dogkid1When is the right time to bring a new puppy or dog into the family?

Rarely is someone in the position of being in the perfect time/perfect place — home most of the time, big fenced yard, older or no children, significant dog experience, familiarity and experience with the intended breed, etc. But there are varying degrees of “the right time” based on the individual’s experience and life situation, which should include some combination of the aforementioned.

There are also varying degrees of “the wrong time.”  Having small children (let’s say for the sake of discussion, kids under 6 years old), and adding a dog without a full-time, stay-at-home parent, can be a recipe for disaster. So much so, that many breeders will not sell their puppies to homes with small children.

I also understand that sometimes you just can’t wait for “the right time,” because if you waited for the right time you’d be too old to enjoy your dog.  You just need a dog now, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make it work. I hear ya. Been there.

Here are 8 factors that you need to consider when mixing dogs and small kids:

  1. Starting with an adult dog has many advantages. Trying to potty train and teach manners to 2-leggeds and 4-leggeds at the same time is enough to make any sane person want to tear their hair out. Choosing an older dog who’s already been socialized and acclimated to children, and knows some basic commands can be a life-saver.
  2. Choosing the right breed for temperament is a great place to start. Breed type can be a valuable indicator as to probable character.  For instance, Labs are frequently a good choice for families with young children. That said, it’s also important to consider the personality of each individual dog. I know a Rottweiler that lets kids crawl all over her with no problem. I know a Lab that bites anyone who tries to touch her hind end.  But if you start off by selecting a breed that’s known to enjoy children, you’re definitely upping the odds of it being a good experience for all.
  3. Factoring in size of both children and dog also matters. Selecting a large breed that can weigh well over 100 pounds when you have a 20 pound toddler can be asking for trouble. A body-slam from a big dog can easily send a little kid flying.  At the other end of the spectrum, beware of choosing a toy breed when you have a child that hasn’t yet developed a reliable impulse control. Small dogs break easily.
  4. Testing for low aggression tendencies is a must. Is the dog or puppy you’re considering a resource guarder (won’t let you take a bone, toy, or food away without growling or snapping)? While this is an issue that can often be successfully worked through, it’s an absolute deal-breaker when there are small children in the house. Does the dog or puppy have a good bite inhibition (uses teeth as a last resort in communicating and has excellent control in not “chomping down”)? That’s also really important.  If you’re not sure how to test for either of these, bring a trainer along to evaluate.
  5. Going for the bomb-proof dog, one that’s not easily excitable or reactive to touch or sound, is also really important. Small children can add a frenetic quality to any household. You want a dog that can withstand the hustle and bustle and not become a nervous wreck.
  6. Selecting the right energy level for your family’s activities. If you are all couch potatoes or you have limited time to adequately exercise a dog, don’t go for high energy breeds.  Picking a lap dog might make the best fit for everyone. Conversely, if you’re strapping your kid into a backpack to go for daily hikes, you’ll want a dog that can keep up.
  7. Making sure you can keep your dog safe by providing a fenced yard. With small children, it’s really easy to lose track of where your dog is, and it’s really hard to make sure little ones aren’t opening outside doors on their own. By having a fenced yard, if a door is accidentally opened, it’s not the end of the world. It also gives your dog a safe place to escape when it needs some quiet time.
  8. Being mindful that owning a dog can be expensive. Having kids is expensive. Having a dog can be almost as expensive.  Knowing that you can afford to keep your dog well-trained and  in good health goes a long way toward ensuring it will remain healthy and stable. Figure that you’ll need to set aside between $300 to $600 annually for the care and feeding of your dog.

If you take your time, solicit good advice from vets, breeders and trainers, and incorporate the above suggestions, you’ll be able to find a dog that your child will be lucky to grow up with.