’s a Bassett first of all, and second of all, she was God, she my family still talks about Daisy. To this day. They’re mad at me still to this day, for years ago for not keeping her. I didn’t need a Basset in my life. But she was remarkable and she never bit us ever. But they were overwhelmed. They didn’t know what to do, and they were so scared, that they set up an ex pen in their garage and they put her in their garage.

And so my son was with me at the time, and Michelle was like, “can you please help me?” I look at a map. It was going to be like a 2 hour drive each way. And I was like, “OK, can I do this?” And my son looks at me and he goes “mom, they need you”, and of course he was totally being an enabler because he wanted a puppy in the house. And so I was like, “ok, Michelle, I’m getting in the car”, and we did. We got in the car. We picked up Daisy that very day. We brought her home, and it was just a perfect example of mismatched expectations.

And a lot of her families, to be fair, don’t have little kids. They’re older folks who had Bassets before, but their kids are out of the house. So I think that was a good experience. And she and I have talked a lot since then of, like, I have to remember who my buyer is. And if they have kids, I really need to prepare them. And now she sends them to me. But you know, not everybody has me yet as a resource. And so it was just, it was a sad situation, but to my benefit, we loved that dog. Yeah, yeah, we took advantage. And yeah, enjoyed it, she was not aggressive at all.

15:50 | Julie

It’s extremely common because I’ve noticed even in the last year with my buyers, that puppy biting, for example, they’ve started to label it as aggression. And I’m like, this is just not aggression, you know.

And I had a dog who’s overly, I mean GSP’s right, overly energetic. The guy said he’s just so aggressive. I’m like, there is nothing about this dog, and like I already had a trainer over there working with them, and the trainer was like, that was like one of the best dogs I’ve ever worked with, he’s so easy to train. I was like, I know so, but it is. It’s that mismanaged expectations and I do think people have the very best intentions when they get a puppy. But I often think it’s kind of like when you have kids, you’re pregnant for the first time, and all you think about is the birth, that’s all your focus is on. “Well yeah, we just gotta. oh my God. How am I gonna do this? What is going to be my birth plan?” All this stuff. And then you have the baby and the next day it’s like “Cool. So that’s over, now what? Now, I have figured everything else out.” And it’s extremely overwhelming. I see so many moms pulling their hair out those first few weeks, you know, not just because of the progesterone loss.

Anyways, this is the same thing that happens with puppies, and then I think it’s worse because at least humans, everybody kind of deals with humans. So you get this puppy and now you’re like, “oh man, I’ve got to learn their language. You know, I’ve got to set a standard. I have to be more responsible, because I’ve got to maintain this”, and it’s just so many things. And you don’t know what to expect.

17:24 | Michelle

You have to change your house. It’s just a different routine. You know, you literally have to change your house. I mean, the families I work with have to change their house, because without barriers or other management strategies. You have to give the puppy a safe zone from grabbing kids. And you have to give kids a break from nipping tired puppies, right? Puppies need a comfy place to nap and they need a lot of sleep, and people don’t always remember the fact that puppies need sleep. They kids like to think of them as a toy for example. And they’re here, and they’re cute and they’re fluffy. And I should be able to pick them up and squeeze them and hold them whenever I want. And that’s just not the case.

There’s so much consent education that goes into raising kids and dogs at the same time, and allowing a dog to opt out of social interactions if they’re not interested, and setting boundaries for kids where, you know, kids literally developmentally they’re not, I’m going to say the word balanced.

I’m not talking emotionally balanced. I’m talking physical. They fall down a lot. They drop things. Do you want them to drop your puppy? No way. You’re going to break trust if a kid is toppling over and carrying a puppy. And the puppy’s like, “oh, my God, you’re going to drop me, and I don’t feel safe. And I’m going bite you so you put me down.” It’s not an aggressive puppy. That’s a puppy asking for help. “Please help me.”

