So you’ve finally succumbed to the constant pleas of “Mummy, can we have a dog?” Or you’ve decided that a family pet would be ideal to teach your children responsibility and compassion. But if you’re thinking about adding a canine member to your family, which breed should you choose?
There is No Perfectly Safe Breed of Dog
Beware of relying too much on breed stereotypes. While there are general breed characteristics, it is all down to the individual dog and any breed of dog can be dangerous. A survey of dog bites in Britain showed that Golden Retrievers were actually the most common attackers, despite the media hype about “dangerous dog breeds”. Thus, there are docile Rottweilers and aggressive Labradors; meanwhile toy breeds (eg. the Chihuahua) – often selected for children because of their small size – can be nervous and snappy whilst many of the giant breeds can be surprisingly gentle despite their huge size.
The golden rule when dealing with children and animals of any kind. Even the most placid and tolerant dog can become agitated by teasing or rough handling, whilst many puppies can be very clumsy and boisterous, unintentionally hurting a young child.
Know Your Children
Do you have quiet, gentle children or noisy, boisterous kids? Are they naughty toddlers or moody teenagers? Keeping in mind your children’s daily routines will help you select a suitable canine playmate. An athletic sporting breed such as the German Short-Haired Pointer might be the ideal companion for an active teenager whilst a more placid breed, such as the Bassett Hound, might be more suitable for a shy bookworm.
Look for a Good Breeder
A breeder who tests for hereditary problems, only breeds from dogs with good temperaments and rears their puppies in a “home environment” where they are well-socialised, is worth their weight in gold and will save you a lot of trouble and heartache.
Choose the Right Puppy
Regardless of breed, there will be a range of personalities in each litter. For the average household, it is best to go with the “middle puppy” – ie. not the one who charges forward first to greet you (this will be the confident, dominant puppy who may be too much for a busy family with children to handle) nor the one hanging back or cowering in the corner (this puppy is too shy or nervous and again, might not deal well with a busy household). Pick the puppy that approaches you but does not climb too much all over you or try to mouth your hands and clothes too aggressively. It should not panic if there is an unexpected loud noise (eg. clapped hands) nor struggle too much if it is held and restrained.
Having said all that, there are certain breeds with child-friendly reputations, so here are a few firm family favourites:
Shih-Tzu– full of infectious, extrovert enthusiasm, these intelligent little dogs are fun companions although they can be independent and wilful too! Pug– friendly, affectionate character which may suffer in humidity and heat, due to their short faces. Despite their small size, they are not snappy or nervous like many toy breeds and are low maintenance (minimal grooming and exercise) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel– energetic playmate with loving nature who will adapt to any lifestyle but needs regular exercise and grooming of its long, silky coat. Heart disease is a problem in this breed. Border Terrier– a compact, robust, short-coated dog that’s great for families with active children. Good watchdogs although terrier-characteristics have to be kept in check, such as digging! Beagle– happy, sociable, ideal family dogs although not the easiest to train as, being a scent hound, they become obsessed once they pick up a scent trail and will ignore all commands. Staffordshire Bull Terrier– a powerful, muscular dog which is nevertheless tolerant and affectionate with children and devoted to its family. Highly intelligent and fearless, it can be slightly combative with other dogs if not well-socialised from young. Cocker Spaniel– sensitive, affectionate and intelligent little dog which requires some grooming and a fair amount of exercise. They have keen hunting instincts and can be strong-willed. Labrador/Golden Retriever– good-natured and eager to please, the Lab’s love of water can be a nuisance as it will find any puddle available; they both also enjoy retrieving and carrying things around. Labs are energetic and require a lot of exercise but also adore food. The Golden has a longer coat which needs more grooming.
* NOTE: Many of the giant breeds, such as the Newfoundland, St Bernard and Great Dane are renowned for their placid natures and gentle tolerance of children – however, they have a lengthy period as huge, clumsy, boisterous puppies and as such, are generally unsuitable for households with young children.