When Should I Get My Child a Dog…and What Should We Get?

A few years back I wrote an article about what was the best age to get your child s dog and what breed you should get. Apparently over the last few years, this article has been viewed numerous times, so our editor asked me to go over it, update it a bit and maybe add a few more ideas along the way. For those of you who read the original article, I hope you find the add-ons helpful; for those of you reading it for the first time, I hope you also find it helpful and informative.

sad puppies shelterOver the many years I have been working with dogs and their people, I have heard so many different responses to this same question: “I promised my son a dog when he was old enough to take care of it” and “I told my daughter if she does well on her report card, we would get her a dog” and I have also seen the after-effects of this; the child reached the age the parent thought was necessary for them to get the dog, now the dog is used as a threat… “It’s your dog…. You wanted him and promised to take care of him. If you don’t clean up after him, we’re getting rid of him.” I have even had multiple customers call, asking me to take the dog to my house as a way to ‘show the child we mean business.”

So, let me explain a few things to help you make an informed decision on when it is right for your family to have a dog, and what dog might best suit your family. First, notice I said ‘for your family to have a dog.’ It is not realistic to think any child can be completely responsible for the care and well-being of a dog. While a child can help with many responsibilities, always remember… you will be the primary care taker. Ultimately, the right age for your family to get a dog is when it is something you want and you are ready for the commitment.

Similarly, I have also been asked many times over the years about getting a second dog… usually the typical time I am asked about this is when the kids are old enough to go to school full time and the stay-at-home parent is going back to work, and they think Fido needs a companion. We dog trainers have a saying about this, “Never get your dog a dog.” If you want a second dog and are ready for the commitment of a second dog, that is fine. But there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • There is no guarantee that your current dog will be as excited about another dog living in their home as you expected him to be.
  • If you think Fido is going to train the second dog, you are going to be very disappointed. If they do get along, and all is fine, while there are certain things the new dog will learn from Fido, they still need to be taught by you how to behave and follow commands.
  • Seriously reflect on the training you did with your first dog… If your reason for getting another dog is because you do not have as much time for the first dog as you would like, and therefore think they may be lonely, ask yourself realistically if you are going to have the time to do the necessary training for dog number two!

If you have made the decision that you want (and are ready for) a dog (or a second dog), the next step is research. Learn what you can about the different dog breeds. It is not enough to Google something like “Best Dogs For Kids.” It is not a bad place to start… and may list some breeds that are generally not good with kids, like a Chow Chow or a Lhasa Apso, but it is way too general. Just like every child is different, so is every dog. You want to do this prior to walking into a shelter or finding a breeder because these places have a way of tugging at your heart-strings, and the majority of the time, you will end up getting a dog on impulse. Whether it is because you couldn’t bear to leave the dog there, or because it is just so adorable… Remember, all puppies are adorable, but just like your kids, they grow up. So having a basic knowledge of dog breeds will help in your decision. Also, you don’t want to choose one for an individual family member (yourself included) but decide on what is going to be best for the entire family.

I had a friend that had decided to get a puppy, only she insisted it had to be very tiny… what they call a ‘teacup’ Yorkshire Terrier. She had a two year old and a four year old. I told her I did not think this was a great breed for her specific family. When she insisted she had always wanted one, I told her, “If you had always wanted a two seat convertible, and you were pregnant, would this be an ideal car for you?” Sometimes you can get away with saying things to a friend to get your point across that you just couldn’t say to a customer!

So how do you choose?

I have compiled a list of some important questions that may aid you in your decision making process.

