I'm often approached and asked by families considering getting a dog, what breed we would recommend for small children. We always ensure that first and foremost the family is aware of the commitment in taking on a dog or puppy. A dog can aid children in confidence growth but it is vital you ensure you get the best fit for each personal situation. Sadly many dogs found in rescue centres are a result of little research into the breed of dog and training required, especially where young children are involved.
Looks are often the first attraction when choosing a breed. In truth, temperament and characteristics should be the primary consideration, especially when young children are involved. There are many things to consider and it can be confusing so let's take a look at some of them.
Puppy or adult
There are benefits to both so you will need to think carefully about your own situation and circumstances. Getting an adult dog which has previous history of living with children of a similar age can be advantageous. They may already be trained and calmer than a puppy however it would not be advisable to take on a dog without knowing its full history when young children are considered. Puppies on the other hand offer you with the option to train it yourself whilst growing within the child's environment. However, puppies are very demanding and require consistent training. They also tire quickly which sometimes frustrates children who wish to play. Small pups can get under foot so care needs to be taken when children are running round.
Size and energy levels
Firstly, you must consider your living environment as this will determine the best size of dog for your family. It is often a misconception that smaller dogs do not need as much room or exercise as bigger dogs and will be easier for young children to handle. Some small breed dogs have boundless energy requiring gardens and lots of exercise. High energy dogs are not always a good match with children due to their frantic nature. Consider if you have the time to give the dog the walks it requires. Certain small breeds, such as Pomeranians, are also unsuitable due to their bossy nature and Chihuahuas can be very nervy. Both these characteristics can result in an over protective or snappy nature.
Some large breeds such as German Shepherds are considered fantastic around children yet there stature and strength can often be overpowering and can knock younger children off their feet.
Medium sized dogs are not too small to trip over and not too big to knock kiddies over so this is an ideal size when taking everything into consideration.
At a young age, children do not always understand the necessity of calm and gentle actions around dogs and may cause unintended roughness though chasing, shouting and pull at ears and tails etc. Although not intended in a threatening manner, the dog will not understand this and may try to defend itself. We therefore always advise that the breed temperament is fundamental in the decision making process as you will want a breed that is tolerant of younger children.
Firstly consider the breed type ie what was the dog bred to do. This element is often overlooked yet it important to understand each breeds natural instinct. Herding dogs, such as Border Collies, have a strong chase drive, and guard dogs, such as Rottweiler's and Dobermans can be over protective. Gun dogs, on the other hand, have a retrieving instinct that can lend itself to playing with children. Essentially you want to look for a breed with playful, social and patient characteristics.
It is important to note that a dog from a particular breed that may not be considered 'child friendly' has the potential, with the correct upbringing, socialisation and training, to be a fantastic addition to a family with younger children.
Intelligence / Training
Whether you intend to introduce a puppy or adult to young children, it is best to look for a breed which is easily trainable. Training requires dedication and consistency so it is imperative that you seek out a responsive breed that is willing to learn. Some breeds, for example Boxers, can be stubborn and challenging when it comes to training. They require an experienced and dedicated owner whereas Poodles are eager to learn and learn fast which is ideal for a family with younger children.
All dogs, whether puppies or adult dogs will need training when being introduced into a new family environment. First and foremost we always highlight the fact that small children must always be supervised around dogs. It is always advisable to socialise puppies with small children, even if you do not have children of your own. You never know when family members or children on the park may approach your dog in later life.
Owning a dog can be a fantastic learning opportunity for children however, they must learn how to respect them. The caring process can be shared between adults and children, which is a good way to teach responsibility, so involve children in grooming and feeding for example.
Teach children clear behavioural dos' and don'ts when around dogs. Firstly, always use a gentle hand with any dog. Do not allow children to tease, carry, play aggressive games or force themselves onto the dog. It is not a toy. A friendly dog who wishes to interact will often approach the children so allow this natural process to take place. Keep children away from the dogs when it is sleeping or feeding as they are often in a state where they may go into protective mode.
Advise children to keep their face away from a dogs face and do not put hands over a dogs head. If a child wishes to be affectionate, ensure the dog is in a relaxed frame of mind and touch on chest or behind ears as dogs find this less threatening.
We often make the mistake of believing that dogs are like humans, therefore believing that children are safe around them. With correct interaction and an understanding of canine body language and postures, a trusting relationship can be possible.