At some point in every parent’s life, a child will ask “Can we have a dog?” Dogs can make wonderful companions for children but care should be taken when choosing a dog for your family. Any dog that is raised from puppyhood with children around may become reasonably accustomed to their presence, and some breeds are known to be especially fond of kids, but some dog breeds are not recommended as pets for families with small children.
The best dog for young children is one that was raised around children and is known to be fond of them. A younger dog (less than a year old) will have energy levels more closely matching your child’s; an older dog may not appreciate wild play. Have a supervised visit for the child and dog, and watch to see that the dog is not inattentive to the child or runs from him, and that the dog doesn’t overreact to having its ears and tail pulled, feet stepped on, and fur ruffled up. Of course, children should not be allowed to treat a dog this way, but you know kids, it’s going to happen eventually. Check the dog’s pain threshold by squeezing his paw. A dog with a high pain threshold will not yelp. Don’t take a dog that appears stressed, over-excited, or growls at children.
If you want to add a puppy to your family, choose one that is gentle and mildly submissive. Try to roll the puppy on his back to rub his tummy. If he allows you to do so, he will be a submissive dog. A puppy that won’t allow you to roll him over will have a more dominant personality and may consider your child his inferior. Avoid buying a puppy from a pet store. Many such puppies come from puppy mills and often are not tested for genetic defects, health or temperament problems. Choose a reputable dog breeder if you must have a pedigree dog. Mixed breed dogs often have the most even temperaments and combine the best qualities of their dominant breeds.
Adopting an adult dog without a proven track record with children should only be done by parents who have experience with dogs, who can supervise the dog and spot any signs of potential trouble. Don’t leave your children alone with the dog until you can trust them to get along.
Larger breeds of dogs are almost always more tolerant of children than toy breeds. If you have toddlers in the family, however, you may want to choose a smaller breed because a larger dog may playfully knock down a small child. Large dogs should be trained not to jump up on people. Labrador Retrievers are the most popular family dogs, but can be extremely energetic when they are young, and destructive as puppies. Boxers are very fond of “their people”, especially children, but are a powerful and energetic breed. Collies are great with people, very smart dogs, and not so wild as some larger breeds. Other larger breeds that are known to be fond of children are the Mastiff, Newfoundland, and Bloodhound. With have proper obedience training, Dalmatians, Great Danes, German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Old English Sheepdogs, and Irish Wolfhound can be good family pets.
Small to medium size dogs are a good choice if you want to avoid potential harm to either the dog or child. Beagles are great with children and make great family dogs but they tend to bark a lot. Basset hounds adore everyone but children should not be allowed to pick them up, as they need their long backs supported to avoid injury. Bichon Fries are small dogs that are able to keep up with rowdy children. Dachshunds, Chihuahua, Chow Chows, Pekinese, and Lhasa Apsos are often not very patient with small children.
Toy breeds are not generally recommended for families with toddlers. Little Bobby might just conk the tiny pooch over the head with his toy truck, possibly harming the dog and causing it to bite out of self-defense. If you prefer a toy breed for your family, choose the Pug, which is the largest of the toy breeds, and a very happy, high-energy dog.
Some breeds who are best with older children are Basenjis, Airedales, Fox Terriers, Yorkies, Whippets, Shih Tzus, Afghans, Standard Schnauzers, Rottweiler, Dobermans, Malamutes, Weimaraner, Shelties, and Manchester Terriers.
Studies have shown that children raised from infancy with pets in their home have less chance of developing allergies and asthma. If your allergic child asks for a pet, the answer doesn’t always have to be no. While no dog breed is truly non-allergenic, there are some breeds that are less likely to cause allergic reactions. Dogs with non-shedding, constantly-growing fur, that require regular grooming, may produce less allergy symptoms (Poodle, Bichon Frise). You can reduce the allergens in your home so your child can enjoy the rewards of pet ownership. Keep the child’s bedroom off limits to the dog, and remove carpets, upholstery, and draperies from the child’s room, replacing them with washable surfaces. Launder the bedclothes regularly and cover the mattress, box springs, and pillow with allergy-resistant coverings. Having an allergen-free environment at night can reduce daytime symptoms. Vacuum the carpets and upholstery in the rest of the home regularly. HEPA filters can remove most of the allergens from the air. Teach the child not to touch his face when playing with the dog, and to wash his hands with soap and water afterward.
Whatever breed you choose, teach your children how to behave around dogs. Many children are harmed by dogs of all breeds by mistreating them or not respecting the dog’s instincts to protect himself, his food, or his toys. Adding a dog member to your family will provide your children with a faithful companion, and give them a measure of love and acceptance not always found in human relationships.
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