Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Lucky Dogs
Finding the right family pet

by Sarah McCosham

March 01, 2013

Approximately 40% of American households have at least one dog, according to the Humane Society – and as your kids get older, this is a topic that will most likely come up in your family. In fact, this subject recently made national news, as one Boston dad told his daughters they could get a puppy if they received one million “Likes” on Facebook. (After just 24 hours, the father had started his search for the newest family member.)

This is a humorous story, but the truth is, adopting a furry friend is a major decision. Below are some of the basics of dog ownership – plus special points to consider when mixing canines and kids.

The basics

Before adding a dog to your family, there are several things you should think about. In addition to adoption fees, which can range from $100 at a shelter, to upward of $300 at a breeder, the Humane Society estimates that families will spend an average of $249 annually on vet bills. Furthermore, food, grooming and boarding all add to the monthly budget.

In addition to the financials, there is another cost of dog ownership: time. Daily walks, grooming, play and training all take time – and some breeds require more from these categories than others, says Robin Herman, owner of Indianapolis’ Lucky Dog Retreat. For example, a high-energy Border Collie will need more exercise and play than a notoriously lazy dog, such as a Pug. Meanwhile, the long-haired Golden Retriever will require more daily grooming than the short-haired Lab.

Lastly, when adopting your dog, you need to make sure it will have a place in your household now and in the future. Jacob Wasserman, a veterinary student at The Ohio State University, adds that “knowing that a dog can be a part of your family for 12 to 15 years, and not just in the present picture, is a good way of looking at it.”

Dogs and kids together

If you have children, you should plan on doing some sort of training with your new dog, says Connie Swaim, Director of Canine Training at the Humane Society of Indianapolis. “All dogs that live with children should go to training classes, regardless of the age of the dog,” she notes.

In addition, Swaim says that while parents may decide upon the “perfect” dog breed for their family, every dog is different. “A person should not fall into the trap of looking up a breed’s characteristics and assume that the dog they get of that breed will behave exactly like the description,” she says. Along these lines, never choose a dog without letting it interact with your children first. “Parents will be able to tell a lot about what to expect by seeing how the dog interacts with the kids.”

In fact, fostering a dog is a great way of getting acclimated to living with a four-legged friend, says Carolyn Evans, an animal activist and dog owner. After experiencing the loss of her dogs when her sons were little, Evans decided to foster a stray as a “test run” to see if it was a good match. Her family fell in love with the dog during that time, and they ended up adopting Abby into the family. Not long after, the Evans’ adopted Captain Jack, a puppy, as the kids were already used to the responsibilities of dog ownership.

Man (and child’s) best friend

No matter how old your kids are, you’ll probably end up being responsible for the animal’s care, too. However, depending on your kids’ ages, responsibilities such as feeding and walks can, and should, be doled out.

In addition to teaching kids about responsibility, Wasserman says that dogs show kids how to love. “Dogs are such loving creatures -- I've heard it said that dogs are the only entity that love you more than you love you.” 

This has proved true for Evans, who says she’s enjoyed watching her boys grow up with their two dogs. “There are lots of benefits to having a family dog, but nothing compares to the unconditional love a dog gives. For kids, having a pet is a great way to teach them about responsibility, love and compassion.”