  • What are your children’s ages? This is an important question because if you have a small or young child, a tiny dog might not be the best choice for you, as it wasn’t for my friend. Why not? Because little kids’ hands are often unsteady, or move very quickly… two things that can frighten a small dog, or make them feel like their safety is threatened. This is when they tend to go into the ‘fight or flight’ mode we talked about in other articles. And a very large breed dog can easily knock over a toddler or young child. So for these reasons, a medium sized dog might be your best option. One that is big enough to feel secure with small hands, but small enough to not topple over a little child.
  • Are there any allergies? For those of you that do not know what it is that makes people allergic to dogs, there are three things that most commonly make people react: The fur, the dander, and the saliva. Many people mistakenly think that a dog with a short coat will shed less than a dog with a long coat, but it is actually the opposite. Dogs with a short coat usually have fur, while most dogs with long coats have hair. Dog hair, just like our hair, grows, which is why they need to be groomed every 4 – 6 weeks (depending on how short you like to keep the coat.)
  • Are you a cleaning fanatic? Dogs with short coats, especially ones that may have feathering by the ears, paws, and tail need to be brushed so they do not become matted and tangled. The shedding is worse in the summer and the spring (what people call the shedding season). Dogs with long coats need to be brushed daily and be groomed to keep the hair short. And find out which dogs are droolers! If you are a neat-freak, a mastiff is not for you!
  • What are the finances like? Another important question. Big dogs come with higher expenses…. vaccinations and medicines, they eat more, have much bigger poops, etc. Also, some boarding facilities charge more for larger dogs, so if your family vacations a lot, you might want to consider this a factor as well. And if you prefer to vacation with your dog, many hotels (even pet friendly ones) have weight restrictions on dogs you can have. As for grooming needs, a non-shedding dog needs to be groomed regularly. (Some people buy the clippers and learn to do it themselves to save money.) You also want to consider the genetic dispositions of a breed if finances are tight. i.e. many people get bulldog pups because they are cute, fat and wrinkled… but most do not know that in general, it is a very unhealthy breed that requires quite a bit of money to properly take care of. They suffer from hip, skin, breathing and eye problems, have allergies, and have a short life-span.
  • Is your family a very active one or more sedate? Again, an important thing to consider. Many places are pet friendly nowadays, and allow you to take the dog with you. If you all enjoy camping, hiking and swimming, a dog like a bulldog who has difficulty breathing and a very low stamina is not the ideal pet for you. A Retriever or a Beagle might be a better choice. Same holds true in the opposite end of the spectrum. If you are a laid back family that prefers reading or TV, then a dog like a Weimeraner, who is in constant motion, will be more of a source of frustration for you than an enjoyable pet, and a dog like a Border Collie will not be content just lying around all day doing nothing… they are happiest with a job or task to focus on and their boredom can lead to serious destruction of your precious things!
  • Dog Taking Happy Handsome Black Boy Child for WalkAre your kids outgoing or shy? A shy quiet child may not do well with a bossy herding dog, like the Australian Shepherd or a dog that needs a firm upper hand such as a German Shepherd or a terrier. Or even a Golden Retriever puppy that calms down quite a bit when they are older, but are definitely a handful and a ball of energy when they are babies! They may do better with something like a Havanese, who is content to hang out with humans of any age and rarely challenges authority. But the flip side of that is that if you have a very loud and boisterous family, that may frighten or intimidate a small dog like the Havanese. You might be better off going with a dog more secure with itself, like a West Highland White Terrier (Westie) or a Bearded Collie.
  • How helpful, in general, are the kids when it comes to chores? If every chore your child is asked to do turns into an argument, do not think the dog is going to be any different. They will enjoy all of the fun things with the dog, but it will become a battle when it is time to do the ‘not-so-fun’ boring everyday things, like feeding, brushing, walking and cleaning up after him. It is this reason I stress please do not use getting a dog as a reward for good behavior. I have heard all of the promises kids make beforehand to get a dog, but rarely are they followed through with, especially when they have something else much more interesting on their minds than letting the dog out and waiting until he is done to let him back in.
  • How obedient do you want your dog to be, and what steps are you willing to take to ensure this happens? Remember, just like kids, dogs are not born with good or bad manners, they must learn them. But unlike children, what is instinctual and acceptable in a dog’s world is very different from what is acceptable in ours. Another potential issue is, if you decide on getting a rescue dog that is a little older, it has been raised in another person’s house… and what was acceptable to his original owner may be very different in your house. For example, getting up on the furniture may have been perfectly OK where he came from, but not in your house. So you have to remember that some training will be necessary. And although the kids can help with many of the dog’s needs, like feeding him, remember, it is very important that you always supervise their interactions.
    • You can’t just tell a child to ‘feed the dog’ without first teaching the dog to sit and stay and wait until their food is placed on the floor. An over-excited dog or pup is likely to jump up on the child, and may accidently hurt them.
    • Do not allow your small child to walk the dog on the leash outside until you have taught the dog not to pull. Otherwise, a nervous or excited dog can run into the street, pulling your child with them.
    • Finally, a small child will not know how to be very careful with a wire dog brush around sensitive areas like the eyes and ears, so they must be taught how to do it properly.

