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A Canine for the Kids? What to Know When Considering a New Puppy

© 2014 The American Kennel Club, Inc.

Choosing the right breed to fit your family’s lifestyle

After hearing “Please can we get a dog?” from your children for the one-thousandth time, perhaps you are considering adding a canine to the family portrait. With 167 AKC-recognized breeds, there are many suitable options for families of all ages and activity levels. Some important first steps include going to a dog show to talk to breeders and consulting dog-owning friends and neighbors to get a clear picture of what the commitment requires. Below are key questions that need to be considered when choosing your family dog:

  • How old are your children? – When considering a suitable breed for your family, don’t assume a smaller breed will be less work. Every breed requires its own manner of care, has a unique temperament and exercise needs. And, regardless of breed, all puppies are fragile and no child should be left unsupervised with a dog of any age.
  • Which family member will serve as the main caretaker? – Even if you’re getting the dog for the kids, as the adult you are ultimately responsible for any pets you choose to bring into your house. If the kids fail to feed or walk the dog, it’s you who will wind up with the extra chores! It’s also important to consider the preferences and needs of all family members in your decision. Is your wife afraid of or allergic to dogs?
  • How active is your family and how much daily exercise are you willing and able to give your dog? – Can your family provide twice-daily extended walks and playtime or are you more likely to let your dog out in the backyard for exercise and bathroom breaks?
  • What are your family’s favorite activities? – If your family is the outdoors type, a sporting or herding breed such as a Labrador Retriever or a Border Collie that thrives on outdoor work may be a good match. For indoor types, a smaller, smooth-coated breed like a Boston Terrier or a Pug that enjoys the shelter of your home and constant companionship might be best.
  • Where does your family live? – Is your home on the farm or in a smaller city apartment? Try to match the breed’s needs with your living space.
  • How much does your family travel? – If you leave the dog at home, you will need to make arrangements for her care. You should have a well-established routine including an alternate “owner” for her when you are away.
  • Does your family have the financial resources to care for the dog? – While the purchase price is a one-time expense, there are a number of annual expenses such as food, vets bills and toys, which can add up to several hundred dollars. If the dog has an unexpected illness or injury, vet bills can run in the thousands of dollars.
  • Should my family get a puppy or an adult? – This question should be examined carefully. If you want a young puppy, consider that you are committing to a ten year (or longer) relationship. Puppies also require significant training. One option is to adopt a purebred rescue dog, which allows you the predictability of a particular breed, but means you don’t have to spend time and energy raising and training a puppy.
  • Where will I obtain my dog? – Once you’ve made your decision on a breed, go to to find responsible breeders who produce healthy, happy puppies.

Owning a dog can be a great way to bring your family together, get exercise and become involved in activities that are enriching for both dog and owner. Here are ten things you and your family can do with your companion.

1. Travel “canine” style: Pile your family into the car for a daytrip and visit dog-friendly parks, or beaches, (most parks indicate on their web sites whether and in what areas of the park dogs are allowed). Or if you’re up for a bigger excursion, consider a vacation with your four-footed friend. Check ahead for lodging that accepts dogs. If flying, ask about travel accommodations for your dog when you make your reservations.

2. Enroll in canine training classes: Puppy kindergarten, agility, obedience, rally or performance courses are great ways to train your dog, and if your entire family attends, all will be on the same page in regard to training techniques.

3. Become active in competitive dogs sports: Showing your canine companion in AKC Conformation, or participating in Obedience and Agility competitions is a family affair. AKC’s Junior Showmanship program allows children from ages 9-18 to compete in conformation and performance events, attend seminars, and earn scholarships while bonding with your dog. The events offer opportunities to get involved, stay fit, meet new friends and just have fun!

4. Take the AKC Canine Good Citizen® test: Enlist your family members to train your dog to achieve her AKC CGC® certification, designed to reward dogs that have good manners at home and in the community.

5. Dogs with jobs: Keep your dog active and alert by giving her tasks to complete. Kids can teach her to fetch their dirty laundry and put it in the hamper, while Mom and Dad can train her to fetch the morning paper, carry groceries or empty the dryer.

6. Encourage breed behavior: Find family activities that will encourage your dog to fulfill her breed’s purpose, such as retrieving (playing fetch in a swimming pool) or becoming a certified therapy dog (ideal for companion breeds).

7. Responsibilities don’t have to be “ruff”: Assigning roles and responsibilities to care for your new four-legged friend can help you and your family work together. Decide who will be responsible for feeding, walking, grooming, etc. Prepare a schedule before bringing your puppy home and assign each family member a task.

8. Visit the vet: A trip to the veterinarian can be a good learning experience for the entire family. Routine check-ups will help keep your dog in top form and can also help teach the children a thing or two about the importance of health and well-being.

9. Help your dog help others: Dogs are invaluable in providing service to humans – visiting the sick, helping the disabled, locating missing persons, and much more. If your dog is of the correct temperament, your family and she can reap the rewards of helping others together!

10. Spend some downtime with your dog: Simply put, one of the greatest things you and your family can do with your dog is play! So start a game of fetch with Fido – playing with your new friend isn’t only fun for her — it’s guaranteed fun for the entire family!


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