Listen as Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder, chats with Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog, about some ways to think about the whole family being a part of bringing home a new dog.
This video is part of the Pet Voices LIVE series. CLICK HERE to see the full schedule of videos.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 0:02
Have you thought about bringing home a new dog? Have you thought about adding a furry friend to your home and you thought, ”Okay, I’ve got to have food. I’ve got to have treats. I’ve got to have toys, collars, leashes, bowls, and this list of things.” All of those things are super important, and we can help you get some great lists so that you make sure you have all the proper things.
But what’s more important is thinking about your home and, as our guest is going to talk about, your mindset and how you’re bringing a dog into your home. What is your home going to look like to the dog, so from the dog’s perspective? Whether it’s a puppy or an older dog, in some ways it doesn’t matter, because they’re coming into a new space. It is just as much your responsibility to take care of them as it is to make the space welcoming for them and for you, so that everybody can coexist in a way where happiness and keeping everybody healthy are top of mind. That is what we’re going to talk about today.
I’m very excited because we have with us a former producer and director for Nickelodeon, VH1, and MTV. She is founder Justine Schuurmans and she blended her passion for dog training with her experience in TV production, so she created The Family Dog, an online training company for the whole family. Let me focus on the online piece because that means it’s available very easily for anybody watching right now. The company is fun and realistic, but it’s family centric and it helps families worldwide live safely and happily with the dogs that they love.
So, Justine, welcome. Thank you for being here.
Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog – 1:34
Hi. Thanks so much for having me. What a great introduction.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 1:38
I’m excited because I’ve been a dog lover my whole life, well, an animal lover in general, but had a lot of dogs. When I was younger, I think this idea that it was more than just a list wasn’t quite as prevalent. The way to be prepared was just to make sure you had the stuff, and even training wasn’t as prevalent. Now I was very lucky because you know my mother, and she was a natural trainer, and so she helped me learn the importance of training, but it wasn’t something I saw broadly. Oftentimes I’d go to friends’ houses and their dogs would be jumping up on things and kind of out of hand and the people would get frustrated and not realize they could do anything to change that. It was just “the dog.”
I think the mindset piece is a big important part of that because even when you take that step into training and trying to think about the home from the dog’s perspective, if you aren’t prepared yourself and the family that is also going to be around the dog isn’t prepared to have patience and find the right methods, that level of frustration does come in, and it does affect our pets.
So, first of all, I love your background. It’s like, “Alright, I’m going to bring TV production and my love of dogs together, and I’m going to make an online program for people because that means it’s accessible.” I think accessibility is huge, and right now, anybody out there looking and bringing home dogs, which we know there are a lot of. Adoptions are up. Bringing pets home is up right now. So give us a little background. How did you end up here in this space, going from big production companies to dogs?
DOGS AND CHILDREN
Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog – 3:17
Yeah, it’s a bit of a jump, except for it’s not really a jump, I guess. I love working with people, and I’ve always loved animals. I had this really amazing job in production, as you said at Viacom, and I bounced around all over the place, and then I realized I wanted to have a family and my working week was ridiculous. I mean, there were some days when I got an hour of sleep and I had to be back at work, so that was not going to work. I wanted to be at home. If I was going to have a baby, I wanted to be there for it. I should say “her” and “him” eventually.
I had a dog at the time, and I absolutely loved training him and I ended up doing an apprenticeship program when I lived in New York. It really snowballed so quickly, and I had moved out to New Jersey, and then I worked for training school here. While I was teaching the classes in Jersey, I realized that the kids, and now at this point, I have young children, the kids were not invited into the classes. You had to be over 14 to be a part of a class. It was kind of a crazy realization that these dogs were in the classroom with the parents, but they were going back home to the kids and nobody was filling in the blanks. And there were a lot of blanks. Not only that, but I realized that the kind of stuff I was teaching in the classroom, I didn’t use as much as some of the new skills I needed with a young kid, so I really had to change my focus on what I wanted to teach families.
I started up this little in-home training business, which was wonderful, and then it kind of spiraled. I just couldn’t get to see the number of clients that wanted this family sort of centric training, and so I created an online training program. Then I ended up working with trainers who found out that I was working with families because they wanted to know how to work with kids, so now I sort of have this strange business where I’m working directly with families on one hand and then working with trainers to help trainers work with families on the other hand. Families whichever way I cut it.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 5:15
That’s the generation coming up, right? I look at Generation Z, and though some of them are still in school, the older Gen Z are in college, and because my daughter’s one of them. She’s an older Gen Z. She’s thinking about, when is she going to bring her first pet home? So the fact that you’re able to take this idea of “Let’s include the whole family” means that now somebody like her… I did that with her just because I love dogs and I’m in the industry, but not everybody does. But now those families who are raising children who know this, that means they’ll go on to do it too. So it’s sort of like the start of creating a new wave of pet ownership and how you train your dog and live with your dog, and I think it’s wonderful.
Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog – 6:01
You said it absolutely perfectly. I think that a lot of people come into pet ownership with a certain mindset, and they think about it, and their only reference point is what it was like when they were a kid, and they actually didn’t do any of the work. I’m like, “Did you actually do it? Or did your parents do it?” And they’re like, “Oh yeah, my parents did everything.” But they have sort of like an intrinsic mindset of what it’s going to be like to have a puppy or a dog, whatever they’re doing, adopting a grown-up dog. But when you get to the kids, you’re starting with a really, really fresh slate. I love that because actually, through educating the children, the parents are actually listening to the information as well and they’re teaching their kids, so it’s sort of like a reverse thing and growing a new generation all at the same time. It works beautifully.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 6:43
To me, I feel like it’s a bit of an extension and when we talk about training a dog, it’s half training the person and not so much the dog. I think there’s an element to that when you’re actually working with children. Parents probably listened at a different level because it becomes more about them needing to re-teach and reinforce than just learn themselves.
Do you find that to be true?
Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog – 7:07
Exactly, and actually, in my private sessions that I do, I sort of split my time, I have half of my sessions with the adults only and then the other half I do with the kids only, but with the parents watching so that they’re very aware of the kind of things I’m teaching the kid so that then they can practice this throughout the week. I’m sneaking stuff in. I’m going to be honest. I’m sneaking stuff in. I’m giving them what they want and then sneaking in what they need.
I’m sneaky. You’ve got to be like that sometimes.
HAVING REAL CONVERSATIONS WITH YOUR DOG
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 7:34
Speaking of what we need, so if I’m somebody who just in this time was like, ”Yes, I’m bringing home a dog, I can’t wait.” When it comes to mindset, what do you feel like is sort of the… because we have lists, and by the way, everybody we’re going to give you lists. There are going to be links, you’re going to be able to get lists because they’re important. I’m not saying that those things aren’t important. Obviously, your dog needs to eat, needs toys, needs treats, it needs a leash and a collar, all of those things, a crate. There are so many things it needs, but when it comes to the mindset piece, what’s the one… I guess this is a two-part question. What’s the thing you see most often that you have to sort of combat a little bit or shift because it’s not necessarily the right mindset? And then what’s the goal in the end for the mindset to be?
Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog – 8:21
Okay, it’s an amazing question, and I’m also really grateful that you’re tackling this subject because I think it’s really important. My personal belief is that the reason that there are so many dogs in shelters right now is because of a mismatch of expectations. So families and single owners, couples, whatever, they have a preconceived idea of what owning a dog is going to be like, and unfortunately, that’s not really helped by what we see in movies, TV shows, media, whatever.
I love to go into talking to people about really what dogs are. There are so many different breeds, and all of those different breeds have different innate qualities that they need to fulfill, and we need to be respectful of them. We’re taking a dog that didn’t choose us. We choose them and we bring them into our home, and then we really would like to say to them, if we had our way, ”Stop being a dog now, be a bit more like a stuffed animal. Don’t bark. Don’t jump. Don’t dig. Don’t do anything. Don’t chew my stuff. Just sit there and be really, really cute and let me hug on you and pet you and do whatever.” And the dogs like, “Wait, what’s going on?” I kind of see this as relationship building, and in teaching dogs different words in English, we can help them understand what our expectations are, what we would like them to do. We would like them to sit, to lie down, to go in their crate. That’s them understanding us. The thing that’s really missing for me is that we don’t seem to have a two-way conversation. We’re not listening back from the dog. What is the dog saying to us?
One of my big focuses is to teach dog body language. There is a huge awareness of what your dog is trying to tell you. I think that if you can understand your dog, then it’s like having a friendship. If you have children, you absolutely need to read the emotions of your kid to be able to navigate their life with them. It’s the same as having a friendship or a relationship with a partner. If you didn’t understand what the other person was saying, it would be a rubbish relationship. It’s just a one-way street, and it doesn’t work like that. So my goal always is to try to help families understand that the dog has emotions, has desires, and definitely has its own personality.