I will end this by giving you a link that may help you on your journey in finding the right dog for you and your family. It’s a questionnaire that you can fill out and it will give you several options of dogs that might be a good match for you and your family, and also recommend my favorite book Choosing a Dog For Dummies to help you chose the right breed for your family. The reason I personally like this book is because when I want a quick synopsis on a breed, I do not want to have to search twenty pages to find the one thing I am looking for. In this book, each page focuses on the highlights of one breed: Temperament, size full grown, good with kids, protection level, grooming needs and genetic issues to look out for.

Still not sure…call a professional and ask their opinion – the IACP always has folks willing to help.

Happy dog hunting!

About the Author

I trained as an EMT in NY, than recertified in Atlanta. I loved being an EMT and was involved with it for several years. I worked on the “Rainbow Response Unit” at Egleston’s Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, and when not on a call, worked in the PICU and NICU, which was both a blessing as well as a heartache because I learned and saw so much. Helping to create a child safety seat for ambulances was my way of making sure children who were already compromised health-wise, would not be put in any more danger. When I realiized I could no longer be an EMT due to medical reasons, I found an alternate outlet for my desire to nuture and protect; I became a dog trainer...something that was always a second love and passion for me. Now, whenever possible, I combine my passion for children and canines by working to make the world a safer place for both. Suzanne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team


6 Responses to “When Should I Get My Child a Dog…and What Should We Get?”

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  2. Dogs are Life says:

    Great article!! My wife and I have one child. He is only 1 year old. We are planning to get a puppy someday… but want to wait for our son is old enough to remember and truly appreciate the whole concept of getting a forever puppy best friend. We want him to be a part of the choosing of the dog and the naming. We are planners but we dont have a clue on the right age of our child should br to get a family dog. Some people say 3 years old… some say 5… some say 8 or even 11 years.
    It’s sort of like the age old question How old should my kid be to go to Disney world etc??
    We would love a pediatricians point of view on this topic.

  3. Thoko Joyce Ramango says:

    Hi,my daughter really like dogs she is 9 yrs old.She’s asking me to buy her a dog,she promised to take care of him,she said she doesn’t want female dog,she want a male dog and I am looking forward to help her how to take care of her dog.Pls help

    • Hello Thoko Joyce Ramango. Thank you for taking the time to read our article…. we are very pleased you enjoyed it and found it helpful.

      As stated above in the article, the best time to get your child a dog is when YOU are prepared to have one. It is very important that you understand this, because while a nine year old can handle many aspects of dog ownership, ultimately it is you (or other adults in the household) who will ultimately be responsible for its care and well being. It is not realistic to think a 9 year old can be solely responsible for the dog’s care…. no matter how much they promise!

      There are many things involved in dog care that a nine year old is just not capable of doing. For example, yes, they can take them out for a walk, they can feed them…. but a nine year old is not able to remember when vet visits need to be scheduled, nor can they get to them without assistance. There are times medicines must be administered (if the dog gets a cold or injured, or even spayed or neutered!) and monthly flea and tick treatments need to be administered as well, which young children should not be handling.

      Also, during the early stages of housebreaking, the puppy must go out frequently….. while your child is in school, it will be you or other adults in the household that must tend to those walks. On top of that, it is really not healthy for a child of nine years old to be cleaning up accidents.

      Also, a few tips regarding male/female….. I highly recommend you decide what personality attributes you want your pup to have and figure out a size and energy level that will fit in well with your family. If you find a puppy with a great temperament, that is the right size, and the right energy level, do not pass it up because it is not a male. Unlike shoes, where if the size 5 is too small, you can request the exact same size and color in a five and a half or a six, each puppy’s personality is very unique to them, so don’t risk missing out on a great pup just because it is not a male.

      You can also ask your daughter why she does not want a female. Sometimes it is as simple as the child has already chosen a name, now they just need the pup to give it to. This issue can be solved in a very fun way by sitting down on the internet and you can both have some fun looking up female puppy names and female variations on the name she has chosen.

      While an adult may want a male because they do not want to deal with a female dog’s heat cycle, usually a nine year old is a bit young for this to be her reason. But if it is (you never know!!) you can easily assure her that when the pup turns 6 months, the vet can fix it so that does not happen. How much you want to explain to her is really your call!!

      Hope this helped, and good luck!


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