My sister has just gotten a new puppy. Weighing in at a modest 12.5 pounds, Louis the Cane Corso is currently only a fraction of his expected adult weight of about 100 pounds (and shoulder height of nearly 28 inches). My sis is delighted to have him, un-housebroken and all. But big dogs aren't everybody's cup of tea — especially if you have tiny people to look out for. So, if you're pondering your own new addition to the family, there are several small dog breeds that are great around kids.
Of course, whatever type of dog you have your heart set on, there are some important guidelines to remember. "Every dog is an individual with a unique personality," says Pia Silvani (CPDT-KA, CCBC), Director at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center. "Wherever you decide to adopt your dog, you should expect to receive education on the dog's background (if known), energy level, how the dog gets along with people, children and other animals as well as information on what to expect and what to do when bringing the dog home."
If you're buying from a breeder, there's no way to know how a seven-week-old puppy is going to turn out, so Michael Wombacher, owner of Dog Gone Good in California and author of multiple training books, recommends that you meet one or both of the puppy's parents. "That’s going to tell you 90% of what your puppy’s going to be." If the breeder won't let you meet them or says they're "not that great with people," that's a red flag, he warns.
When adopting a small breed, the key is to find "a dog that’s robust but not too testy," says Wombacher. He recommends avoiding any dogs under ten pounds, because anything that small or delicate won't be able to handle the playful advances of an energetic five-year-old. Silvani agrees. "Young children tend to think small dogs enjoy being picked up, carried, hugged, dressed up, and much more. Children need to learn that dogs should not be treated like a toy or stuffed animal."
So Wombacher advises looking for “a small dog with a big dog personality.” If you're looking for compatibility with kids, he recommends against breeds like Yorkshire terriers, who are "a little delicate and sensitive on the whole;" chihuahuas, who "tend to be testy, neurotic, fearful, maybe even a little too small to handle what kids can dish out;" and Shiba Inus, who are "very testy little dogs, more like cat-dogs, and their threshold for being manhandled and roughed up is very low."
But no matter what kind of furry friend you opt for, Wombacher's fundamental rule is that dogs and children should never be left unsupervised together for any reason until the child is 10 years old. This is because of the high risk of dog bites: About 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and young children between five and nine are the most likely victims. In Wombacher's experience, this usually happens only when children are left alone with a dog, even for a short time. "I couldn't be more emphatic about it," he says. "You shouldn’t allow yourself to have a false sense of confidence because you think 'my dog is so friendly and would never.'"
So, until your kid turns 10, you'll want to make sure you're helping him learn appropriate ways to interact with your fur baby. "Show your child what gentle, enjoyable petting looks like. Teach him to stoke and scratch your dog in her favorite spots," recommends Silvani. But don't forget the fun, she adds: "Teach your child to play structured games with your dog, like fetch, tug, and hide-and-seek. Training games, trick and clicker training are also a lot of fun for both kids and dogs."
You'll also want to teach your dog the best ways to interact with humans of all sizes. "You may consider enrolling your dog in a reward-based pet obedience class with an instructor who welcomes children so that your child can learn to be with his dog in a gentle, effective way," says Silvani. "Involve your child in the day-to-day care of your dog such as feeding, potty training, exercise, and respecting the dog's resting time."