Dear AnnieDear Considering
Let’s start with your last question. Research indicates benefits for infant health and immune function, such as 31% fewer respiratory illnesses and 44% fewer ear infections, in infants who shared a home with a canine companion.
While an infant can’t take care of a pet, a toddler can begin helping to do so. A two-year-old can practice fine motor skills through scooping food. A four-year-old can practice math by measuring the amount of food the pet needs. Grooming the pet teaches the child the importance of proper hygiene. Playing with the pet can enhance the child’s social skills as well as provide physical exercise for child and pet.
Pets help parents teach children empathy and responsibility. A child’s question of “Why do I have to feed Fido right now?” can lead to a discussion of how the child feels when he is hungry or, for a budding future scientist, a discussion on a body’s need for energy for metabolism. Remember, however, the overall responsibility for the pet is yours as the adult in the family. Above all, youngsters should ALWAYS be supervised with pets to ensure the safety of both the child and the animal.
The answer to your final question is dependent upon a number of considerations. How active is your family’s lifestyle? How much of the day is there someone at home? How much stress is there in the environment? While pets have been shown to reduce stress in individuals, not all animals do well in stressful situations. A high stress home will need to look for a dog with an easy going, well-adjusted personality. An active family that enjoys hiking and outdoor activities might do well with an active dog such as a border collie. There are many websites that will help match your family’s lifestyle with an appropriate breed of dog.
I would recommend that a family with small children not get a small breed, or a young puppy, as they would be more prone to accidental injury by a toddler. Yet a large breed dog may be more likely to injure a small child inadvertently during play. So, for families with small children, a medium breed dog may be the most appropriate. While a specific breed is easy to choose based upon the known characteristics of the breed, a mixed breed dog can embody the best traits of several breeds and have the additional benefit of not being predisposed to particular disease processes.
One of the best ways to choose a new dog for your family is to coordinate with your local animal rescue shelter and ask about dogs currently in foster families. The foster families will be able to apprise you of the dog’s personality and gauge whether he will fit into your family’s schedule and lifestyle.
On a personal note, my husband says that when we are ‘old and retired’, we will only have one dog, and it will be a golden retriever, a breed he states is the greatest of all dogs. Search diligently, and the best dog for you will find you!