Choosing the right dog for your family

Choosing the right dog for your family

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By Dr. Matthew Kearns

Nothing makes a better gift for the family than a little bundle of barking fur. The expectation is that this is not only the perfect surprise, but also a relationship and responsibility builder for your children. How do we choose a puppy that is friendly and safe?

As with human development, a puppy’s temperament (personality) is determined by both genetics and environment. Purebred dogs will generally have different temperaments: retrieving, herding, hunting/guarding, etc, and come in different sizes. The type of dog chosen should match with your family’s activity levels, number and age of children, etc.

If you have younger children it is good to choose a breed that is big enough to not be injured by your child, but not too big as to knock your child into next Tuesday as the puppy develops into an adult dog. Also take into account that certain breeds may be very good with you and your children but may see your children’s friends as unwanted intruders. This not only becomes dangerous to guests, but also a potential financial liability for you.

Good breeders will match their dogs to appropriate families but poor breeding (puppy mills) can be dangerous. When purchasing a puppy from a breeder, the puppy is usually somewhere between 8-10 weeks old. This is a key time for the puppy to bond with your family (including younger family members) and quickly consider everyone part of their new “pack.”

Adopting from a shelter or rescue group is a noble but uncertain endeavor. The actual genetics is somewhat of a guessing game, and many of these puppies have traveled great distances with other dogs under stressful circumstances. When first introduced these puppies may appear calm (even timid) but it can take many days to weeks for their true personality to emerge. That does not mean that every dog from a shelter has a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. However, make sure that the shelter or rescue has a clear (and timely) return policy if things aren’t working out.

Your own family dynamic plays a role. Children younger than school age can pose a problem. Toddlers are curious, but also are grabby and impulsive. What seems harmless (pulling at hair, stealing toys/food) could become a potentially dangerous point of conflict. This is very true as the puppy matures into a young adult dog.

What was once tolerable a few months ago as a puppy is now taken as an act of aggression or challenge. Therefore, many experts that recommend only adopting adult dogs with a proven temperament from a shelter if you have children or children under school age (6-7 years). An added benefit of an adult dog is that many times they are already housebroken (especially if spayed or neutered) and far less destructive than a puppy.

I hope this information is helpful in choosing the right dog for your home this holiday season. I want to wish all of the readers of this column both a safe and joyous holiday season and happy 2016. I also want to thank both Heidi Sutton, editor of the Arts and Lifestyles section, as well as all the staff of the Times Beacon Record and affiliates for another great year.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years.