And we need to prevent those kinds of unsafe interactions, right? I know your kids want to love your puppy. Let me get you a stuffed animal they can manhandle all they want. But with this living one, we have guidelines. We have rules. We have structure. Right, this is a really good time. Now I have to say like I am the kind of person of the more gentle parenting type of strategy. And I believe that the two can go hand in hand, right.

You can provide structure, and you can do it lovingly. And you can say to your kids, I can’t let you hit the puppy. I am not going to allow that to happen. And we are going to use this barrier. And I say hit the puppy because sometimes kids, little kids involuntarily, if a puppy bites them, they strike out. They’re not trying to hurt the puppy, they’re trying to protect themselves.

But we have to say “I can’t let this happen. I can’t let the puppy bite you and I can’t let you hurt the puppy.” Because then we’re potentially damaging lifelong relationships, right? Our whole goal is to build trust, so that maybe they can become best friends one day.

But we have to set up management, and we need to role model too. I mean, you know, as a mom, our kids are sponges, and they’re sucking up everything we do. So if we’re grabbing our puppy by the face and kissing him on the nose, guess who else is going to do that? And guess who else’s nose is going to be nipped because the puppy is like, “stop it. I don’t want you to do this.”

So I always joke with my parents that they have to do certain things in private. Once the kids are in bed, they can kiss the puppy, or hold the puppy, or you know, whatever. They can do things that they don’t want their kid to emulate, you know, out of sight of the kids.  Because parents have more coordination, I guess coordination was a better word than balance. But you know what I mean.

20:34 | Julie

Yeah. Yeah, well, same thing, it is. And I would say, you know you said it’s not emotional, but they aren’t emotionally regulated either. Toddlers are very unregulated, and so, you know, as a puppy, as it is itself figuring out how to regulate itself, having to deal with the unregulated kids. I mean, it is chaos. I remember Jordan Peterson said that if you watch 2 year olds, they’re the most violent age group of humans, and I thought, yeah, that’s probably true.

21:02 | Michelle

Yeah. I mean they throw a fit if you give them the wrong colored cup or whatever, and things get thrown across the room, and they hit and they kick and they scratch and they bite. And I mean, it’s wild. It’s like the Wild West with toddlers. Yeah.

21:15 | Julie

Thank goodness they’re little.

21:18 | Michelle

Yeah. Yeah. It’s the only way that we can manage them.

Get the MasterClass for more with Michelle Stern on setting families with kids & dogs up for success.

21:21 | Julie

So give us the general overview. I know that you’ve talked a lot where, management is this cringe word for some trainers. And for you, you’re like no, this is the place to start. Let’s do this. Can you give us a little overview on what it is, but then explain why some trainers don’t like it? And why you love it?

21:47 | Michelle

Love this question. Ok, so management is setting up systems to keep everyone from failing, right? Or you want to flip it on its head to set everyone up for success, right?

21:59 | Julie

And would you say that it’s more from a physical standpoint as opposed to a learned behavior.

22:07 | Michelle

Yes. So this is where the catch happens with people who think that they can train all the behaviors. So for example, I’m a big believer in pens. I use pens all the time. I have a pen set up right now by my laundry room so that I can separate my dogs if one of them has a bone the other one wants. Or if I have a mess in the laundry room, and I don’t want the dogs to steal socks.

I mean, I use management for all kinds of things. I have baby gates in the house, and I don’t even have little kids anymore.

I even have a pen in front of the front door so that I have sort of an air lock so that if somebody comes in the dog can’t dash out, right?

I use management for so many things. Even a pool cover when you have children is management, or a fence around the pool is management. These are not foreign concepts to people who raise kids, plug covers, you know, so kids don’t electrocute themselves. All of this stuff is management.

A lot of dog trainers think it’s a cop out. They think it’s a Band-Aid that if you are putting a puppy in a pen to prevent biting, you’re not teaching the puppy not to bite.

