Advice on getting a dog for single, working mom and only child

Hi there, my 10 year old son desperately wants a dog, and I do too, to expand the love and life in our household.  The problem is that I'm single mom who works full time and have no experience with raising a dog.  But my son has grown up with dogs in his life because his  local grandparents and cousins all have them.   We have a house with a secure yard, and while I work out of the home, my job is nearby.  I could also take time off when we first get a dog to get it settled.

Looking for advice of all kinds on how this could work!  

First, any recommendations on breeds and advice on how to even start finding a dog?  It seems like a housebroken rescue dog might best (as opposed to getting a new puppy), and we'd like a mellow, sweet disposition. Thinking about an english golden retriever or yellow lab.  Any specific places to work with to adopt or find a dog appreciated.

Second,how do you deal with the logistics of having a dog when you work full time?  I am assuming we would get a dog walker, but is it okay for dogs to be alone 8 hours a day??  And what do you do on vacation?

Advice of any kind as we go down this road very welcome.

Thank you!!

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

If you're interested in a pure bred dog, The golden gate kennel club has their annual show at the cow palace at the end of January. It's a unique show because it's benched, where all shown dogs have to be around and available to meet spectators to meet during the day. It could be a good opportunity to meet a lot of different breeds, and talk to people who own those breeds to discuss your situation. You can meet breeders who may have dogs available. If there is a dog breed you're very interested in, you could also ask about the local breed rescue groups.

I grew up with retrievers and thought (incorrectly) that dogs had to be big to be great. If you want your dog to be easy to clean up after, both on walks and around your house, get some kind of a small doodle (mixed breed with poodle, or other that does not shed). A small dog has just as much personality as a large dog but much smaller poops and needs much shorter walks to feel exercised. We have loved our 12 pound cockapoo. He has a great personality, loves people, and was happy with a 5-10 minute walk in earlier years, and much less so now that he is elderly. If you get a small dog, you can install a doggie door so you can leave your dog but he can get inside when he’s done doing his business. Also, I recommend neutering or spaying at the earliest allowed edge, because this keep the dog feeling young and less likely to “hump.“ if you didn’t get your dog from a rescue place, please make sure you can foster the dog for about a week before you commit. A dog that behaves calmly and sweetly in the shelter may tear things up or be nervous in the house.Good luck!

Having a dog is an irreplaceable experience for a child who is a "dog person".  Yellow labs and retrievers are a good choice.  Dogs have a natural inclination to not soil their den so training a puppy of these breeds where you want them to "go" should take only a short time.  If the dog will be left alone most of the day I would inquire if someone else who is working would like to leave their dog and yours together.  Or alternately if there is some one who is around their house would like the company of a dog during the day (free win-win exchange of great value.  Forme it is sad that dogs who wait patiently most days for their boy to come home from school are left behind on vacations.  A websites such as Bring Fido and Home Away will suggest many places where your dog will be welcome ... and I doubt your son will be happy about vacations where the plan is to leave his dog behind.  Some dog walkers also board which has the advantage that the dog is with someone they already look forward to seeing, and the dog might be out and about rather then laying with its head on its paws waiting.  What about your local relatives?

Congrats on the soon-to-be addition to your family.  I've been a dog owner my whole life, as a kid, while single with no kids, married with kids, and everything in-between.

A fenced yard is great because you can let your dog out to pee very easily. I would never leave a dog outside in the yard while I'm away at work though. It's too risky in the event someone opens the gate while you're away, dog digs under fence, etc. There are low-energy dogs who don't have separation issues and can be left alone 8 hours, but even that kind of dog needs a pee-break mid-day. You can hire a dog walker to do a noon walk or just to let the dog into the backyard for a half hour. For vacations, unless you have dog friends you can trade care with, you absolutely need a dog walker who will stay the night at your house. Good ones are very hard to find but it can be done. Once you find one you trust, be very very nice to him/her because they are lifesavers.

The best advice I can give you is:
1. You're right! Absolutely do NOT get a puppy. They need way more time than you currently have for socializing, exercise, training, and housebreaking.
2. Adopt an older dog (at least 6-7 years old) who is already housebroken and has minimal exercise needs. The best way to do this is to adopt from a rescue group that has dogs in foster homes. The foster parent will be able to tell you in detail how active the dog is, if he's good with kids, how he does when left alone, etc. You will never get this kind of information if you adopt directly from the shelter. I'm all for shelter adoptions but you're not in the right situation for that right now.
3. Consider adopting from a senior rescue group. Seniors can be super easy. Many are happy with just one short walk a day and they are usually already trained and housebroken. I recommend checking out Muttville in SF and Lily's Legacy in Petaluma. They both have websites.

