After writing a post about the best animals to get for children, I decided that I was going to talk about dogs specifically. They are truly man’s best friend. They are the longest domesticated animal in human history. For 12,000 years dogs and humans have counted on each other to survive and thrive. We used them to help us find food, guard our families and belongings, herd livestock and help us mentally. This is much different to the stark contrast of the feline that was worshiped on a throne. That trait has never left cats.
I like to think about how this relationship got started between canines and homosapiens. I often imagine a man forced to go into the dangerous wilderness, fishing so that his family can have food. As he pulls out his first fish, he sees a wolf nearby. She stares him down, curious about this stranger. Because he fears for his life, the man throws the fish slowly in hopes that will distract the wild animal. She gladly takes the fish and runs off to take it to her pups. Day after day this happens and he continues to bribe his new tax collector. As they got a bit more comfortable, she would bring her pups to the river with her. But they are interrupted by a sound of a bear. When the bear comes into view, Mama Wolf goes into action. She barks and howls and scares the bear away. He sees the wonderful benefits and lures her with food back to his home and they live happily ever after.
Now, that is a bit of a romanticized. People who actually do research and don’t just daydream while they should be working, suspect that a symbiotic relationship started because we had to throw out food sometimes and we liked that they kept other things away. But I like my version a lot better.
Anyway, on to the actual topic. If you want to know what kind of pet that you should get for your children, click here. I go into detail about choosing the kind of pet that is right for your family and which pets to avoid. I also talk about the health benefits (both physical and mental).
Picking the right dog can make people nervous. It is wise to do lots of research and try to understand everything you can about the type of dog that you will get. But there is truly a breed that fits every lifestyle that is out there. With 12,000 years of selective breeding, you can find a breed for your family. There are dogs for running, pest control, farming, first responders, military and police, apartments, child care, disabilities; the list is nearly infinite.
There is no particular order to this list. And just like I said in my post about picking the right kind of pet, the right answer really depends on your needs, ability, lifestyle and living situation. I will also say that when it comes to dogs, most of them can be trained and loving. However, CAN and WANT are very different. I CAN take a month-long walk during the winter so that I can see the snow in New York City. But I WANT to just take an airplane.
Anyway, dog number 1: Staffordshire Terrier.
Man, these are good dogs. I have never had one but I have had 3 in my life via family and friends. I know what you are thinking “red alert, pit bull – bad!” But this simply is not true. First of all, pit bull is a bit of a colloquial term that blankets a few different breeds. This is easily the one that I would suggest. Pit bulls have a bad rap for a few reasons but they are all things that you can avoid.
1) people sometimes own them for dog fighting. It is those individual dogs who have been mistreated and taught to be aggressive, not the whole breed. Come on, it’s the 21st century, stop judging an entire group by a few bad apples. As a whole, they are very sweet dogs if the owner is a loving owner.
2) sometimes, usually those same people that fight them, don’t take proper steps to breeding the next generation. This means that they mate them incestuously instead of through another breeder that has a different bloodline.
Inbreeding (in many animals and humans) can cause excessive amounts of aggression, physical deformities and stupidity. If you ever purchase a purebred of any kind, the breeder should be able to give you proof with paperwork through the AKC, UKC or CKC. They record a few generations back. This is to prove that the dog is not inbred.
3) They have TONS of energy! If they are forced to live a sedentary lifestyle, they will not know what to do with themselves. This is actually one of the many reasons that they can be so good for children. If your kids love the park or play outside a lot, they are very happy to play along. But if they are going to be left alone a lot or stuck inside with no exercise, don’t get one. They will tear everything you own up.
They are such smart, friendly and loving dogs. When I was young, my former martial arts teacher had one named Chyna. The “little ninjas” (his youngest students) would just climb all over this poor thing. They are very trainable and did I mention that they are smart? My brother took her outside to go to the bathroom once and he came back into the martial arts studio saying “sifu, I don’t know what happened but Chyna is hurting. When we started going down the stairs, she started limping.”
“Did you put her on the leash?” my teacher asked.
My brother responded “yes, I don’t know how it could have happened. Maybe when we were going down the stairs.”
“No, she’s faking,” my teacher says.
Four of the people there just stared at him a little bit. He was a little known for saying eccentric and sometimes outlandish things. My mom said “dogs don’t fake injuries. She probably stepped on something.”
“Nah, she’s just faking.” My teacher reached down, took off the leash and off ran Chyna. I have a lot of stories like that. She was a very special dog. He could tell her to pose for pictures, she would crawl behind things to sneak away, she was just a cool dog. She didn’t even need a leash, she would always stay within 20ft.