And I entirely disagree, because first of all, in order for a puppy to be comfortable behind a barrier, it takes some training. And it takes some learning, because puppies, as you know, and as all of your listeners know, puppies are social in the beginning, very social. They’ve been with a mom, they’ve been with littermates, they have not been alone and that is a learned behavior. It is hard for baby dogs to be alone. It sucks. They are used to having company all the time.

And so to help our baby dogs be comfortable behind a barrier, we have to support them. It does take some time. You can’t just shove them in a crate, or shove them in a pen, and hope it’s going to be okay. Now some dogs don’t care. The go with the flow dogs. Some of them are like, “Cool. I need a break. Anyway, I’m going to go take a nap.”

But my dog, Pippin, my older Border Terrier, he had separation anxiety. He was not as well-bred as I was led to believe, and the dad dog had some anxiety. Which then genetically came to Pippin and he lost his marbles if he was put in a pen, even if I was right there and we worked a lot on that. And he still doesn’t love it to this day, and he’s 4 and 3/4 now, but we work on it. But I do still use it as management sometimes.

So I think where some trainers object to management, is they say: “You’re slapping a Band-Aid on it. You’re not teaching a behavior, you’re not teaching skills.” And my opinion really is that if we’re preventing an unwanted behavior, that is teaching. So potty training for example. If you live in a house like I’m up in my office right now, which is a carpeted space, and if I had a puppy in here without any kinds of barriers, without a piece of vinyl covering my carpet to prevent pee from soaking in, or whatever else, I will have potty accidents. This is a really big space.

So what do I want to do? I want to help my puppy succeed. I want to give them a small space. I’m going to set a timer on my phone, or on my watch. So every 30 minutes of awake time we go outside and try to potty, so that when they are inside, they’re less likely to have an accident. That is a combination of management and training. But I’m not going to give them free rein, because they will chew my cords. They will pee on the floor. They might poop in the corner. If I get mad when they go poop, they’re going start hiding to go poop, right? But instead I can give them a safe place to do it where I don’t mind or where they can’t ruin my floor. So I’m not mad at all. I’m like “oh man, I made a mistake. I didn’t take you out soon enough. I’m so sorry.” That’s management. But it’s also training, right? You’re helping your dog to not mess up.

So for me, management is just easy to. As a parent you have to do so many tasks. I mean some parents are working and doing all the things, so that’s another level. But even if you’re a stay-at-home parent, I mean there’s cooking. There’s cleaning. You have to take a shower, you have to use the toilet. You have to heat your coffee, or whatever it is you’re doing. And that means you can’t have eyes on kids and puppies all the time. But you need to. So how do you do this?

Without management, you literally couldn’t do this. You need to be able to put your baby somewhere safe, so they don’t crawl over onto your sleeping dog. Or you need to be able to have your puppy in a safe zone for sleeping so that you can turn your back and go drain your mac and cheese. Because when your back is turned, anything could happen. And literally when I say that, I really mean it, because you think you may think you have a safe space, but I have seen toddlers climb over barriers and couches and all the things to get to what they want. It is crazy the things kids do, and we may not anticipate it and there’s memes about it like “I only turned my back for a second” and then you see just total chaos, right? So yeah, management, I don’t think I could do my job without it.

27:41 | Julie

I don’t think you can parent without it. I don’t think you can raise dogs without it. Just even in my breeding program, you know I have multiple studs. I may be a little stud poor at the moment, but a girl comes in heat, and all of a sudden personality shift. You know nothing wrong with the dog. That’s what they’re supposed to do. But.

28:06 | Michelle

And so you need to keep them safe.

28:07 | Julie

Yes. And I need a second set of gates, because I need a pen they’re in, and then I need a second one in case that fails. I have to build in all these things, and to me, I guess they’re so normal. But it is something where a lot of people, you know, they live in their apartment, or they’re, you know, they’re like, well, “can’t the dog just hang out with me all the time”, you know? And it’s like, well, you’ll be crazy.  And when you feel stressed out, you can’t do it.