I am also a single mom with a young son, and getting a dog was the best parenting decision I've made. It changes everything for the better. But - don't make my mistakes! We got a very young puppy and it was literally months of training and problems before he mellowed out at about 1. Ours is also 75 lbs and sheds/drools. But he's a Lab and they have the BEST temperament ever. It's great peace of mind when other young kids are visiting. I love your idea of getting a trained rescue. There are a million lovely rescue dogs out there, just work with a group like Milo that is very aware of dogs that blend well with kids (and all their friends and younger sibs). I also have to tell you to budget for this ... vets are incredibly expensive and issues will come up regularly. Dog sitting and boarding will cost $40-50/night. Walking will be $20-30/day. Etc. It was a lot more expensive than I anticipated and I had dogs as a kid so you'd think I would have known that. But no. Still the best decision ever. Take Bravo Pup training courses and I recommend that you work to crate your dog if he isn't already. We use the crate sporadically but we did it right and he just loves it. We can take him anywhere and he's always relaxed with the crate. Good luck :-) So much fun!

Quickly adding that we have had very good luck with sitters and walkers from If you start asking everyone you know and using sites like Nextdoor you'll also get lots of leads. But Rover is solid. 

I highly suggest a reputable, foster based rescue and looking at the adult dogs.  Adults are going to be way more of a WYSWYG. And frankly, puppies are overrated. ;)   I also highly recommend a dog that's been in a foster home for at least a month.  That gives the dog a chance to decompress and gives the foster parents a better sense of who they really are.  My current adult is three years old and have been with us about a month. She's much more spunky that when she first came to our home.

Here are some breed specific rescue groups to check out.  I also added BC rescue because a middle aged BC might be perfect for you.

You’re smart to lean towards an older, trained dog instead of a puppy- puppy exercise and training is very demanding! Doing some breed research ahead of time is great, but every dog has a different temperament and personality- so ask a lot of questions when you go to the pound!

I wouldn’t recommend leaving a dog alone for more than a few hours at a time. Plan to budget for a dog walker while you’re at work, and make sure you have enough time for morning, early evening, and nighttime walks. 

We pay $25/day for a dog walker. When we travel it’s $50 to board overnight with his dog walker.  

Hi! We just adopted a dog and went through this process with similar questions as well. I would say please take your time with finding a dog and making sure that he/she would fit with what you are looking for. 

We went to the SPCA and Muttville (Senior Dog Rescue). SPCA's website has photos of dogs available for adoption. Bear in mind that desirable breeds are adopted fairly quickly. There are tons of rescues, including Lab rescues out there. Sorry I don't know any specifics. I found that with rescues, the foster parents are able to give more information about the dog's personality. There are also Facebook Groups where people are moving and need to rehome their animals - these dogs are given away for free. Do your diligent research - meet and spend time with the dog, ask questions (is the dog friendly with humans and other dogs, age, any aggression?, frequency of barking, shots up to date?). 

Since you work full time, you would need a dog walker or even doggy daycare. Some dogs can be home up to 8 hours a day but others feel that anything more than 6 hours might be too long. Rule of thumb, the smaller the dog, the smaller the bladder - the more frequent pee breaks. Since you have a yard, this may not be important since the dog can just go outside. When you go on vacation, some dog walkers will also offer boarding services too (~$65/day).  

Also, talk to your son about what his responsibilities will be. If he will walk the dog, is he strong enough to control the dog if he/she reacts to a bird or another dog,etc? Dog will probably need to go on 2 walks a day (AM and PM). Larger breeds need more exercise of 45 mins-1hour walks. 

Hope this helps.

So surprised you haven't gotten any responses to your question yet! I think that is great that you and your son want a dog. Dogs are the best. (And I mean that in a general, not comparative sense.) It is totally doable if you find the right dog. I agree that an already housebroken rescue dog is the way to go. There are some breeds that are better for being home alone than others. Basically you want a lazy dog, not a super active one. I hear that Greyhounds are pretty much couch potatoes, surprisingly enough. Other breeds like the small "lapdog" breeds (maltese, Chihuahua, etc.) are better at being home alone all day than the active breeds like labs or retrievers. Here is a list of dogs that don't mind being home alone:  (some of them are pretty big, like Bull Mastiff or Irish Wolfhound.) 

