Q: We are thinking about getting a dog. What is a good breed for a family with young children?
A: Individual dogs of the same breed can have very different activity levels and temperaments, so rather than focusing on a particular breed, I recommend that prospective dog owners look for a fit between an individual dog and the family’s lifestyle. The dog’s behavior and personality should concur with the types of activities that the family enjoys. Are you looking for a couch potato who is content to lie around watching TV with you, or are you looking for an active dog who enjoys hours of play and long hikes? Seriously consider the amount of time and energy you have for a new, active dog. While children may promise to help take care of the dog, parents often end up doing most of the care and training.
If you already have a particular breed in mind, research the history of the breed, and think about whether the behavior that the dog is bred for will fit into your lifestyle. Herding dogs, such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, were bred to work for hours on end. Without proper attention, exercise, mental stimulation, and training, they will find a job of their own to do in your house, like herding your children. Labrador Retrievers are rightfully so a popular family dog here in Fairfield County and across the country, but remember that this breed also has a working history and can be quite rambunctious without adequate exercise. Another consideration, related to breed, is size. A large-breed dog may be more likely to knock your children over when excited, so putting in the time to train a large dog will be extra important.
One benefit of adopting an adult dog, whether purebred or mixed-breed, is that reputable shelters and rescue groups conduct thorough behavioral evaluations and assess the fit between adopters and adoptees. You can easily do a search for dogs available through local organizations using petfinder.com. Adoption counselors from these organizations can interview your family and point out the dogs in their care who are the best fit for your lifestyle. If you are adopting or purchasing a puppy, be aware that full behavioral evaluations often are not conducted on puppies, as puppy behavior is not always predictive of later adult behavior. In lieu of a full evaluation, simply observing the puppy’s activity level may be informative. Reputable breeders will also thoroughly interview you in order to evaluate whether your family is a good fit for their puppies.
Regardless of the breed you select, supervision of all interactions between your dog and children under the age of 10, including your own children, is critical to help maintain a healthy dog-child relationship. I recommend reading Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind, by Colleen Pelar, a wonderful resource for parents on bite prevention and safe dog-child interactions.
Do you have a dog training or behavior question? Post your questions to me below, or e-mail them to AskDrWan@westportdogs.com. Every month, I will select one reader question to answer.
Dr. Wan provides dog behavior and training consultations to Fairfield County dog owners. She earned her doctorate and researched dog-human communication at Columbia University.