“Mommy, can we please, please get a dog?”
My 7-year-old turned to me as we watched Benji on Netflix one Saturday night. Upon hearing her sister’s plea, my 4-year-old chimed in and seconded the motion, “Yes, mommy! That would be so cool!” I almost choked on my popcorn.
For years, my eldest daughter had whined, pleaded, and begged me for a family pet. She has gone through phases of being obsessed with dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, fish, dinosaurs, goats, and since watching Benji, has set her sights on a dog once more.
I am not totally opposed to getting a fur brother for my daughters. I, myself, enjoyed having a canine companion when I was little. In fact, the essential things in life—such as loyalty, unconditional love, living in the moment, and forgiveness—I learned from my childhood pet, a yellow Lab named Cheese (bless his soul in dog heaven).
However, for years I had to turn down my kid’s request because one, we lived in a rental that didn’t allow pets and two, well, as a single mom, I honestly did not have the willingness to expend any more time, energy, and money to care for another living, breathing creature.
But now that we have settled in our own home, I have a job that pays well, and the kids swore up and down to take care of their fur brother, I thought I’d consider their wish. Of course, the decision needed thorough scrutiny because I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew—and end up with a dog chewing off our furniture and shoes!
Thankfully, after two weeks, three shelter tours, two family meetings, and lots and lots of promises about pet care (which I figured out were half lies), we found ours with our minds and hearts in the right places.
Here are some factors that we considered in the selection process. We hope it will help you as much as it helped us!
Decide on where you’re getting your dog. We personally preferred to get one from a shelter instead of buying one from a breeder. We strongly felt that no dog should be put down because their humans abandoned them. But temper your sympathy, because at the end of the day, your child’s well-being is of paramount importance and the dog you get should be one that can grow with him as his best friend.
To some degree, yes. While there are breeds that are highly recommended for families with young children, most dogs, regardless of pedigree, have the capacity and potential to be good family pets. Besides, shelter dogs are often mixed breeds, and just like people, race, or breed in the case of dogs, does not determine behavior to an absolute certainty.
Check the dog’s history, if available. Shelters don’t always have the dog’s history available, but if they do, it’ll give you a better understanding of the dog you’re considering. Know peculiarities such as a particular liking for a specific toy, what scares him, or any trait unique to him that will guide you in dealing with him.
A lot of shelters are training and spaying the dogs in their care, to increase their chances of finding a forever home. Hence, there’s a good chance that you’ll be getting a dog that’s properly trained. Shelters usually place a note if a dog is not particularly fond of children.
Topping the popular choices for families with young children are Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and Poodles. They can be very protective of their humans, especially children.
Size matters if you’re living in a small apartment with no yard or ample space for a dog to run around. Dogs need exercise just as much as they do food and affection. Of course, if space is an issue in your home, it just won’t make sense to get a St. Bernard or a Newfie as these breeds could very well take over the whole place and make it their own.
If space is a challenge, get a small to medium sized dog. Beagles, Collies and Bulldogs are among the kid-friendly choices of this size range.
If someone in your household has respiratory issues, then pick one that doesn’t shed, otherwise known as hypoallergenic dogs. Take note though no dog is 100% hypoallergenic. According to the American Kennel Club, “there are a variety of breeds that do well with allergy sufferers. These dogs have a predictable, non-shedding coat which produces less dander. Dander, which is attached to pet hair, is what causes most pet allergies in humans”. Terriers, Shih Tzus, and Poodles are known to be hypoallergenic.
The good thing about dogs with high energy levels is that they make great exercise buddies. They can be great playmates for your little one, but some dogs may not be aware of their size and force, and could knock down your child during playtime.
We found our new fur baby during our visit to a third shelter—Chutney, a one-year-old beagle, surrendered to the shelter by its owners who had to relocate permanently abroad. My daughters and I took one look at Chutney and oh my, it was just impossible to walk out without taking him with us. He somehow managed to puppy-eye his way out into me and my daughters’ affections!
It hasn’t been all rainbows and unicorns since we brought Chutney home, but it has been a priceless experience for our family so far. I’m thrilled to know that my daughters will also grow up and experience having a canine companion, just as I did with our yellow Lab Cheese (bless his soul in dog heaven).
I know, though, that getting a dog also means I’m adding one to my children count. By default, parents—not just kids—are also signing up to a lifetime commitment when they get a dog.
So mamas, here’s my final tip: Only get a family dog, if you can commit to being there until they breathe their last. It’s a valuable lesson that you, your child, and any human being can learn--to make good on your word and to be there when it matters the most.