Puppies and kids. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. But the wrong combination of dogs and kids can make life a mess for parents, like spilled grape juice on white carpet.
If you are considering bringing a puppy into your family and you want to avoid a huge mess—literally and figuratively—you have to do your homework. Don't make an impulse adoption, and don't make your decision based on looks alone, no matter how beautiful those big puppy eyes and that soft, shiny fur. Not all dogs make good pets for families with young children, even if the animal would significantly enhance the cuteness quotient on your annual holiday card photo.
Alexandra Powe Allred, author of Teaching Basic Obedience: Train the Owner, Train the Dog and Canine's Top Ten List, has trained dogs for more than 20 years. "I can't tell you how many times I have worked with families who bought a pup based on looks, with little consideration as to how the pup and baby would relate to each other," she says.
Be aware that when you make a decision to bring a dog into your home, that commitment will impact your family immediately, and for a long time to come. "When a young family decides to obtain a pet, it can be a life altering event," says Bernadine Cruz, DVM, whose veterinary practice, Laguna Hills Animal Hospital, is in Laguna Hills, California. "When a pet is brought in to the family, it is for life, the pet's life. An animal is not a disposable commodity."
Make an Informed Decision
Cruz says, "There is no one breed of dog that is best for a family." To determine which breed may meet your family's needs, Cruz recommends you ask yourself—and answer very honestly—the following questions.
1. Do you have time for a pet? It's no surprise that the mother typically takes on the extra duties associated with a pet. You not only must have the time to devote to your pet, but also you must be willing to give that time to your pet.
2. What type of space do you have for a dog in your home? A large breed dog can survive in a condo or small apartment, but a larger house with a yard would be more appropriate for a large dog. Also, know how big the pet is going to be as an adult.
3. Can you handle an active, hard-headed breed or do you need a mellow pet? Personalities and inherent needs of a dog will vary with breeds and within the same breed. There are personality tests that a prospective dog owner can administer to a dog to obtain a general idea of how this pet will respond to discipline and training.
4. Can you afford the pet? The first year of life can be the most costly. Vaccines, neutering, and training are just a few of the expenses. A pet can make a huge dent in the family budget.
5. Are your children old enough to interact appropriately with a dog? "I usually recommend that a child be at least four to five years of age before a family acquires a pet," says Cruz. Younger children require constant attention around the dog. A dog may nip at a child who was just trying to demonstrate affection by pulling on an ear or tail.
Cruz recommends that you do your own research. "Don't believe everything a breeder or pet store owner tells you about a particular dog." One helpful Web site that Cruz recommends for parents looking to bring a dog into the family is dogbreedinfo.com. It has a section that rates hundreds of breeds—both purebred dogs and mixed breeds—on their reliability with children.
The time you spend researching the best type of dog for your family up front will save you time, energy, and many tears (yours and your child's) down the road.