We have all heard of the “American Dream”, and if there is an equivalent “British Dream”, it must surely include a family dog. The idealised British family, in many people’s minds, means parents, children, plus a dog. Despite many people longing for this ideal, there are many unhappy stories, with dogs not working out as well as anticipated. Tragically, the most common cause of death of young male dogs is euthanasia because of “bad behaviour”. Apart from the appalling outcome for the dogs in these cases, there’s certain to be emotional damage to the children and family involved in such cases.
1) Choose a puppy suited to your lifestyle
The first key to successful dog ownership is choosing an animal that fits in well to your lifestyle. If you live in a fifth floor apartment with no garden, then it makes no sense to choose a large lively dog that needs copious outdoor exercise. Or if you live in the country, expecting your dog to accompany you and your children on regular long walks through fields, a toy sized lap dog won’t work well.
2) Choose between a pedigree puppy or a cross-bred
Many people have a pedigree breed in mind when they are thinking of the best dog/puppy for children, and that’s understandable. The advantage of a pedigree puppy is that you have a clear idea of how the adult version will turn out. And while there’s a cost – up to £1000 or more – for some people, this may be part of the appeal: there’s no doubt that pedigree dogs can have a status-enhancing role.
3) Kennel Club registered or not?
If you are buying a pedigree dog, don’t be misled by the advertiser’s statement that the puppy is “Kennel Club Registered”. Sadly, this is no guarantee of health; it simply means that the pup is certified as being a genuine member of its breed, with a pedigree going back many generations. Any breeder – even a “puppy farmer” – can have their puppies registered from the Kennel Club, as long as they have bred them from Kennel Club registered parents.
That said, the Kennel Club has invested significantly in improving the health of pedigree dogs. If you are looking for a reliable breeder, the Kennel Club Assured Breeders Scheme is a good place to start. While this scheme is not perfect, it’s based on sound principles that mean that you are more likely to find the best puppy for your children if you buy from an assured breeder.
4) Rescue puppy or not?
In recent years, there has been a welcome cultural trend towards getting a rescue dog. While many rescue dogs make wonderful pets, if you are looking for a puppy for your children, you may have difficulty finding the right animal from the rescue dog population. Typically, rescue dogs tend to be older. One of the signs of success of the animal welfare movement’s drive to promote spaying and neutering is the fact that there are not as many unwanted puppies as in the past, and it can be difficult to find a rescue puppy. There are still rescue puppies out there, and it’s certainly worth investigating the possibilities before rushing out to buy one from a private seller.
5) Choose genetic health
When it comes to choosing the best puppy for your family, once you’ve narrowed down the field to a specific type of animal, the next step is to ensure that, if possible, you meet both parents of the pup. Just like humans, most puppies turn out like their parents. This means that if both parents are healthy, good-natured individuals, it’s likely that their pups will turn out similarly. You can go deeper than this too: if you are buying a pedigree breed, you can find out from the Kennel Club which inherited ailments that the breed is prone to, and you can ensure that the parents have had all appropriate pre-breeding tests for these.
6) Choose physical health
So you have narrowed down the field, and you find yourself looking at a litter of puppies. You now have to choose the individual puppy that’s best for your children. Make sure that you choose one that appears to be physically healthy. Look for a glossy coat, with no scurfy skin and no itchiness. Choose an alert puppy, with bright eyes and an interest in their surroundings. Don’t make the mistake of falling for a weakly, sad-looking specimen because you feel sorry for them. Your job is to choose the best puppy for your family, not to rescue an animal that you feel sorry for.
7) Choose a good temperament
Make sure that you spend time with both parents of your puppy: genetics have a strong influence on a puppy’s temperament. If both adult dogs are gentle, calm, good-natured dogs, then there’s a high chance that the puppy will turn out similarly. Puppies that have been properly socialised since they were young are more likely to turn out well, so ensure that the breeder has exposed the puppy to a range of different human interactions: a litter living with the busyness of a human home around them may be ideal.
8) Make an early veterinary appointment with your new puppy
So you’ve done your best to choose a healthy pup: what next? An early appointment with your local vet makes sense. First, a thorough veterinary examination of the animal is important: some puppies have physical issues that are undetectable to a lay person. Examples include heart murmurs, hernias and dental problems. Rarely, these problems can be so severe that the vet may recommend that you return the pup to the breeder. It’s far more likely that the vet will give you a clean bill of health for the puppy, and this in itself will be reassuring. This visit to the vet will bring other benefits: the vet will take you through a check list to ensure that you are covering all the various aspects that need to be addressed for your pup to settle well into your home, including vaccination, parasite control, and nutrition.
9) Focus on early socialisation and training
There’s plenty of research that shows the influence of early experiences of puppies on the psychological and behavioural outcome in the adult dog. When pups are reared in isolation (e.g. in a sterile, puppy-farm type environment), they are far more likely to turn out to be fearful, anxious adult dogs. You can’t change what your pup has already been through, but from when the pup arrives in your home, you can take steps to ensure that they have pleasant, calm interactions with everything around them.
10) Get pet insurance from the start
You may have preconceptions about the status of the new arrival in your home, but typically, a new puppy is soon seen as “one of the family”. You’ll become emotionally involved with the animal: this is one of the joys of having a pet, but it can also carry a burden if anything goes wrong. Accidents and illnesses happen: they are part of life. Veterinary care is now better than it has ever been for helping sick and injured pets, but if things go seriously wrong, the financial cost can be very high. When your pet is unwell, your focus should be on getting the best care for your pet, not on worrying about how you are going to pay the vet. Pet insurance is the answer to this dilemma: the monthly cost is factored into your budget from the start, ensuring that you’ll always be able to afford to pay to have your beloved family dog taken care of in the optimal way.