A dog standing on a bed next to its owner holding out its paw to a little girl.

Guest Column: Should You Adopt a Rescue Dog If You Have Small Children?

You can never predict how a dog will react to a new environment. It’s not uncommon for some dogs to be content at the shelter and a little testy in their new home, or vice versa. If you have young children, this could be a real concern since you’re not sure how a newly adopted rescue pup will react when they’re tested after you bring them home. As someone with a young child and three rescues at home, I’ve talked many times before about the importance of thinking the process through thoroughly before adopting your first rescue.

In general, adopting from a shelter is a great idea that could benefit everybody involved, even if you have small children. However, from my personal experience, bringing a rescue dog into a home with small kids means you have to take extra steps to ensure the safety of your children as well as your new pet.

In many cases, a shelter does not fully know the dog’s past. This means that there could have been issues in the pet’s life that could change their disposition towards children. Preparation and education of the children is key before adopting a rescue, and it’s imperative for parents to pay close attention to how a new canine and children interact for the first few weeks.

Before you bring a rescue dog into your home, consider the age and maturity level of your children. Toddlers are not able to understand why they should act a certain way around a dog, which is why some shelters often recommended to wait until kids are a little older before adopting a rescue. Fear aggression in dogs is one of the most common reasons things can go wrong. No matter how much you try to explain to your toddler why they shouldn’t push a dog to their limit, they will often do it anyway because it seems like standard play. However, if your child is old enough to understand the signs that a dog is communicating, a rescue can be a great opportunity to learn about responsibility, communication, respect of boundaries and how to raise a pet.

While educating your kids on animal behavior is the most important part, there are a few factors to consider before adopting, some of which could help predict if the dog will be a good fit for your family.

These factors include:

  • Age – The age of a dog can make a huge difference when you’re trying to determine if he or she will be a good fit for your home. Older dogs are typically more tired and less patient when it comes to putting up with children attempting to play with them. They also could have suffered something in their lives that makes them more hostile towards children. With puppies, you can be confident that they didn’t go through anything that would make them dislike children, but they are a lot more work in other regards. Parents of small children are often far too busy for a puppy. Dogs around the age of two are typically the best match for homes with small children.
  • Breed – Breed isn’t the most important determining factor, but it can make a difference. It’s important to understand that one dog of a certain breed might love children, where another dog of the same breed may be hostile. By “breed,” I’m specifically referring to what that breed of canine is capable of should they lash out. A breed such as a Yorkie could nip at your child, but they will do significantly less damage than a breed such as a German shepherd. Studies have observed that the biggest danger to kids are reactive dogs, who are more likely to be aggressive should the child push the dog’s boundaries.
  • Size – The size of the canine is also something to consider. Bigger dogs are just more capable of hurting your child, whether by accident or on purpose. A bigger dog playing might accidentally knock over your kids, where a small dog probably won’t be able to do so. Once again, size matters when it comes to what-ifs, as bigger dogs are usually able to do more harm if they were to become aggressive.
  • Disposition – The disposition of a rescue is important, but this can be difficult to determine. A dog could act one way at the rescue and completely differently in a different environment. Shelters don’t always know a dog’s past and how they will act towards children. When you bring a rescue into your home, be sure to pay close attention to how the dog interacts with your kids, and be sure to supervise them at all times for the first few months.

Before adopting a rescue dog, consider how much time you have. It is completely unrealistic to expect a small child to be responsible for a dog. They can help you out and learn how to take care of a pet, but they are not capable of taking all of the responsibilities of a pet owner. It’s very likely that your kids have asked to adopt a dog, but make sure that you yourself will have adequate time for feeding, walking, training, playing and all the other responsibilities that come with being a pet parent. That, alongside setting some time aside to supervise the dog anytime your child is around it to keep them both safe, will likely put some strain on your free time, but it’s something to take into account while your pet is adjusting to his or her new home.

The bottom line is that adopting a rescue dog when you have a small child at home is a great idea for many reasons, not least of which are the proven health benefits that pets provide for kids. But planning, proper preparation and education about how to behave around dogs is what will make for a happy home.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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