It was March of 2018 … and Bobby Bones was alone.
The media powerhouse was not only without a girlfriend at the time, but he had also just lost his dog Dusty after 15 years of companionship. And despite his growing professional success, Bones personally couldn't get over the fact that his couch was pretty much empty.
But then, in August of 2019, the best-selling author and host of iHeartRadio's The Bobby Bones Show adopted a blue-eyed, English bulldog named Stanley. Less than a year later, his girlfriend Caitlin Parker moved in and in October of 2020, she became his fiancée. And if that wasn't enough, as the world continued wading through the coronavirus pandemic, the family of three decided to become a family of four late last year with the addition of a Husky mix rescue they lovingly named Eller.
And suddenly, Bones' heart — and his couch — were finally full.
"Stanley is the best cuddler just because he's fat, and he just is looking for a place to lay," Bones, 40, says with a laugh during a recent interview with PEOPLE. "Eller's got a whole bunch of energy right now. She just wants to bounce around the whole time. But Stanley, he breathes hard after about five steps, so he's just going to lay for a little bit. He's not even 2 years old yet, so he's still got a lot of idiot in him."
Granted, while the relationship between Bones and Parker has been quite harmonious thus far, the relationship between their two dogs hasn't been quite as sweet.
"They both had their difficulties at first, because she was basically taken right off the streets," explains Bones of Eller, who was rescued by Wags & Walks Nashville and would often nip and bite in the beginning. "She was by herself. She was a lot younger than they had even told us. So, she was not in good shape and for a good reason."
But after some dedicated time with a trainer, Eller started getting along with Stanley. Or so they thought.
"They would play outside, and it would be great," remembers Bones, who is returning for his fourth season as the full-time mentor on ABC's hit singing competition show American Idol. "Then they would come back again, and Stanley was still ready to play, and he wouldn't stop. And so, he's the idiot now who beats her up. We're just figuring out how to calm these two, by kind of diagnosing why each of them get rowdy."
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Then, there was the day back in January of this year that Stanley briefly got away from Parker while on a jog, causing her to fall and injure both of her wrists.
"[Stanley] does not know how to run on a leash, and we were trying to jog. We think possibly there was someone in the yard, and he knocked my feet from under me," says Parker, 29, who originally met Bones backstage when he made a visit to the set of Dancing with the Stars. "[Stanley is] a linebacker. He's about 63 lbs. and three inches off the ground, and then there is me. So yeah, it's a tough mix."
The decision to add another dog to their family was definitely a joint one, as Parker admits to feeling a tad outnumbered in the house.
"Well, Caitlin wanted a girl dog, basically," laughs Bones, who won season 27 of ABC's Dancing with the Stars and is host and executive producer of Opry, a weekly TV program airing highlights from the Grand Ole Opry stage on Circle Network.
"That's not right," interjects Caitlin quickly. "I did want a girl dog, but what is true is that we both thought that Stanley needed a playmate. So, I was like, 'Okay, can we adopt maybe a younger one and a girl, because I'm already outnumbered in this house?' So, then we adopted a younger girl dog."
Of course, even with the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, Bones and Parker seem to constantly be on the move due to their various professional commitments, which leaves plenty of time for the two dogs at home to get to know each other a bit better.
"We're usually home four days a week and then we head out for one thing or another, and the dogs go to their respective corners, and we have friends that watch them," explains Bones, whose new NatGeo show Breaking Bobby Bones is set to premiere this May. "We also have a trainer that lives close that comes over and works with them. We're still trying to figure out that plan fully and kind of just pulling in folks for spot duty. But I think they're going to be good. Heck, they don't care about us 80% of the time. They're just living their own lives."
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And yes, taking care of two dogs seems to be giving Bones and Parker some good practice for taking care of their own kids someday.
"Well, it's definitely an opening act for me," admits Bones with a slight laugh.
"We've gotten really good at delegating tasks to each other, so that it doesn't become overwhelming for one of us," adds Parker, who is currently working in partnership with Purina to provide tips and awareness on maintaining healthy weight and wellness in pets. "Bobby takes them out at night, and I get up with them in the morning, most of the time."
And come wedding time, their pups will have an important role to play. At least that's the plan as of now.
"Well, we think so. We'll see how their training goes," jokes Parker. "As of right now, they have a spot, but they can lose it if they behave poorly between now and then."
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