My almost-four-year-old has been asking for a dog for almost a year. How old should she be before we get her a dog, and what breed of dog is the best for little kids? --corallee
Lisa Rosenthal says:
I hesitate to say that there's a particular breed of dog that is good with all kids. Like people, dogs have different personalities. The key to a good fit is to take your four-year-old with you when you go to a local shelter to select a lovable four-legger. The staff there can help direct you to a dog that has exhibited personality traits suitable to your family and lifestyle (for example, are you very active or more quiet and sedentary?). Watch how your child interacts with the dog and how the dog interacts with your child. Does the child shy away from the dog? Does the dog run from the child? Those aren't good signs of compatibility. But if your daughter approaches the dog with confidence and the dog is friendly and runs to the child, these are good signs of compatibility and a good temperament.
Since your child is younger, you will have to take care of a good part of the "maintenance" of any animal you adopt. However, having your child help you feed the dog, for example, will be a good time to teach her a lesson in responsibility. My book A Dog's Best Friend provides all kinds of fun activities for your child to share with your dog. Playing scenting games will teach her about animal instincts; acting out a dog-day story will give her a chance to exercise with your dog; and baking dog biscuits that they both can enjoy (made from all-natural ingredients) will make a great afternoon snack.
I think that any time is the right time to bring a four-legged member into your family. They give so much love and can teach your children important life lessons. Good luck!
A lifelong pet owner, Lisa Rosenthal is the author of A Dog's Best Friend: An Activity Book for Kids and Their Dogs, a guidebook to help children develop a friendship with their dogs.