How do we work with them to teach them how to live in a human world? And navigate this world because we want them to do the stuff that we want them to do, weird stuff. “Get in this box and go in the back of the car, and then I’m going to take you outside, and you’re going to walk through the town, but you’re not allowed to say hello to anyone. You have to sit or whatever.” And they’re like, “Wait, what’s happening?” ”You can’t say hi to the dogs” or “Yes, you can say hi to the dog today, but not tomorrow, because we’re in a hurry.” There’s a lot of complicated stuff for dogs to understand. We have to have very open minds to understand what is coming back to us from the dog.
FINDING THE RIGHT BREED FOR YOU
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 11:11
What that makes me think about is… correlating it like you said to relationships. So people to people, we tend to understand a lot more. If I’m sitting here and we’re talking and I’m like this, you know what that means. If I do something like this.
Whereas a dog might just pant, and if you’re not tuned into that you kind of write it off differently, and then all of a sudden, you the person has created a scenario where the dog feels unsafe, and I think that’s what people don’t recognize a lot. Dogs are very reactive to the environment that’s put in front of them. They only know how be in that space, so with that kind of thought to that, what would you say is your top tip, and maybe it’s a couple, for people to be looking for or thinking about when they’re trying to just decide, say they’re in a shelter, and they’re trying to decide what dog is best for them? What are the things that make it a match?
Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog – 12:22
Lifestyle compatibility is really important, so if you’re a person who likes to be outside all the time, you’re running, you’re hiking, you’re biking, getting a dog that’s a couch potato is not going to work with you. And the flip of that, if you like to sit down and watch TV, and your dog needs two or three hours of really good exercise a day, it’s not going to be a good match. Dogs are just like people. There’s no perfect dog. There’s no perfect partner, but there’s a perfect partner for you. So what’s the baggage that goes with your baggage? What can you tolerate? What can you absolutely not tolerate? What’s the deal breaker for you?
I actually have a podcast on my website which is all about that, and it goes through the different groups of dogs and gives you the pros and cons or the reason you might fall in love with a dog, and the reason that you might be like, “This dog is driving me crazy.” You can do a test actually, and I’ll give you the link that you can share. I believe it’s called TheDogKey.com. You can go into a shelter and the app asks you a series of tests about the shape of the ears, the length of the coat, the tail shape and it will give you a breakdown of what group that dog might fall into. Because it’s very difficult to tell with mixed breeds, but it’s not impossible. This gives you a very good idea of what you’re looking at, what their sort of natural instinct is to do. You can’t say every breed is the same, but dogs have been being bred for thousands of years, so we have to know that there are going to be some innate qualities in those dogs.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 13:56
I think that’s probably the first step that people skip, is thinking about that, thinking about what makes the most sense for the life that I live and bringing a dog into that, that matches the right partnership, as you said. TheDogKey, that’s one in kind of knowing that, but if I’m just somebody who is unsure. So personally, if you ask me if I’m active, I’ll be like, “Yeah!” Am I really? No, but I like to think that I am.
Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog – 14:30
I’d like to be active.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 14:32
I know. I think that I am.
Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog – 14:33
In my head I am.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 14:34
Right! I feel like there’s probably a level of just needing to accept your true lifestyle. Are there any like tips you give people on like how to self-assess where they’re even at before they think about the dog?
Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog – 14:50
I don’t but I probably should. What you’re telling me is people are not honest with themselves. I haven’t done that. I’m hoping that people are honest, but I’m the same. Like in my head, I’m a great singer. When it comes out, it’s not great. I think it is really important to look at ”What’s your daily life look like honestly?” There’s no point in making it up.
Also I don’t believe that it should be all about attraction. I know so many people that have picked… I saved a woman from getting a Siberian Husky because she was so obsessed with the way that they look, and of course, they’re completely stunning. She ended up with a Cavapoo and she thanked me every day after that. She was a first dog and a Siberian Husky is not really a first owner kind of dog.
You really need to know the breed and it’s a lot trickier than owning a Cavapoo, but you do need to be attracted to the look of the dog for sure because that’s going to get you through those difficult days when they have chewed your shoes or done something really annoying. You’re going to have to look at them and be like, “I still love you. You’re still the cutest thing ever.” But the looks really shouldn’t dictate. They shouldn’t be higher in the priority scale than what your lifestyle really looks like.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 16:02
That’s one of the things I think that I could see as a potential – I want to say negative – but that’s not the word I’m searching for right now. Basically, I could see somebody falling in love with the way a dog looks, saying, “Okay, it needs all of this exercise. It’s not really my lifestyle right now, but I could make it my lifestyle.” And so they sort of play this game of like, “I’ll just start running and I’ll start doing this and I’m going do all these things.” And it’s sort of like, “Yeah, maybe, but chances are that there’s a dog that just fits into the lifestyle you currently have and that you’re comfortable with and that most likely you’ll fall back to, especially if you’ve never run before and you’re just looking to pick it up for a dog.”
