Welcoming a furry new member to the family can be difficult – for both family and pet. Animal psychologist MARK VETTE offers advice for those looking to introduce a dog to the clan
Advice on introducing a dog to the family
Dogs can be a wonderful addition to the family and research shows having a dog is good for kids – it increases their attentiveness, decreases anxiety, improves their emotional intelligence and it helps them grow compassion and understanding of living things. But a dog is also a big responsibility. If this is something you’re thinking about, here are my thoughts on what to consider first.
Choosing a dog breed
There are about 500 breeds of dogs. Making the right choice comes down to combining your needs and wants of a dog, with the attributes of various breeds, to get the ideal match. The better suited you are, the more happy your time together will be.
SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER ARE: Exercise:
All dogs need exercise, but it varies greatly from breed to breed. If you don’t exercise a high energy dog enough, it can manifest into other issues, such as destructive behaviour or hyperactivity. Space: If you have a big house and property, a bigger or more active breed will be fine, but for smaller spaces a smaller, lower energy dog will work better. Temperament: Do you want an independent and self-sufficient dog, or an affectionate companion dog? Do you want a protective guard dog or a highly sociable dog? Trainability: Do you want to spend lots of time training your dog in agility or obedience? Do you want or need your dog to perform specific tasks? Certain breeds are thought to be more eager to learn new things – and these are usually intelligent and high energy dogs (such as working breeds). Physical traits: Some breeds are better for family members with allergies. If you are choosing a purebred dog, find an excellent breeder to avoid breed specific ailments (some breeds are prone to various congenital, medical and psychological problems). Alternatively, choose a crossbreed – often you’ll get the best of both breeds and improve general health. My preference is to adopt from a rescue shelter. There are thousands of dogs desperately looking for loving homes, and in my experience no one will love you more than a rescued dog. If you do get a rescue, work with the shelter to choose carefully – make sure you check the dog is sociable with children, and not too fearful.
What kids need to know
Ensuring your kids know how to treat dogs is really important, both for the dog’s happiness, and for your child’s safety. Here are some crucial tidbits: Looking a dog in the eye, hugging it, standing over it, climbing on it, chasing it or making loud and unexpected noises can be seen as threatening. Any dog can lash out if it feels cornered or threatened, so learn what dogs like and what they don’t. Learn how to read a dog’s body language and identify early warning signs that a dog is stressed, fearful or aggressive. For example, a dog that has its tail between its legs could be stressed or frightened, while a dog with its hackles up (the hairs along the top of its neck and back) might be aggressive. Dogs need lots of time and care: kids can help with brushing, bathing, playing, patting, and older kids can walk the dog.
Dogs are for life
If you haven’t had a dog before make sure you think carefully – if you’re planning to move overseas in the next 15 years, will you take it with you? Also, you can’t take dogs everywhere – many beaches and national parks are off limits to dogs, as well as baches, hotels, and many rental properties. If getting a dog is something you are considering, good luck on your path to finding the right one – it is so rewarding when you get there!
Mark Vette is the star of the TV show ‘Purina Pound Pups to Dog Stars’. For information about Mark’s online training programme, go to dogzen.com.