I am often asked what breed of dog I would recommend for a family with young children. After asking lots of questions I am often tempted (or do!) say “none at all!”. Often I get puppies coming to puppy class that have been bought for a young child, in many cases as a gift. They are inevitably totally unsuitable choices like very large boisterous breeds or even worse very tiny toy breeds.
Without wanting to offend anyone, here follows my personal opinion on the subject of kids and dogs.
Do not consider getting a puppy if you have a baby on the way or have just had one. Puppies need a lot of attention in the first few months and you will find it difficult to put in what you need to, while caring for a young baby.
A dog or puppy should never be bought as a gift – A dog is a living creature not a commodity. The decision to add a dog to your home needs to be one made by the whole family as most of the training, feeding, exercising and cleaning up is going to be done by Mom and Dad. You need to be sure you are happy to own a dog for the next 12 – 15 years by which time your children will most likely have left home! In most cases, the dog should be a family dog and not belong to a child. Everyone in the family can be involved with caring for the dog.
Choosing the breed
Research the breeds you are interested in carefully making note of those which have a good reputation with children. Never buy a dog based on what is looks like or because you saw one in a movie. As trainers, we see the results of movies like Jock of the Bushveld, 101 Dalmatians and Snowdogs. Speak to breeders and owners of the breeds you are interested in to help you find out as much as possible about the breed. Some breeds have a really good reputation for being good with children although there are occasionally exceptions. Some of these are: Beagles, Bassets, Setters, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers and Bull Mastiffs. Some breeds have had bad press but I know I walk a fine line here when I say that I would steer clear of Border Collies, Belgian Shepherds, Boerboels and Spaniels. As with every rule there are exceptions so you could pick a rogue Labrador or a really placid Boerboel.
Remember that very large or very small dogs are not a good idea with children. Big dogs will bowl over a small child and tiny dogs can be hurt easily and can be snappy.
Choosing a Breeder
Once you have chosen a breed, seek out a good breeder. Tell the breeder that you are looking for a puppy that is gentle with children. Ask to be put in touch with owners of their previous litters. Walk away if the breeder is not keen to give you this information. Once you feel comfortable with your choice of breeder, ask to see the litter.
Don’t plan on taking a pup home on your first visit.
Never take a puppy for a family that:
- Is under 8 weeks of age (or over 10 weeks of age)
- Has not been handled and socialised with people since birth ( avoid any pups in a pen in the corner of the yard)
- The bitch (or Dog) growls or snarls at you
- The bitch is absent
- The pups shy away from you
- The pups look like they are scrawny or in any way not in perfect health.
The pups should have been raised in a family environment with constant gentle contact with children. They should look fat and healthy with a glossy coat and no sign of fleas or ticks. Never buy a puppy you feel sorry for or want to rescue. You are just creating a market for more badly bred pups.
If you feel comfortable that the litter looks healthy and the bitch is friendly, you can concentrate on choosing one of the pups. The best pup for children is not the most confident and outgoing nor the fearful one in the corner. Observe the pups over a number of visits and choose one that is friendly and confident without being too boisterous (not the one that picks you!). The pup should tolerate being restrained and held without panicking, crying or snapping.
If at any point you have any doubts whatsoever, “vote with your feet” and walk away. Don’t be steamrollered into taking a pup that is not perfect for your family. A good breeder should ask you as many questions as you ask her. She should really care where her pup is going to.
Don’t make the worst mistake of all …. taking more than one pup from the litter.
Where to from there?
So you now have committed yourselves to a laid back puppy from great parents and a caring breeder. You are half way there. The rest is up to you. Here are some golden rules to ensure that your puppy turns out great with kids.
Bear in mind that all pups nip and chew. Like babies they put everything into their mouth – including your skin.
- Always include a new puppy as part of the family. A dog living in the yard is the most likely one to bite a child. The puppy needs to know he is part of your pack.
- Never allow children (or anyone) to play rough with the puppy
- Never allow children to run so that the puppy chases them
- Never allow children to chase the puppy
- Never allow children to pinch or poke the puppy or disturb him when he is eating or sleeping
- Do not allow young children to carry the puppy around as he may get dropped or hurt
- Put your puppy into “time-out” if he nips on skin by mistake
- Attend puppy socialising classes from 8 weeks
Teach you children how to handle and hold the puppy correctly and ensure that you always supervise them when they are together. Use a baby gate, playpen or dog crate to confine the puppy when you are not able to keep an eye on him. Involve your children in your puppy’s routine. Your children can help with feeding, grooming and training. Only allow your children to play with the puppy with a dog toy and under your supervision. Remember that puppies learn what is acceptable behaviour from the feedback they get. If you allow your children to run around with the puppy chasing them or wrestle on the floor, you can expect either an out of control dog or worse, an aggression problem later.
Back to the “Should you get a dog and if so what breed?” question. Difficult to answer in a few words but the bottom line is don’t buy on impulse and expect to make a long term commitment. If in doubt…get a cat!