28:31 | Michelle

I agree, and there’s an objection that I hear all the time when I propose management, which is that I didn’t get a dog to separate it from my family. And I’m telling them, listen, I’m not telling you to put your dog in the basement, or in the garage, or outside. I’m telling you, you can have a pen right next to you. The dog isn’t separate from you. The dog just isn’t set up to make mistakes.

If you have kids and they’re doing a Lego project on the floor. And your puppy goes and eats some of the Legos. There’s going to be hell to pay for that. The kids are going to flip out. They’re not going to be able to finish their project. The dog is going to have an obstruction. It’s a physical risk. It’s a mental risk. The kids are going to be mad at the puppy. The puppy is going to be scared because it’s being screamed at. I mean, why set them up to fail? Why not have parallel play spaces? The kids do their thing over here and the puppy is still hanging out with us, right? I mean, I’m not saying go to Siberia and send you off into the boonies where you don’t get to be part of our family, that’s not what I’m saying, right? We just have to set them up for success.

And I think that, you know, breeders would do a disservice by not really promoting the heck out of that, and literally saying: “show me your setup before you come pick up your puppy,” right? Like that’s something I love to do with families. I’m like, ok, I want to meet with you, or you could take, I have an online class that they can take. I want you to get set up before you even go get your puppy because I don’t want you to get home and be like, “Oh God they peed all over the place” or “Ohh no, they’re stealing the kids toys. And where do I put them?” And I want you to hit the ground running with confidence and be like, “I have a place to put you, so you can actually decompress when you get home.”

Because it is a lot of new right? Leaving their littermates, leaving the breeder who they know, leaving the breeder’s kids who they know, everything is new. Maybe they were in a car or on a plane or whatever else. There’s new smells. Maybe there’s a resident dog already where they’re going that they haven’t met before. It is so much to take in, and that puppy needs to just, like, kind of watch the television that is their new life for a little bit and like, just absorb. You could sit in the pen with them. But you’ve got to give them a place to like. “Ohh man. This is a lot,” you know.

30:59 | Julie

Absolutely. I think that makes so much sense and you know, when kids are overwhelmed when they’re little, we go give them a nap. We go let them take a break. You know, we give them these opportunities to decompress. And I think with a puppy, it’s like that. So I can see buyers getting frustrated with this, “I didn’t want them separated”. Do you end up encouraging them to have more designated play time with the puppy? Like this is the time when the puppy’s out interacting with us in a safe way? Or how do you manage that?

31:32 | Michelle

You know, it depends on the family and their schedule and their routine. I do like to kind of map out potential routines, like even just a really rough schedule, like we’ll plug in the known things, like let’s say the kids are school age. When do you take them to school? When are they gone? When do they come home? What does that look like? Ok, let’s say you have two kids, and they’re coming home from school. We know that changes the dynamic of the house for that hour or two or three. They’re coming home over tired, maybe overwhelmed. Socially these days, kids at school are struggling because of Covid. Kids are not where they used to be at any particular age because they lost social time, etcetera. So that’s another whole thing.

But maybe what we do is we try to ensure that the puppy had a really good nap before the kids got home. Or maybe they had playtime and exercise and a rest, so that they’re less overtired, overwhelmed, and they’re available to interact with the kids when they come home. And in a more polite way.

Maybe we talk about a few options for management when the kids come home. So for example, where will the puppy be when the kids come home? If they’re bringing home a play date? A kid who is visiting, who may not know how to behave around puppies. Maybe you leash the puppy to your belt loop so that the puppy can’t chase the kids around the house, and we have the dog attached to us as a way of interacting with everyone, but in a safe way, so we can easily put hands on a puppy and we prevent chasing, for example.

But working out a routine is really helpful, but we know as parents that routines are never static, that they’re always the ebb and flow, and they change and we just have to be flexible. But I think that giving people some options, you know, even like, ok, for while you’re getting everyone ready and dressed out the door, here are three choices of where the puppy can spend time, or three activities that the puppy could do. For example, the puppy could work on a licky mat while you’re feeding the kids breakfast or whatever.

