Adding a new human or canine family member to the home is a momentous decision that is sure to change your life significantly. Selecting the right dog for your family is vital to both the safety and happiness of your dog and children.
What kind of lifestyle do you have? Do you live in an apartment or home; a rural, urban, or suburban environment? Are you energetic or are you a couch potato? Why do you want a dog — as an exercise partner, an agility athlete, future therapy dog, or a laid-back, low-energy dog? Are you allergic to dogs? (What if your future children are?) How much grooming are you willing to do? Are you a neat freak, concerned about slobber and shed hair on your clothes, walls, and furniture?
Answer these questions carefully and honestly when deciding to add a canine member to the family.
The breeds most frequently recommended for homes with small children are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, and Collies. These are the quintessential “American family dogs.”
But choosing the “best breeds for children” can be as difficult as recommending the “best hair color for a good babysitter.” Why? Because dogs, like babysitters, are individuals. Breed is no more a universal predictor of a suitable match for your family than hair color is in the selection of your babysitter.
Do some research into breeds that interest you. Why was this breed developed? Do you have the time to dedicate to a German Shepherd, which was bred to work long days closely with their handlers? Can you give a Border Collie a herd of sheep to work, or a job like agility to keep her happy? What if your new Australian Cattle Dog nips at your children’s heels to herd them? He is, after all, a “heeler,” and that’s what they do!
Somewhere out there is a megasocial Chow who loves everyone she meets and a couch potato Jack Russell, but these are the exceptions. Talk to breeders and breed rescuers to find out how well or poorly this breed might respond to your lifestyle. Bring your answers to the questions aboveto help the experts provide you with a more accurate assessment of suitability.
Think about the “best dog traits for children” rather than the “best dog breeds for children.” Looking at traits, rather than breeds, also allows you to consider one of the millions of mutts that would make great family dogs.
The most important predictor of a dog’s reliability with children is its socialization history. Puppies that are well-socialized with kids grow into dogs that are more reliable around children.
Raising a puppy and a baby simultaneously can be more work than you bargained for and can leave even the most energetic of families overwhelmed quickly.
Adopting an adult dog is a great solution for many families. Its socialization history may be unknown, so you will need a dog that is already very kid-friendly, whose face lights up, body wiggling, tail wagging happily at the sight of children — one who actively seeks gentle and tolerant interaction with kids.
Watch for signs of canine stress such as yawning, lip licking, backing away, growling or hackling, frequently looking away, urinating when approached by children. These indicate a dog that is uncomfortable around kids. A dog who will be living with toddlers must also be carefully desensitized to all types of touch and noises.
No matter how well socialized your dog is or how well behaved your child is, dogs and small children should NEVER in any circumstance, for any length of time, be left unsupervised together. Virtually all dog bite fatalities in small children result from inadequate supervision, even “just for a minute.” These fatalities could have been prevented by monitoring dogs and children at all times when together.
You must keep your kids safe from your dog, and your dog safe from your kids. If your child harasses a dog, you have a responsibility to manage the situation for safety. Give the dog a safe place to go, and redirect dog and child to more appropriate activities. It is never acceptable to allow young children to handle dogs roughly. Set your dog and your children up for success by ensuring that they always act gently and respectfully toward one another.
Many trainers offer adoption consultation and classes specifically directed toward socializing dogs to life with children. Check out www.greatdogtrainers.com to find one in your area. Check out www.doggonesafe.com and www.familypaws.com, which are wonderful organizations dedicated to promoting positive training to keep kids and dogs safe, including tips for management, reading canine body language, educating babysitters on dog bite prevention, etc.