You can look for specific breeds (and ages, sizes, etc.) on A dog who has been fostered will have lots of info on how they are, their personality, likes/dislikes, etc. 

If you can walk the dog in the morning and late afternoon/early evening, I don't think you need a dog walker. 

When we go on vacation, we try to bring our dog (our dog does great in the car and many hotels are dog-friendly.) When we can't, the ideal is to have someone stay in our house. But if we can't find someone to do that, we use a boarder who we found on 

Best of luck to you!

Hello, I working in veterinary medicine, and as such I know thousands of dog owners at this point in the game. In reality, the people who are best positioned to care for a dog often work full time, and yes some are lucky enough to work from home, but many of our clients are excellent dog owners who also have to go elsewhere during the day! I often read comments that people who work full time should not own dogs, and that is simply not the case in real life!

Being alone for 8 hours a day is common for many dogs. Occasionally there are pets that cannot medically be alone, or emotionally have trouble being alone, but a shelter or rescue group will identify those dogs. A dog walker is a welcome help if you can swing it, many dogs love their walkers and it's great to break up the day for them.

Vacation can be handled by a variety of options -- a neighbor coming by 2-3 times a day, will even have people who can stay at your place, or boarding with a local boarding service like Metro Dog are all great options. 

I will tell you that retrievers are fantastic dogs, and there are several retriever rescues that you can google in the area. I do find that rescue agencies are often more interested in homes where someone works out of the home or only part-time -- it may very well be that a lot of their rescue dogs need that, or simply that they prefer it so they know that the dog is going to have lots of contact time with the new owner.

Shelters can be a great alternative, a fair number of my clients and myself have used Berkeley and Marin shelters and found wonderful dogs there. I do agree that a house-broken, adult dog, who has an established personality, might be a good fit. Puppies can be a handful to manage, although of course all dogs were puppies at some point! Shelters occasionally have purebreds, but more often mixed breeds, pits, and chihuahuas. Remember to look at mixed breeds too, there are many wonderful dogs that are of mixed lineage.

Milo is a wonderful place to get a rescue. They're in Richmond. When we were looking to adopt a dog, we visited a couple of times and met dogs until we found the one that we knew we had to bring home. She was mellow, house trained, and so sweet and in need of a home. (and pregnant, unbeknownst to everyone, but that's another story!). They let you take them for walks and are super knowledgeable about breeds and what might work best for your lifestyle. They do really good work and save a lot of dogs and cats. 

My partner and I have flexible work schedules now, so she's never alone for too long, but when we didn't, we used a dog walker from Rover. We also use Rover now when we have to go out of town. I highly recommend putting a little bit of effort into developing a relationship with a Rover or two that you trust and then using them over and over again so everyone feels comfortable when you do have to leave your dog with them. We drop our dog off at their homes for boarding when we go, but you could also have a Rover stay at your home while you're gone. 

Enjoy the journey!! It can be a lot of work, but also rewarding!

I am amazed at the negative view of puppies!  In my experience nothing is more delightful.  A nine year old boy who loves dogs should have little trouble showing his puppy how to get along in the household according to his and his mom's preferences.  Puppies love to wrestle, run around outside, and go on new adventures with their boy.  If your son is a dog person he will appreciate having an active dog companion as he explores his world and himself in his growing to manhood years.  I recommend a golden doodle as an animal that is smart, fun, and eager to please.  Rarely need to tell them anything more than once, or maybe a couple times so they understand your NO is not just Not Now, but Never.  The non shedding feature will be helpful in keeping your sofa and the boy's bed free of dog hair.  Any mix predominantly golden retriever or lab will be fine for your son and with his friends.

Taking care of an older dog is sweet, especially after it has given its life to being your companion.  But for a 9 year old boy, why not let him enjoy the whole life cycle?

For a realistic sense of the relationships among a boy, his dog, and his understanding parents, pick up a stack of the Henry and Mudge books at your library.  Your son will devour them, and you will also find the simple heartwarming stories informative and heart warming.  The order of reading the books doesn't matter, except it is good to read book 1 first when the parents decide to get what Henry as a single child is longing for ... a companion.