Nearly a year ago, we said goodbye to our family dog, Rudy. He lived for almost 15 years and had a full life. But no matter how many times we tried to reassure ourselves of that, we were grief-stricken. Rudy, it turns out, was more than just our furry family member — he was also the carrier of so many of my childhood memories with my parents and siblings. Lately, I've begun to wonder about the possible inclusion of a dog in our home, but I am also curious about the best age for kids to get a dog. My daughter is only about to be 3 and we already have four adopted cats (yes, I know), so I don't know if there are guidelines for these kinds of things. That's why I called on a few experts to lend their insight.
For starters, notes Russell Hartstein, the CEO of Fun Paw Care and provider of celebrity dog training in Los Angeles, the answer varies with each family. "The biggest mistake families make is thinking their child or adolescent will help with the dog responsibilities," he tells Romper in an email interview. "This won't happen nine out of 10 times."
So what's that mean to you? Make sure you and/or your partner are willing to be up all night helping a puppy acclimate to their new home and don't count on your kids to take charge of cleanup duties. If you're not up for meeting these needs, then you're going to want to think twice about getting a dog.
Also important? Hartstein says regardless of your child’s age, an adult family member should always be present to supervise and teach a child how to pet, walk, respect, play, train, and handle a dog. Children and even adolescents should not be left alone with a dog.
According to The Spruce, it's a good rule of thumb to teach kids of all ages that they should never approach a dog without adult permission, nor one that appears anxious, stressed or fearful. They should also learn to never run toward a dog or invade their personal space, the website noted.
"Generally speaking, the older the child is, the more help and more responsible they can be around and interacting with the pet," Hartstein says. "However, each family member is different. Regardless of age, hiring a trainer and behaviorist will be valuable lesson and investment for the entire family to help keep each family member safe and to educate all on the dog and their specie-specific needs."
As for the types of dogs that work best with kids, Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Collies, and Dalmatians are a few breeds to consider. Adoption is also a wonderful option, just be sure to take breed, size, age, and disposition into consideration as you are making your decision, suggested DiamondPet.com.
"The best 'starter' breeds also depend on the kind of lifestyle a family leads," Alexandra Bassett, a a professional dog trainer and the owner at Dog Savvy Los Angeles, tells Romper. "[For example,] active breed dogs like Golden Retrievers are known to be affable, loyal family dogs, but also need a lot of exercise and stimulation, so they do well with families that lead active outdoorsy lifestyles."
Heidi McBain, a Texas-based licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Romper in an email interview that her family's Labrador Retrievers turned out to be perfect dogs for her children, who were young when they first welcomed the pair into their home. "The dogs were very sweet and gentle with the kids, but I always needed to make sure that they we getting along, as this was the age of kids crawling on the dogs, kids trying to ride on top of the dogs like they were ponies, as well as pulling their tails and poking at their eyes and ears."
McBain says now that her kids are 12 and 9, she feel like they have more of a relationship with their dog, and they help feed him, take him on walks, clean up after him, and play with him. "I feel like they get to be involved in the whole caring-for-a-dog picture now, versus them just seeing the dogs as big, furry play things when they were little." And a pair of helping hands is really all any poop-scooping mom can hope for, am I right?
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.