Spoiler alert: there isn’t one. Wha?? Nope. Just because a dog is one of a breed that is “supposed” to love kids, doesn’t mean that dog will love kids. But there are individual dogs who are great with kids. (With proper training of both dog and kids) In this blog post, we’re going to dive into the characteristics of great family dogs and how to decide if a dog is right for you. Special thanks to Colleen Pelar for her book Living with Kids & Dogs, which inspired this post. Without further delay, let’s jump in!
1. Introvert or Extravert?
You definitely want a family dog that’s outgoing and loves to be in the middle of everything. He should be friendly with strangers and thoroughly enjoy being with your kids. Look for the signs of a happy dog: big goofy grin, relaxed ears, soft eyes, wiggly waggy bum, leaning into the person. An introverted dog who doesn’t particularly enjoy all the craziness can’t be expected to just “get used to it.”
2. What’s his energy level?
Many dogs from working breeds like retrievers and herding dogs have a high energy level and need regular exercise to keep them sane. Ask yourself what your family’s activity level is. Are you willing to go on daily runs, or would you rather be curled up on the couch? Keep in mind that if you’re not able to keep the dog properly exercised and keep him busy, that energy has to go somewhere. Your dog will find something to do, and I guarantee you’re not going to like it. It could be digging, barking, destroying furniture, stealing objects, or any number of other inconvenient behaviors.
3. Does he guard food or objects?
This one’s a deal breaker. If you see a dog freezing, staring, growling, or snarling when someone comes near his prized possession, don’t walk, run. A dog who guards resources like food, toys, random objects, resting places, or even his owner is not compatible with family life. True, you can work to prevent an incident and implement training protocols to improve the problem, but the risk is too high. If you’re looking at adopting a dog, always ask questions about resource guarding and ask the owner or shelter worker to demonstrate how the dog reacts when someone comes close to something he has.
4. How big is he?
Size is another really important characteristic to look at. For a family with children, the dog should be at least 20 pounds as an adult. Small breeds are easily injured or frightened in the craziness of family life. They are also more prone to being carried (and dropped) by children.
5. Puppy or adult?
As adorable as puppies are, adding one to a household of kids is going to be one of the toughest jobs you’ll ever take on. Sorry, I had to be honest. It’s like adding a newborn baby to the mix. A TON of work. A well-behaved adult dog who loves kids is worth its weight in gold – but is equally hard to find. If you choose to go with an adult dog, look long and hard before taking a dog home. Ask lots of questions about the dog’s behavior. Does she bark at strangers? How does she act when she meets a new dog? Has she ever bitten a person or dog? Does she counter surf? Jump up on people? Have accidents in the house? Any destructive chewing? Separation anxiety? And anything else you can think of. Because behavior issues take a lot of work and dedication to resolve.
6. What’s your family’s idea of a perfect dog?
Have every member of the family (who can write, that is) make a list of the traits that would make up a perfect dog in their mind. The dog’s looks really aren’t that important; it’s how the dog behaves that will determine whether or not you have a happily ever after. When you’re done, compare the lists. Do you see some traits that most everyone wants? Consider making those traits priorities in your search for a dog.
7. Mom is the tie-breaker
That’s right. Mom has the final say over what kind of dog the family gets. Because even if the kids help out with the dog, Mom is almost always the one who is ultimately responsible for the dog for the next 12-15 years. Chances are, the kids won’t spend that much time with the dog once they hit the busy teen years. Then they’ll be off to college, and guess who will be keeping the dog. Yep. Mom will. So Mom needs to really, really like the family dog!
Getting a dog is a massive, ginormous, staggering, humongarific decision (did I emphasize that enough??) that will affect nearly EVERY part of your lives for years to come. So take your time, do your research, be the smart parent you are, and you’ll be miles ahead of the game.
Need more help so you can crush the whole family dog thing? Get access to our FREE mini course, the Family Dog Makeover here!