Billy ISO Little Ann
September 23, 2012 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Help us fine the right dog for our son and family, who has a few specific requests and a few special needs.

The dog our family had for 15 years passed away this last spring, and while my husband and I are still mourning (though in the 'let's tell funny Louise stories' part of mourning), our son talks to us daily about a dog for himself (Louise got on great with him, and so his impressions of dogs are very positive).

He's young, 5 1/2, though he is gifted identified and at school, has been placed in a first grade classroom which is going well (even socially). The last 6-9 months of Louise's life, our son had taken on a few of her chores--feeding, watering, taking her into our yard, etc., and we taught him as soon as he was toddling how to be gentle and assertive with animals. If we do decide to do this at his age, we'll also be enrolling both him and the dog in a kids' dog obedience class.

He also has a neuromuscular special need which means that physically, he can't manage a large dog on his own, and he REALLY wants to manage the dog as on his own as possible. We're also thinking that if he is managing an animal even 50% on his own, it will provide him some physical confidence to help mediate the difference he sees between himself and his peers.

We've talked a lot and read books about the responsibility involved--we're also not jumping in, we're exploring this as something to look closer to his 6th birthday. He does read independently, has done his own internet research about dogs, and is good with others' animals.

He wants to start with a puppy, and he wants the dog to stay small. He has been interested in miniature and toy breeds, but professes no particular preference. My husband and I have always had mutts, but as singles and a couple we were able to be more fearless about the ultimate personality outcome of the dog--in other words, if the dog we adopted ended up with some somewhat difficult to manage behavior issues, there wasn't our own or other kids to complicate our working with that.

This isn't to say that a shelter dog is off the table--at all. But do share your expertise at determining potential temperament with a shelter puppy of unknown origin and well as predicted size. Also, if you have experience adopting particular breeds or mixed breeds you think would be a good fit from some kind of shelter network, that would be good, too.

For particular breeds that would be a good fit, we're interested in those that are easy to to find (versus rarer breeds)--we'd want to support a small family breeder who keeps the breeding adults as pets and knows a lot about the animals the've sired. We would not use a pet store or family breeder far away (we live in central Ohio).

*Small breed suggestions that are affectionate, work well with children, and easy to find (and mixed breed suggestions, and how to figure out if a mutt will meet those considerations)
*Anything we haven't thought of
Our son's request are that
*The dog is a "cuddly" breed (our kid is affectionate, and his physical limitations mean he doesn't get to do hard physical play as much as other kids and so he sits and reads by himself more. He is offering a very willing lap to this future dog), is introduced to our home as a puppy, is female, is small, will like going to training class with him.

PS--he's not interested in the 'starter pet' genre (fish, guinea pigs, rats, etc.), though we've talked to him a lot about that. He talks about wanting to 'work' with his dog, so a lot of the appeal for him is the kind of give and take dog ownership provides. He did see, first hand, how much work it can be as our dog had A LOT of needs in the end. We know that this will be as much our responsibility as his. We have flexible work lives, as well. He's an only child.
posted by rumposinc to Home & Garden (39 answers total)
How about a Maltese? It's pretty frou-frou, but they are small and cuddly and very attached to their caretakers.
posted by greta simone at 10:55 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Or a Maltese mix of some kind. Not too hard to find in a shelter.
posted by greta simone at 10:56 AM on September 23, 2012

We have 2 Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. They are fairly small -- around 20 lbs. They are very cuddly -- their job in life is to look at you and wag their tails and lick your face (or try to :)).
posted by elmay at 11:01 AM on September 23, 2012

I know that he wants a puppy, and puppies are adorable, but it might be worth it to talk to him about the multiple reasons why adopting an adult dog would be better for your family. For example, you would be much more confident in getting a dog from a shelter or rescue if you already had some idea of its behavior and temperament. There are obvious ethical benefits to that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:03 AM on September 23, 2012 [16 favorites]

Some ideas: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or Cocker Spaniel.

For mixed breeds, looking for spaniel or possibly terrier mixes, or lab mixes with smaller dogs. I really would go the shelter dog route to be honest with you, if you find a good shelter, they will know whether the dogs are good with children and work with you to find one that fits your needs.

