Choosing the Right Dog for Your Family
Getting a dog for a child can be a real family learning experience. Or it can be a traumatic situation that is not good for dog, child or family.
That’s the gist of advice from a couple of experienced Tulsa veterinarians who have raised both dogs and children.
Do Your Research
Do research about dogs, say Dr. David Mitchell, longtime practitioner at Veterinary Associates, and Dr. Lauren Johnson, of Hammond Animal Hospital.
“It can be a real educational process,” Dr. Mitchell said, “learning about where a type of dog originated.” Read books or go to dog shows to check out breeds. “Do your homework,” Dr. Johnson said. “Know the limitations and needs of the breed you select.”
Both note that some breeds are prone to aggressive or potentially dangerous behavior. While purebreds are easier to background check, both also say mixed breeds can be fine pets for children. “Some of the greatest dogs in our family have been mixed breeds,” Dr. Mitchell said, “but you know more about pure bred.”
Puppies are Preferred
Both vets prefer to start children with puppies, rather than adult dogs, partly because of the difference in size between large dogs and small children. Both advised to look at the disposition of the mother and the family or breeder who has the dog.
“If the family is not clean, the dog probably won’t be,” Dr. Mitchell said.
Dr. Johnson recommends picking “a happy medium” in a litter of pups. Avoid those which isolate themselves from visitors or are overly eager. “Look for the puppy that comes over to say ‘hi’, but is equally comfortable to walk away and play with his siblings or check out his environment,” she said. “These are the puppies that tend to grow up into balanced adult dogs, making the best family pets.”
Both recommend getting a money-back guarantee from puppy sellers, which most breeders and most individuals will grant, in case the pup does not work out in the new environment.
Both suggest getting pups at about 6 or 8 weeks of age.
And both strongly recommend obedience training, with children included if possible so they can play a role in training the puppy.
Both emphasize the family role of a dog, even if it is intended as a pet or playmate for the child. “The family needs to be involved,” Dr. Mitchell said. They note that the adults will have most of the responsibility for feeding and caring for a dog. Dr. Mitchell feels a child should be at least three years old before a dog is added and Dr. Johnson says interactions between child and pup must be closely monitored.
Puppies have very sharp teeth, chew on anything they can get and are very energetic and playful, which can lead to accidental falls. Conversely, Dr. Johnson said, “kids forget to be gentle with puppies leading to unnecessary injuries and vet bills.” She prefers large breed pups because children often want to carry or hold the dog and larger breeds are sturdier and less prone to injury. Many large breeds also are noted for gentleness.
The important thing, both say, is to keep the family involved, from the first decision to get a dog until the pup is raised into a member of the family. “It can be a fun time for the whole family,” Dr. Mitchell said.
But don’t rush in getting a child a dog. “A lot of people spend more time buying a refrigerator than a dog,” Dr. Mitchell said, but the dog decision may have more lasting impact on a child and a family.