But if you don’t have time to exercise them or don’t want a dog with such high energy, there are lots of other kinds of dogs that are great with kids. If you want a dog with similar qualities but want a bit less energy, American Bulldogs are just as great but with a bit calmer temperament. I had one growing up and she was amazing. She stuck close by, really smart, really every great quality Staffordshire Terriers have. You don’t have to believe me, but I swear that she went to the bathroom in the house two times, even at 8 weeks old. Both times were because we were gone too long and she couldn’t hold it. They are often confused with pit bulls, but you can tell the difference because of the underbite that American Bulldogs have and they are a bit bigger. They also were the working dogs, so they don’t have the same fight in them if that is your concern.
I would suggest a beagle if American Bulldogs and Staffordshire Terriers aren’t your thing. Beagles have some great qualities. They are loyal, lovable and snuggable. They are very sweet and welcoming. My neighbor had one when I was young and it was very nice. There are a few negative aspects to them. I will start by saying that two reputable websites say that their intelligence and trainability are high or medium. I wouldn’t have added this dog that high on the spectrum. Maybe he was a unique case, but he really wasn’t terribly smart.
One thing that all hounds have in common is their great nose and tracking ability. But that can also get them in trouble. You really can’t let them off of a leash if you are not in a designated area. The American Staffordshire and American Bulldog will stay pretty close unless they directly see a squirrel. But as soon as a hound smells a squirrel, it is gone and nearly impossible to get back until it is ready. They also sometimes like to howl in the night. So be ready to try to train that out of them. But really, if you want a safe, loving, lower maintenance dog, Beagles are great. However, they don’t like being left alone.
If you can deal with a giant, Great Danes are wonderful dogs. They are super friendly and love their families. They can be barkers, but not as bad as Beagles in my experience. The way that they awkwardly bounce around, you will find them very entertaining. If you can deal with the cost of dog food, they are winners in my book. Even though they were guard dogs and hunting dogs, there tends to be no issue if you socialize them. But it is pretty important that you teach them to be with other children and dogs when they are puppies. Great Danes can be shedders but also don’t take a ton of maintenance besides a brush. They are pretty trainable and want to please.
Labradors probably top the list of any suggested dog breeds. There is good reason for this, they are incredible dogs. Labs are sweet, loving, trainable and gentle. They are America’s most popular dog breed and for good reason. I am concerned that people may not realize that this breed needs a decent amount of exercise. They need a lot of activity! They are so nice but get destructive when they are not properly exercised. If you know anyone who has a bad Lab, it’s very likely because they are not exercised enough. They will work their way into the family quickly.
Now, if you have seen some of my other posts, you will know that I have an English Bulldog. I love her and she is great. If you have an apartment or for some reason are unable to take a dog out for lots of exercise, English Bulldogs are great.
One quality that I love about my Bulldog is that I basically have a comedian in my house. It may be partially because of the way that they look, but she makes me laugh every day. The emotions that she expresses through that silly face crack me up. And watching her waddle her way through the day is very entertaining. She is just as happy chilling on the couch or playing with the laser pointer.
Most people end up liking her. I once got on to an elevator at our old apartment and the elderly lady already on backs up as we entered the doors. She looks at my dog and said “your dog looks scary.” I told her “no, that is just her face. I promise, she is very nice.” As the lady looks back at that dumb face, my bulldog’s tongue flops out of her mouth and sits in front of the lady. She started laughing, said “I guess not.” And pet her the rest of the short ride.
Of all her great qualities, her intelligence is questionable. Sometimes I will see her do something that makes me think “wow, that was really smart.” Sometimes I will see her take 5 minutes to figure out that she can just go around the object in front of her instead of trying to shove through it. And shove through it she will. They are known for being extremely determined. There is a reason that they are the number one mascot for sports teams. But I genuinely don’t know where to put them on the intelligence level. Again, her appearance doesn’t help her case.
I suspect that part of their reputation of not being bright is the time it takes to process information. They are known for being extremely motivated by food. Still, I will ask her if she wants a treat and it is a solid 5 seconds before it seems to compute. It reminds me of an old computer. I can’t tell if she is actually thinking about it or it just takes a minute for the information to sink in. However, she bolts if I say “watch out” because of a past incident. So that term seems to kick in very quickly
But most importantly, she is really good to my two-year-old. He can do anything to her and she either sits there and takes it or slowly gets up and walks away. My son loves that dog and gets excited to see her every time we come home. I wouldn’t trade her for anything.
The truth is that most dogs will fit right in to the family. But it will be easier on everyone if you know what to get and what to expect. I would caution you about mixed breeds from shelters. As fantastic as rescuing a dog is, the dog may have trauma that could end very badly. With little kids it may not be something that you should risk. If it is a friend and you know the dog isn’t inbred, she just got out one day, go for it. I’m sure they will be a wonderful dog. But with a shelter dog, you just don’t know what has happened in their lives that may cause problems. I am very much for rescue dogs, but when there is a little kid who does not know how to read body language, understand boundaries and unable to stand up for itself, it could have a very bad ending.