So sometimes because of my food experience, my cooking school for kids, I often write handouts. I use a recipe format, because I’m a nerd like that, and I love food. So I’ll have a recipe I even have a management menu. It’s literally I took a restaurant menu template and I have: “If your kids are doing these activities, these are things your dog could be doing.” “If your dog is doing these activities. These are things your kids could be doing.” Because it’s really important and it’s different. So for example, if the kids are having a snack, it’s really important that the dog not be, so I have opinions about this too. Some kids snack while they’re walking around the house, and that’s torture for dogs. You know, they’re walking around the house, flailing around with a cheese stick, and the dog is like, “I want the cheese stick.” And so we’re setting everybody up to fail in that case. So I’m a big advocate of, like, we eat in one place. We eat sitting down. We don’t torture the dog. Or the dog is in a pen, in a crate, outside, whatever while the kid is eating, etcetera.

So having a menu like that, I call it my management menu helps overwhelmed parents so that they don’t have to think. They literally look at the menu and they’re like, ok, this is happening. Here are my choices. And they can just point to one and do it. And that’s especially important if parents have a baby or an infant or a toddler because their brain capacity is limited. They’re so tired. They’re doing the best they can do, but it’s so intense, and there’s so much guilt, and they just need to know what to do. So by giving them sort of a look and point, like, ok, mix and match, they can handle it. So I like to think outside the box like that and try to make things as easy for people as possible.

35:31 | Julie

It’s a great idea. I love the menu idea. You mention this guilt a lot. I mean, I have ideas, but can you give us your overview on this? What is this guilt the owner and parent is feeling?

35:52 | Michelle

That they’re not good enough. That they’re just not good enough at anything. They’re not good enough at parenting. They’re not good enough at being a dog, owner, guardian, whatever word you want to use. They’re not good enough at their job. They’re just too divided.

Some people are like me. I mean, I have a bookshelf. You can’t see. It’s right off screen. But with all these, you know, puppy books and training books. And you have the best intentions. I’m going to give you an example. I had a client reach out to me. She has a 2 year old, a four year old and a fourteen week old golden Doodle puppy who’s just a lot, because doodles are energetic, they’re youthful, they’re vibrant, they’re very boingy you know, I don’t know how else to describe them.

And I’m not saying that in a negative way. I’m just like, they’re so a lot, and so cute. Ohh God, this puppy is adorable. So anyway, she was wrecked. She was like: “I need to be better. I need my dog to be well behaved. I need this. I need that. I have all the books. And then I just, I’m paralyzed. I don’t know what to do. I feel like I should be doing all these things, and I don’t know where to start.”

And I had so much empathy for her. Her husband is a detective in our town, and he works super long hours as you can imagine. I mean, that’s a hard job, and she’s managing all this by herself and she’s having regrets. “Did I make a mistake? Was this the wrong time to get a puppy?”

I think it was the wrong time to get a puppy to be honest, and sometimes I do have to tell people that. Because raising two and a four year old alone is brutal. It’s so hard. And then she has another toddler who’s the puppy at the same time. And they all need different things, and she has this image like: “my husband is a detective. So he’s an upstanding citizen who’s an important part of our community. I need to be able to go out into the world with my 2 girls and my puppy and be civilized.”

But having three toddlers, I’m going to say, at the same time, it’s hard for everyone to be civilized and polite, and the puppy is easily aroused because it’s a puppy, and so it’s pulling at the end of the leash, and it’s barking because it wants to say hi to everybody, and then her toddler runs off, and she’s like, “Oh my God, this is too much.”

She just feels lousy. And I’m going to put that under the bucket of guilt because she feels bad. “I made a mistake. I’m doing a disservice to this dog by not giving it the support it needs. I’m doing a disservice to my kids when I’m focusing on the dog. I’m yelling more than I want to yell. I don’t like myself when I’m this overwhelmed and I feel terrible about it.”

