Did you know that there are 78 million dogs who have homes in the U.S. today? If you have kids, it’s likely that they have been begging to join the number of dog-loving families.
Of course, as you have probably been telling them, adopting a pet is a big decision. Even when you’ve determined that the time is right to get a dog, choosing the best first dog takes time and research.
Read on for some tips to choosing the perfect pet — and for making sure that your home is perfect for the pet you choose.
Set Some Ground Rules
We’ve all heard stories of kids who swear they’ll feed and water and walk and groom the dog — only to let such responsibilities slide when the latest Xbox game comes out, or when the weather turns inclement.
Establish upfront who will be responsible for each aspect of the dog’s care. If your kids aren’t old enough to help with much more than scooping kibble into the bowl, that’s OK, as long as you’re willing to do the rest.
Some dog breeds are more high-maintenance than others, so it’s important to make sure that their needs will be met before you bring them home.
How Active Is Your Family?
Dogs enjoy human companionship, and some breeds get downright destructive if they’re not given enough attention and company. If your family is on the go more often than not, you might be better off adopting a cat or delaying pet ownership altogether.
Shepherds, retrievers, and collies require a lot of vigorous exercise. That means they’re best suited to families who have a lot of land, or who will commit to regular outings to the dog park.
Apartment or city-home dwellers would do better with dogs that are content to take a quick jaunt around the block and play indoors. Think bulldogs, pugs, Bichon Frises, Shih Tzus, and smaller, toy breeds.
Consider the Temperament
The best first dog for your family will depend on the dog’s temperament — but also on your children’s. Homes with very young kids should choose gentle, protective dogs over those that are aggressive or even overly energetic.
Similarly, rescue dogs with behavioral issues might not be the best choice for families with small children.
Newfoundlands are gentle giants, and Golden Retrievers are also fantastic with kids. Despite their reputation, Pitbulls and pitbull mixes tend to be sweet dogs that do well in families.
Adopting a dog can be a real boon to special-needs children. However, this situation requires extra research, and maybe even a trial period, to ensure that everyone will mesh well together.
Puppies or Older Dogs?
Puppies are irresistible, but they also require a lot of time and effort. They will likely need to be housebroken, crate-trained, and otherwise shown how to live harmoniously with their humans.
If you and your family are willing to put in this effort, great! You will be rewarded with a devoted dog who will grow along with your family.
Adult dogs might require less training, and therefore transition into family life with more ease. Bear in mind, though, that adult rescues could come with behavioral problems. If a dog has been abused in the past, for example, you’ll need to use patience and kindness to teach her that she now has a safe, loving family.
Finding the Best First Dog Takes Time
In the movies, Dad goes to the pet store and picks out the most adorable puppy to bring home. The kids love it, the puppy is easily trained, and everyone lives happily ever after. This scenario does not reflect reality, however.
It may take weeks or even months to find the right pooch. Your dog might need to travel from an out-of-state rescue, or could be in foster care. Teach your children that not every cute pup out there will be the best first dog to adopt.
Unless you’re willing to spend a lot of money to purchase the exact breed you want, it’s important to be somewhat flexible. Most shelter dogs are mixes, so you’re not likely to stumble upon a purebred Pembroke Welsh Corgi at the local human society.
Many shelters will send email alerts set to your preferences, or you can put out word that you’re looking for a certain breed or mix. Just know that you can’t waltz into a shelter and expect your perfect pet to be waiting for you.
Speaking of Shelters vs. Breeders…
If you decide to go the breeder route, due diligence is necessary to find one who’s responsible. The American Kennel Club has some tips on choosing a good dog breeder.
Adopting a shelter dog, however, is a good lesson for children. Some 3.3 million dogs enter U.S. shelters each year, and many of those are eventually euthanized because they don’t find homes.
It can be heartbreaking to visit a shelter, especially with children in tow — you’ll want to adopt every dog, cat, bunny and guinea pig there. One tip for finding the best first dog for your family is for Mom and Dad to check out a potential pet by themselves.
If that dog seems like a good fit, then take the kids to visit, or see if you can arrange an in-home visit.
Steer Clear of Pet Stores!
Whatever you do, stay away from puppies for sale in pet stores. Although they may look adorable, they are all too often bred in puppy mills with inhumane conditions. Such animals may come with health problems, too.
The adoption process is a great opportunity to educate your children about animal cruelty, including the irresponsible breeding of puppies in mills.
Congratulations on Your New Family Member!
The days following an adoption are exciting ones. Don’t forget to bring your new canine friend to the vet for an initial checkup, and for spaying or neutering if necessary.
What dog breeds are you considering? Did you grow up with a particular best first dog? Let us know in the comments!