Choosing a Dog for a Family with Children
So you have settled down and started a family, but you feel like there's one thing missing: the perfect dog. But now do you choose the right dog who will be good with your kids? Some breeds seem to have a bad reputation, so obviously you want to avoid those, right? Well, not necessarily. There are several things that you should consider when looking for a dog who is good with children, and they may not be what you think.
Instead of asking, "What breed should we get?" start with a different question: "Should we get a puppy, a young dog, or an adult dog?" Adult dogs have already established a personality so you will be able to tell exactly how the dog will behave with your kids specifically. But a younger dog or puppy is more yours to mold (but a lot more work to instill manners and potty train).
Other important questions you will need to ask include: How can I teach my children the proper rules of behaving around an animal (not poking the dog in the eye, being dominant over the dog, etc)? Am I getting the dog just to teach my kids responsibility or because I want it to be a part of the family? Can we really make the commitment to this animal for fifteen years, regardless of whether we have more children or have to move?
Things to Remember
Remember, a puppy can be almost as much work as a new baby! You will need to invest in puppy kindergarten or some other form of basic obedience class if you want to have a well-behaved dog. They need to be taught where to pee and poo, what not to chew on, and how to exist in the human world. They require lots of exercise and medical care.
Children should never be left alone with a dog, regardless of the breed or how well they seem to behave together. They should be supervised at all times.
But a dog will definitely be an invaluable addition to your family and the lives of your children. Your children will learn responsibility, respect for animals, among millions of other tiny everyday lessons. Good luck!
A Couple Breed Recommendations
That said, there are several breeds that are well-known to be better with kids than others. Keep in mind, though, that my slight endorsement of these breeds does not mean that every single specimen of the breed or mix of the breed with be good with kids. Age and temperament are still far more important than breed!
So what are these breeds? Breeds that tend to be good with kids are the ones that have been bred to be gentle and to give love equally to everyone. This means that retrievers (bred to have a soft mouth to retrieve trophies their masters have shot) are generally better than the guard dog breeds. It also means that, for example, Border Collies and the like tend to bond closer to one person (the "shepherd") than to the rest of the family. Again, this does not mean that an Australian Shepherd or Doberman Pinscher do not make excellent family dogs (there are thousands of happy families that will tell you otherwise!), merely that they were not originally bred for that purpose.
This is why Labrador and Golden Retrievers are very popular with families. They're big and cuddly, tend to be tolerant of little fingers poking them, and can be taught very easily to have a soft mouth. They also love everyone they meet equally, and therefore there is no favoring of the "master" of the house.
There are also the "Gentle Giant" breeds. I'm namely thinking of the Great Dane or the Newfoundland, either of which can be a great addition to a family, as long as he's trained not to accidentally knock over your little ones. They tend to have much lower energy than the small terriers, and if you can stand a little drool every once in a while, most of them are very friendly.
Standard Poodles are good, too, because while you may not know it, they were bred to do quite the same thing as labs and goldens! They're retrieving water dogs (which is why the classic poodle cut came about: to protect their joints from cold water), and they remain very playful well into adulthood.
If you are looking for a smaller dog, the Beagle is a popular choice for families. They, too, have plenty of love to give and are a more manageable size for most families than a big, hefty lab. But they can be stubborn, and most of them are quite avid howlers!
Keep in mind that even though many of the smaller breeds like Yorkshire Terriers or Chihuahuas may be small and seem easier to control, they tend to be nippy and are easily frightened of children. You might be skiddish around kids, too, if you couldn't easily escape all those probing little fingers!
A Reminder About the Breeds
But the breed generalizations above are just that: generalizations. There are many retrievers out there who have been beaten or abused, are terrified of children, and would be a terrible danger to your family.
Ultimately, disposition is up to the individual animal! Do not let any breed hype convince you otherwise.
So ask yourself the questions in this order:
- What do we need in a dog's temperament? Lots of energy or none? Friendly or more aloof?
- What age dog do we want? Puppy? Young? Adult? Senior?
- What sizes and breeds are we considering? Tiny? Giant? Somewhere in between?
- Which individual dog will be perfect for us?
How to Choose a Dog
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My advice would be to adopt a dog or puppy from a rescue and to choose the age based on how much effort you and your children are willing to put into potty training and basic puppy manners.
The reason I suggest a rescue is because they will be fostering the dog, most likely with other animals and even with children, and will therefore be able to help you understand what the personality of the dog is. They will also give you the opportunity to have your children meet the dog before you adopt, and what better way to feel good about the new relationship than to see it first-hand? And don't worry, if you want a purebred dog, rescues have lots of those, too!
For more information on all of this, read another hub I wrote called Rescue, Buy, or Adopt? There is more detailed information there on each of those three options.