So I think you know one of the things that I like to support breeders with is, and you know this because you’ve seen it. But I have a freebie for breeders that talks about difficult conversations, and just conversations in general. It’s a guideline for people to see. It’s all written out and it’s in categories by management, expectations, training, etcetera. Four categories, and they’re all color-coded because I was a teacher, so I can’t help myself. And in it, addresses things like how to talk to potential clients and say: “Is this the best time to get a puppy?”  “What can I do to support you in this but is now the right time?” “Do you have management things set up because it’s going to be harder than you think?” “Do you have the bandwidth?” “Do you have the financial resources because you might end up needing a dog walker? You might end up needing extra support, maybe daycare for your kids once a week so you can take the puppy to training classes or do socializing, you know outings or whatever?” Like it takes, I mean, I hate to say that it takes money, but it does.

I mean, if you’re already going to be working with a breeder and spending the money on a good, well bred, thoughtfully bred dog, then hopefully also have the financial resources for grooming, for training, for support like me, for whatever it is that you need so that you can divide and conquer. Because it’s hard. It’s so hard.

So anyway, I think guilt, it’s never ending. I mean as a parent you just never feel good enough anyway.

40:21 | Julie

Right, yeah, there’s always that. You know, there’s always one more thing you wish you would have tackled. And yeah, ohh, why can’t you get that right? And I think what also happens is you end up having some resentment, often towards your spouse, you know, especially if they were the one that wanted the dog, but they’re the one that works all day. Oh my goodness, I can just feel that.

40:44 | Michelle

You get it because your kids want a puppy, and then the kids decide that next week they’re going to be an elite soccer player, and they no longer interested in the puppy, and you’re constantly in the car taking them to club soccer events or, you know, I mean.

And then that’s even higher stakes for having a well-behaved dog. Because if you’re in the car and you’re going to social soccer games, you have to have a dog who’s polite and not going bite the kids as they’re running by, or chase them or, you know, bark and lunge at every other dog that’s there.

41:18 | Julie

Absolutely, and I have to say with this worksheet that you’ve put together, this flow chart, it is so spot on, and it helps broach the topics which I think are often uncomfortable for us to bring up.

Especially for breeders who don’t have kids, it it’s even more uncomfortable because you know, you’re not sure how to say this, because it’s not coming from experience. And so there’s a lot of really, really good, because sometimes all we need is the verbiage to bring forward the discussion, or even bring awareness to them. So they have proper expectations. So you did a fantastic job, and I’m a little jealous of your teacher skills. Those are good.

41:59 | Michelle

But then we can partner and I’ll share my teacher skills with you, so you don’t have to have them yourself.

I think one thing to say about the document for anyone who’s curious about it, is I have it set up the first page talks about things you should talk about with folks. But then after that I go into a little bit more detail and say, it’s in a column if they ask, and I put some statements, and then I say you can say blah blah blah. So I’m giving you language that you can use. And I’m giving you permission to be clear and to be firm and to say no.

And I know it’s hard because the market is tight, and you don’t want to not sell a puppy because you want to sell your puppies, obviously.  But also right fit is so important, and the stakes are really high if you make the wrong fit, because then you have to deal with this dog coming back, maybe at a terrible time. Maybe you have a new litter on the ground, and it’s the last thing you want to deal with. And so by having some of these conversations and going through this document.

The document also, I’ve shared it with several breeders to get their feedback and what they have told me, and you actually said the same thing, is that even though you’re a mom, and a lot of stuff is just second nature to you, it’s so easy to forget to mention it. Because for us, it’s just how it is. Like what we talked about with gate baby gates and things like that. It’s just how we do things. It’s in our DNA. It’s in our home. It’s how we do it. But we forget that it’s not in other peoples.

And so it’s just a nice reminder, even if you just read through it, to bring things to top of mind like: “ohh, don’t forget to tell them about this one thing” right, that a tired puppy bites more.” That’s really important, you know, and “maybe we shouldn’t punish our puppies for certain things”, you know, and get a feel for what your buyers are like, you know, are they going to treat your puppies the way you want them to be treated? You need to know that before you send them home.

