Perfectly paired

. October 16, 2012.

One of my favorite childhood pictures of myself is me at age three, dressed as a nurse, playing a toy guitar. The star of the photo, however, is the little dachshund my family had at the time.

Spooky was great. He was a sweet dog, and seemed to love me best. In fact, when my mother would yell at me he would growl at her. In this picture, he is right by my side and my foot is on his head – ever the faithful companion.

The question

So it is with some trepidation that my children come to me, now and again, with the age-old question that can both intrigue and vex any parent. “Mom, can we get a dog?” To help answer that question, I called Melissa Weaver. She is an animal trainer at the Findlay Animal Care Center and also is a dog obedience instructor and personal home consultant. Basically, she’s Findlay’s answer to “The Dog Whisperer.”

Weaver, who herself has an Alaskan Husky named Cricket, said dogs and families often go together because each craves companionship. Dogs, especially, love without judgment or reservation if treated kindly. But raising a well-trained, loving dog takes time and commitment on the part of the entire family.

What you should know

Are you gone all day? Do you have time to learn how to take an obedience class or otherwise learn techniques for setting behavioral limits for the dog? Are you ready to take a living being into your home for the next ten to 12 years? “If you don’t have time for another child, don’t get a dog,” says Weaver.  “Adult dogs have the cognitive ability of a three-year-old.”

She added that children generally can’t care for an animal by themselves until about age nine or ten, so until then it’s Mom and Dad doing most of the work. Smaller children can help brush the dog or feed him, but they are not old enough to take on more responsibility.
Once a family decides that it has the love and time for a dog, the next step is research. Figure out which qualities you’d like in a dog. Active families might want a dog that will enjoy long walks and games of catch in the backyard, while others might prefer a dog that wants nothing more than to lay on the floor and be petted. Size matters, too – small dogs might fit small homes, but gentle giants can be a great fit for a family.

Do your research

Consider research into what breeds work best with small children. One advantage of visiting a reputable breeder is that the dog’s parents are usually on site and the breeder has a good idea on the puppy’s temperament. Going to a shelter or other rescue organization, however, is also a good idea. In addition to saving a dog, families can find friendly mixed breeds that often escape the health problems that can be associated with purebreds.

But how do you make that decision, whether you are faced with cute puppies at a breeder’s or sweet but homeless dogs at a shelter? Weaver says first impressions count when deciding on a dog – what you see is what you get once you arrive home. “If you want an energetic dog and see one just laying there, it’s probably not for you because it won’t keep up with you,” she says. “If you want a calm, relaxed dog, you probably won’t want the dog jumping up and down in the cage like a ping pong ball.”

Raising the whole family

Once you decide on your dog, however, the next important step is to learn how to raise him. The obedience classes are as much for you as him. You want a dog to be part of the family, says Weaver, not the boss of the family.“It’s not so much about domination but leadership. You want to show the dog you are the leader of the family,” she says. “You want clear boundaries – sitting before having treats or being petted, sitting when people come so they don’t jump up on people.”

My daughters do have a dog in their lives – a sweet black lab named Maya, who lives with my sister. This dog has even made a believer out of me, who, after the death of Spooky, always had cats. Watching them play with and pet Miss Maya has made me think that perhaps my girls might enjoy some canine companionship.