Whether you feel it is time to add a dog to the family, or you have finally caved in to your children’s pestering, you have finally decided to get a dog. The question now is, what are the best family dog breeds, and what characteristics should you look for in your new family member?
Children are often unaware of their own strength and can unintentionally play a little rough. It is the responsibility of the parents to supervise any interaction between pets and children and to teach the children to play gently. There are, however, times when a clumsy child may tumble near the family dog and latch on in an attempt to stop a fall. Or, the child may pet the dog a little too rough as she is learning how to be gentle.
For these reasons, any family dog should be tolerant enough to allow some hard patting or tail and ear tugging. He might also have to be patient enough to sit through a “dress-up” session or tea party and even periodically allow his nails to be painted. Dogs living with children need to have enough energy to withstand hours of play and yet not be so rambunctious that injury could occur.
Many breeds work well with children, but always remember: there are good dogs and bad dogs in every breed. It’s important to know that individual dogs within breeds can demonstrate their own, unique personality traits. No matter what breed you choose, you shouldn’t leave dogs and young children together unsupervised — for the safety of both.
Watching the Family
For centuries, dogs have been employed as living alarms and watchful guards. Their protective nature made them ideal to alert humans when something strange was amiss. Along with being companions, some of the best family dog breeds can — and still do — perform watch dog roles.
Watch dogs are not the same as guard dogs, though. A watch dog alerts their owners when strangers approach, but they do not usually attack. A good watch dog doesn’t have to be big or aggressive; he or she just has to possess a strong bark that lets the family know someone is approaching the house.
Often, just hearing the bark deters would-be intruders. A guard dog can do the same, but is also large enough to intimidate and, if necessary, attack the intruder.
Almost any dog that barks when something unusual happens can serve as a watch dog, but some breeds are better known for their natural watch dog abilities.
The Best Family Dog Breeds Teach Children
Poet William Blake once wrote, “Everyone that lives, lives not alone nor for itself.” This is especially true when it comes to our pets. And, according to researchers and counselors, it may be one of the most important lessons dogs teach children.
Parents often bring a dog into the family to teach their kids a sense of responsibility, but children often learn so much more — fundamental things about themselves and the world, such as how to empathize with others, how to understand subtle feelings, and how to look at the world from a vastly different perspective.Dogs can also teach children how to interact with others, empathy, nurturing skills, confidence, and resilience to change.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that all children are ready for pet ownership. Parents should first make sure their child desires a pet before rushing out to get one. Together, they should decide what type of pet is best. Moreover, don’t assume your child will take care of the dog. The ultimate responsibility usually falls on the parent, not the kid, to make sure the pet is healthy.
Kids and Dogs — A Match Made in Heaven
The bond between dogs and humans is strongest and most precious in childhood, when playfulness, imagination, and emotions rule.
Studies have shown that kids benefit just as much from dog ownership as adults do. The unconditional love that a dog gives relieves stress and loneliness. Enjoying the company of a pet raises self-esteem and teaches empathy in youngsters. Dogs also help children become more aware of non-verbal communication. At least one study has shown that family members interact more once they bring home a pet.
Ideally, animal professionals advise you to wait until your children are between seven and nine before you adopt a dog. But the reality is that your oldest child is 10 and your youngest is two. Or maybe you’ve owned your dog for many years before the baby was born. Is this a recipe for disaster?
Of course not. But that doesn’t mean that the adults in the family won’t have their work cut out for them. It’s a parent’s responsibility to educate children about how to treat dogs humanely so that they can love and enjoy their pets from puppyhood through old age. It’s also a parent’s job to mediate between children and dogs, so that nobody gets hurt.
Bringing Home a Family Dog
Even before you bring your dog home, discuss the ground rules for what your dog will be allowed to do and where he can do it. Remember that it’s easier to prevent a bad habit from developing in the first place than it is to correct it. If the dog knows how tasty the garbage is, or how chewy a sneaker can be, you’ll have a hard time making him forget. If you want your dog to stay off the furniture, everyone in the family must agree on the command that will keep him from jumping up. If you don’t want him to hound dinner guests, never give him table scraps.
Even if the dog doesn’t immediately warm to one or more family members, they should be taught to treat him with respect and, above all, to avoid pressuring him for affection. He’ll come around when the time is right for him. And he’ll be grateful for their tolerance.
Help Your Children Get Ready for the New Dog
The best family dog breeds are typically great with children, but sometimes children aren’t as great with dogs. The most important point if you have young children and a dog is that young children should never be left alone with a dog. This is to protect both the child and the dog. Young children have no idea that squeezing, hitting, pinching, or stepping on a dog can inflict pain. It isn’t fair to put your child or your pet into a scary situation, and if a very young child doesn’t know how to treat a dog, the dog may feel threatened and lash out at the child. Even if you feel your child “knows better,” children are curious and experimental, and you can’t depend on responsible behavior all of the time.
Training should start early. Very young children can learn about humane treatment and can learn how to interact appropriately. They should learn which parts of the animal’s body can be touched and how and when to pet them. They should learn not to disturb the dog when he is resting, eating, or chewing on his favorite toy. They should learn that animals are not toys and they can feel pain.
One good way to teach youngsters is to role play. The child can pretend to be a puppy — great fun — and you can be the child. Pet the “puppy” gently and remind the child how nice it feels. Talk to the “puppy” and play with him the way you want your child to do it in real life. You are the role model, and children look to adults for the proper way to act.