43:59 | Julie

Yeah, absolutely. No, it’s so handy because you’re right, we do forget all these things. And it’s very different. It’s very different. And also going back, you know that my kids are, you know what, 9 and 11 now. I forget some of the things, you know, Hunter used to go around and carry a puppy if I wasn’t  catching him, he’d carry them by the neck. You know, and I get it, they’re little. But a tiny little puppy carried around hanging by it’s neck. I was like, thank God that he’s only like 18 inches tall, but it was so scary, you know, and absolutely I think that that chart you have is just money in the bank.

44:39 | Michelle

Thank you, I hope so.

44:40 | Julie

It’s great. Well, tell people where they can find you?

44:46 | Michelle

Yes, so my website is poochparenting.net, and you and I can share the link to the free document that we’ve been talking about, and you can download that. It includes, you know, just some really helpful information and it will also give you my contact because I’ll be emailing that to you. And then I also can help breeders in a variety of other ways.

So I have an on demand class that’s called Kids and Dogs 101. You can request that your buyers watch it before they get their puppy. I have an affiliate option for breeders, so if they’d like a little kickback as a thank you, I can do that. I can also give you a custom coupon code so that it’s cheaper for your clients than it would be for the general public.

And I also have a membership for parents called the Pooch Parenting Society. And if your customers, clients, families get a yearlong membership of that, your affiliate program and your coupon code applied to that as well. So that’s a benefit.

What I love about that program is I’m just there when they need it. We have a designated Facebook group, we share our challenges, we share our triumphs, and we have two Zooms a month that people can come if they want, where we just talk about stuff that’s hard. And it’s all parents raising kids and dogs together, and everyone’s nervous and the stakes are high. And so it’s just a soft place to land where they’re with somebody who knows how hard it is. And I’m not going to give them a 10 page training plan because no one will do it. You know, I give them very doable ideas and activities that they can do as a family.

So those are the two things that I that I partner with breeders on in terms of affiliate and special coupon codes. But if you have a client that needs custom support, we can certainly, I can book a consult with them, and I can coach them through anything.

The on demand class is really great, and it’s so convenient, and it’s really affordable. So you know, in an hour of their time they can get a lot of this information that we talked about. They’ll see pictures of how they can set up their space. And so I think that’s good, like peace of mind. Some readers have told me that they are kind of hoping to make that a requirement of any family that has children. And one breeder said he was thinking about putting it into the price of the puppy. But I don’t know if he’s going.

47:21 | Julie

Yeah, I think there’s a lot of flexibility with the way you’ve designed it, which is so fantastic. And I do find our buyers need expectations set.And so whichever way works best for you as the breeder like, use it. And Michele’s already got all this stuff out there so use it.

47:38 | Michelle

I do and I’m compassionate, but honest. And it’s taken me a lot of years, you know, I’ve been in this niche as a specialist for over six years. And in the beginning I was a little wishy washy and I was like, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I don’t want to be too harsh, and I don’t want to appear judgy. And I’m not judgy, but I’m firm. And I’m loving and I know how hard it is, but I’m going to tell people the truth. And I think they just appreciate that. And that’s what they pay me for now.

And I’m finally at the place in my career where I’m like, I am an expert in this and this is what people need to know, because if I can prevent a dog from being euthanized because we set it up to fail, then that’s everything. Because then we also have a generation of kids who are not afraid of dogs because we did the prep work that needed to happen, so it’s ripples. I like to think of it as like we have tendrils of where this work can stretch to. You know it’s generational.

48:36 | Julie

Love it. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, and I am so excited to dive further into this for our MasterClass.

48:42 | Michelle

Me too. It’s going to be great.

Hey! I’m Julie Swan! I’m here to help you build a breeding business that you love, one that produces amazing dogs, places them in wonderful homes, gives you the life you want, also pays the bills!