That isn’t to say that dogs can’t help because I do know people who are like, ”Now I walk so much more.” I’m like, “That’s great because you’re thinking about your dog.” But I see that a lot I guess in even my friends who just like fall in love with the dog. And all of a sudden it’s, “Look at this new dog I got”, and I’m like, “Oh gosh.”
Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog – 17:03
Yeah, “Why? What are you doing? What are you doing?” Well, I had a lady actually who called me, and I did sessions with her. She had an English bulldog, and the bulldog was just destroying her house. I said, “How often do you go out with the dog?” And she’s like, ”What do you mean go out? I let her out in the backyard.” And I said, “Well, do you ever go on a walk with your dog?” She’s like, ”No.” I said, “Well, maybe we could just start there.” She’s like, “What if it’s raining? The weather’s been terrible.” I said, “Buy yourself a pair of boots and a raincoat.”
And as soon as she did that… the training part of it was like next to nothing. The dog’s needs were just not being met physically, and therefore she was acting out. She was bored stiff, and that woman, to her credit, she went out every day with the dog. You soon realize when you have a dog that if you don’t put in the work and fulfill the dog’s needs in the exercise category, it will come back to bite you.
So, if you have a dog that is predisposed to barking, they will bark more if they’re not exercised. If you have a dog that’s predisposed to stealing or digging or whatever, they just do that. I have a dog who loves to go up against the windows and chase the squirrels, and if he’s not exercised, well it’s way worse. It just, it’s just way worse. I think people do – you’re right – people do change their behavior a little bit, but you can’t make a dramatic shift, I don’t think.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 18:20
So, kind of to revisit what we talked about, I think there’s this first step of accepting your lifestyle, where you’re at, what will fit easily, and then doing a little bit of research on dogs, whether it’s using TheDogKey which we did share here. Or even if it’s just doing some of your own research, because I think one thing that happens is like people fall in love with a certain breed or a certain this, or it could just be like, I want to adopt and I want to go to this shelter because it is my local shelter and I want a dog from there. I think that’s great, and to your point, I think there’s, “Okay, so here’s where I’m at here. Here’s the kind of dog I need to fit that. Now let me go see what dogs are there that do fit that.” And then keep narrowing down so that you end up with a good match because the worst is returning the pet and that happens, or just ending up in this space where you realize that you’re frustrated more than you’re happy, and that wouldn’t be a good place to be in for either of you, for the dog or you, and your family that’s around you.
And then then it’s really making sure you’ve got the checklist of things, making sure you find the people to help guide you, and training is many different things. Everyone should know, Justine does lots of consults and she’s giving an offer to anybody who wants to reach out to her and work with her. She’ll do a 30-minute consult, typically it’s $65, but she’s discounting it to $40, so if you just really need to talk to somebody and you need some guidance, seek her out because she’ll get your dog, which is maybe what you’re struggling to get.
I think that that’s the piece that people need a lot. We think that we know dogs, or we think that we know what they need because we’re so emotionally attached to it, and we sort of, give them a little bit of human personality because we want that, and so then it ends up hurting them and hurting us, which isn’t a positive thing.
How, in a kind of a final summary of what people should be thinking about with a new dog in their home, when it comes to everybody in the family and how to prepare the home, what would you say is just like, “Be prepared to do this?” Is there some kind of overarching thing?
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A NEW DOG
Justine Schuurmans, Founder of The Family Dog – 20:46
Be prepared to have a sense of humor. Be prepared to be patient. And I think the most important thing is to be prepared to go into this with the plan. So I love to think of raising your puppy or raising your new dog in a mistake-free environment. So that probably sounds a bit of a crazy concept because how can puppies not make a mistake? Well, if you imagine if you were trying to house train a puppy and you just let them into your house, you pick them up, and you open the crate door and they run in, the likelihood is that they’re going to have an accident at some point because they don’t know to go to the bathroom outside. But if you could set up a way that they could be in their crate for a couple of hours, you’ve given them some water, and then you put them in a crate. Then the second that you open the crate door, you don’t let them walk outside, you pick them up, and then you take them outside to the bathroom, and you stay out there until they go to the bathroom, and then you could give them a little treat or whatever, and then you can then you can let them inside because you know that now their bladder is empty and they’re free to go. That is mistake-free learning. That is the way that you’re setting up for success all the time.