My own personal opinion is also that I would get a 2-3 year old shelter dog rather than a puppy. This way their personality is already a known quantity and plus, much less stress and work for you in the initial period with things like crate training or potty training, and less likely to be destructive. If it were me I would want to meet the dog with my son and play with them, take them for a test walk a few times, and test them with a few things - specifically to see if they had a guarding instinct with treats/toys (which could be a deal breaker depending on how bad).

My feelings on this might be biased because I had a lab puppy and they can be very destructive and huge food stealers/chewers, which my dog was, and once they reach the ~3 year old mark they settle down into much easier dogs to own. I would never go through that puppy stage again, I swore to myself. I know your son wants a puppy (of course! he's 5!) but I also suspect if you brought him to a shelter to see a few medium-small dogs there in the 2-3 year age range who were friendly and playful, he'd fall in love with one of them!
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:04 AM on September 23, 2012 [8 favorites]

on lack of preview, what elmay and the young rope-rider said! One thing with the CKCS breed is that they can have a bunch of breed-related medical issues, so despite being known for the wonderful temperament that's one reason to look back at the shelter dog option.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:05 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have a suggestion for a particular breed, but I do suggest looking at rescue organizations. Most big cities will have organizations for many dog breeds. You will be getting a dog that isn't a mutt but with the added benefit of "saving" a dog from a less than stellar situation. (And the fact you're not paying big bucks for a pure bred from a puppy farm.)

My family got our boston terrier from a rescue organization years ago and the experience was great!
posted by missriss89 at 11:09 AM on September 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

I forgot to mention- I agree with trying to talk him out of a puppy. Our dog was three when we got him but still very energetic. I don't know of any dog breeds that won't be hyper as puppies...
posted by missriss89 at 11:11 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the rescue suggestion. There are a lot of breed-specific rescue groups that work hard to match the right dog with the right family, so the dog you adopt will be a known quantity and a good fit for your needs. The puppy stage is finite but extremely labor-intensive!
posted by ambrosia at 11:14 AM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Poodle mix. We have two, perfect dogs for our kids. Smart, affectionate and they don't shed. We got them both from home breeders.
posted by pearlybob at 11:31 AM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

My family had miniature schnauzers (from a breeder) when I was young, and they seem to meet your criteria, plus they don't shed. However, like the King Charles spaniels, they can have breed medical issues. My in-laws had a King Charles and he was adorable, but he died young; the schnauzers my parents had lived longer.
posted by immlass at 11:34 AM on September 23, 2012

I would second the Maltese suggestion. I grew up with one; they are very friendly and loving.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:52 AM on September 23, 2012

Seconding poodle mix and nthing both the rescue suggestions and the suggestions to try and talk him out of getting a puppy for the reasons already mentioned.
posted by patheral at 11:59 AM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You need a border terrier. Small, stupidly intelligent, good with kids and enough dog to keep up with a growing active boy into his teens which something like an AKC cocker or maltese won't be. Try to get one that's not been bred to show at AKC shows but is from pet or working lines, ideally from europe; although that's good advice for any breed.
posted by fshgrl at 12:01 PM on September 23, 2012

fshgrl: "You need a border terrier. Small, stupidly intelligent, good with kids and enough dog to keep up with a growing active boy into his teens which something like an AKC cocker or maltese won't be.

Seconding a border terrier. Excellent family dogs, in my experience in rescue.

Try to get one that's not been bred to show at AKC shows but is from pet or working lines, ideally from europe; although that's good advice for any breed."

Horrible advice. A rescue group is the way to go. Plenty of purebred dogs in the rescue system already. Try as a first search.

I can't stress enough how many GREAT dogs with known backgrounds and temperaments are waiting for you right now.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:18 PM on September 23, 2012

Sorry but as someone who grew up with a border terrier and a cocker spaniels from Europe and has seen examples of both breeds under the akc standards, I strongly recommend nor getting one bred just to show in akc shows. They breed them for not the same physical or mental traits and I recommend the original version, let's leave it at that.
posted by fshgrl at 12:49 PM on September 23, 2012

Miniature Schnauzer! I know a MS who gets along famously with small kids. The dog is cheerful and intelligent, and loves to learn new tricks.
posted by pickypicky at 12:54 PM on September 23, 2012

Aren't activity levels pretty high in a border terrier? The child in question has a neuromuscular disorder and it sounds like a high energy dog would not be ideal for him.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:57 PM on September 23, 2012 [10 favorites]

I came in to say Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and I see people beat me too it. Ours are very patient, gentle dogs. My son who just turned 5 trains one of our dogs on his own and has been able to handle it very well. As a younger kid, he routinely dressed them up in his underwear and t-shirts, or sat on them, and they bore it with patience and love.

