Expert: Victoria Stilwell, celebrity dog trainer and host of Animal Planet’s hit TV series, It’s Me Or The Dog.
1. Buying a dog when your child wants it…but you don’t.
“I always tell parents never ever get a dog for your child because your child wants it but you don’t. After the excitement phase passes, you’re left with a child who probably won’t look after it which means you’re going to be left doing the dirty work day-to-day. You’ll get angry and you’ll resent it. Let me stress: Only buy a dog if you’re really into it as well.”
2. Getting the wrong breed of dog.
“The breed of dog you get is dependent upon your environment. But if you’ve got young children, buying a little dog like a Maltese or a Bichon might be trouble. You’re going to have to keep your kids from hugging and squeezing it, and treating it like a cuddly toy. Your kid might get bitten because the dog doesn’t know any better and then the dog gets taken back to the shelter. Wait until your child’s about five years old, when they have a bit more self-control and they understand the dog’s not a huggy toy but a living, breathing animal.They can’t hug, kiss, or poke it in the eye whenever they want. I never like to say there’s certain dog breed that’s child-friendly because there are good and bad dogs in every breed. You may have a Rottweiler that’s fantastic with children and a Maltese that’s terrible with children. It’s all dependent upon the character and personality of the dog.”
3. Not researching your dog’s behavior beforehand.
“Often, parents don’t learn enough about the dog they’re getting or about bad dog behavior, which can put their children at risk. For instance, if you’ve got young kids, you should never leave them alone in the same room as a dog. Never, ever. Yet parents do it from infancy onward, which has the potential to cause some pretty disastrous situations. Until your child is about seven, eight years old and they understand dog behavior, it’s a big no-no.Also, don’t buy your dog from a pet store. Do not, do not, do not. About 99% of puppies in stores come from puppy mills, where the dogs are held in horrendous conditions and not bred for healthy sentiment at all. So you end up taking home unhealthy, temperamentally unsound dogs, plus you’re perpetuating the abuse. Contact your local rescue, or if you want a certain dog breed, check if there’s a breed rescue in your area—they’re becoming much better at temperament-testing their dogs and fitting the right dog to the right family. If you still can’t find a dog, contact a local breeder. You’ll be able to see the dog interacting with its mother and you may get to do a trial-run in your home so if it doesn’t work out, you can return the dog. But I’d definitely suggest going the rescue route because there are so many fantastic dogs that need good homes.”
–As told to Andrea Zimmerman