You want to make sure that you puppy proof your house. Everybody knows that you have to do it. But dogs love things like glasses and toilet rolls and remote controls and all that stuff. But if you put that stuff away, it doesn’t look like a toy, and if you litter the floor with toys, or you can have a basket where you rotate toys, and you make their own toys really interesting, there’s no way they can make a mistake, because that’s all they have access to. So not only are they not destroying your stuff in the short term, but you’re actually teaching them in the long term to find their own toys.
My dog who’s 13 now, I think she’s back there somewhere asleep, but when we adopted her, she was probably just about one when we got her. I didn’t do a really good job puppy proofing. Well, I did, but I had a two year old and a three year old at the time, and so they would leave their toys out and every now and then I’d find like a toy with its head ripped off and I’d be like “Oh my gosh, now I’ve got to tell my son ‘I’m so sorry. Your toy just got destroyed.’” Actually I had to take all soft toys out of her basket and just give her bones and balls, and she loves them both of those things, to make it really clear, a clear delineation to her that stuffed toys were not for her, because they were being left around. And it was really confusing about what was the kids’ stuffed toy and what was her stuffed toy. It was really difficult to delineate between the two. So that worked out really nicely, and I could see when she got excited, she’d sort of run around, and then she’d be scouring my house with something of her own to go and pick up. So long term, you are planting the seeds for successful behavior.
If your puppy is asleep in the crate, and it’s been in there for an hour or two, when you open the door, what’s the plan in your head? What are you going to do with that dog? Don’t just let them out because probably they’re going to do something that you won’t like. Are you going to play a game or you’re going to take them out to the bathroom? Are you going to feed them a meal? What’s the plan? What are you going to do if they do something wrong? How are you going to handle it? Everybody has to be on the same page with that as well. If you have multiple people in your household, whether it’s partners, grandparents, kids, nannies, whatever, you all have to be on the same page. Otherwise the message coming through to the dog is incredibly conflicting, and it’s so hard for them to learn.
I mean, if you were in a classroom, imagine, and you were learning Chinese and everybody told you a different version of a word, you’d be like, “What? What am I actually learning here?” Everybody has to be saying the same words and having the same reaction to certain circumstances.
Chloe DiVita, All Pet Voices Co-Founder – 24:20
I love that. Well, thank you, Justine. I appreciate you bringing me some of your wisdom here, and everybody, you can find her at TheFamilyDog.com, you can check it out. You’ll see both of her sides, her working with families and with professional trainers, so go to the family side. Check out what she offers there. Check out the links we posted.
It sounds like you have a podcast. That’s another place people can tune in and hear what you have to say. I think overall, the mindset piece, I think is really important, so I appreciate that. Those of you watching don’t go anywhere. We’re going to bring her back in just a moment for after the show, but for the moment thank you so much, Justine.
I want to touch on the fact that she mentioned routine and what you do with your dog and how you do it and when and keeping that routine is really important. So everything we just said, mindset, we talked about having the list, but then thinking about how the whole family is involved, and how we’re all actually being trained, not just the dog. A big part of that is what is your lifestyle? What is your routine? And how does the dog fit into that? Because dogs do well when they know what to expect, and Justine talked about expectations, so not just in the life that they live, but the days that they live in.
So, I know for me, we do the same thing every morning with the dog. Anytime I leave my house, I do the same exact thing in terms of how I give them treats, what I say to them, where I have them sit, how I leave, and so that adds an element of expectation. So I would say to anybody bringing home a dog, anybody thinking about, or having just bought one home, or considering it, what is your daily routine and how is the dog going to fit into it? How can you keep it so that they know exactly what to expect, not just from being in your household, but on a day to day basis?
Because that’s where you find success. That’s when everybody starts to thrive in the relationship, and you get those extra snuggles, and you get to just have a happy, happy family and dog. And that’s what we want for everybody because that means less dogs going back to shelters, that means happier families, and it means kids growing up with a great example that they can then live out and so that two decades from now, we will be looking at a whole new way of living with our pets, and that, I think, is super important. Thank you for that.
For more information on training for dogs with families and The Family Dog:
Website – www.thefamilydog.com
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Shopping List for a New Puppy – CLICK HERE
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