I love them because I am a very busy person and don't have time for an energetic dog; they are ready to love everyone and their favorite thing is to cuddle in my lap in the evenings. Otherwise they are like semi-sentient couch pillows. Mine were hand-me-downs so I don't know much about screening breeders to find one that's taking steps to avoid the known health problems, but you should be aware of those issues.

Two hesitations for your son would be that my dogs jump up on everyone, and so do every CKS I've ever met. If being jumped on lovingly by a dog in the 20-pound range would be too much for your son, perhaps there is a better choice. Also, although our dogs have done fine in dog classes with my son and me, they are clearly not especially smart as dogs go, and if he wants to have a dog that could do agility or flyball or something like that you might look elsewhere as well.

We live next door to a pair of dog trainers and they are who we take our classes from. My son would someday like a more energetic, smarter puppy or dog, and I have thought that if we went with a shelter dog it would be worth paying my neighbor to come with us and help us evaluate temperament.
posted by not that girl at 1:04 PM on September 23, 2012

Nthing Maltese suggestion - we had a female maltese, relatively big for her breed at 11 lbs. She was very much a lap dog, loved to cuddle. Also enjoyed walks and got very pooped out after long walks. They're ver intelligent and so are easy to house train, don't shed, live long and have a playful personality. She did, however, have urinary issues in later life (bladder stones).

Also, I have not personally raised but have known a few Cockapoos (Cocker Spaniel - Poodle mix) that were excellent dogs - playful, calm, also intelligent.
posted by alona at 1:32 PM on September 23, 2012

Poodle or a poodle mix. I honestly would recommend getting a rescue adult or at least a young adult dog (say a year or 2 old) they still are young at heart but as you need to know the temperament up front I feel that would out weigh any need to have the dog as a puppy, and lets face it they are only puppies for such a short time anyway. Another advantage is that a lot of rescues will let you take the dog home for a little while on trial to make sure it's a good match, especially when they know how important exactly the right temperament would need to be.

Also you will be surprised how small a puppy of any of the toy dog breeds truly is (think not much larger than your hand) and if your son does have say a few issues with muscular control and the like they are very easily hurt.

My elderly mother has a KC & Cocker Spaniel cross and she is very very gentle and kind hearted. She is the love of my mothers life but has been the bain of the local dog trainers classes as she is very independent and prone to selective deafness even with professionals.
posted by wwax at 1:33 PM on September 23, 2012

One vote against miniature schnauzers - while they are wonderful little dogs, I grew up with them and have a soft spot for them. But they can be pretty neurotic/temperamental in my experience. One of my family's mini schnauzers was a little snippy if he was being touched how he didn't like it, and wasn't particularly cuddly with anyone in the family except my dad. And their second schnauzer was a neurotic mess - only my dad could somehow deal with her anxiety on walks (I tried to walk her once and she cried the whole time. Loudly.). It doesn't seem like getting one as a puppy would make a very good first dog for a kid if it ends up having the kinds of particular-ness that my childhood dogs did.

I would, however, really push for the adult dog if you think you can persuade him. Maybe take him with you to the local humane society, he might just fall in love with an adult dog that has a personality that he clicks with and then you won't have to deal with any of the puppy business!
posted by sherber at 2:13 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Love everyone's responses. Please rec specific rescue organizations, if you have experience with them (even with a rescue organization, not sure we'd want more than 1/2 a day drive--less would be better). As far as my kid's NM condition, he is a little guy without the strength and endurance of his peers, but he has general control. So--it is very unlikely he could hurt an animal (even a very little one, plus he is extremely respectful of animals), but getting knocked down or a lot of pull on a lead would be a challenge. Absolutely hear you on puppy v adult animals--what's stuck in his craw is not the cute puppy factor, but the lifespan factor: of course there are no guarantees, but he took our dog's death hard and his brand-new kid logic has convinced him that puppy=more years before facing loss. I know, I know--not precisely logical and not a certain way to look at it for any living creature. And we've been working on gently loosening his position.
posted by rumposinc at 2:35 PM on September 23, 2012

If you are thinking about a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, do be aware that the breed suffers from severe inbreeding (they were bred from only 6 dogs), and nearly all of them have heart valve issues, often leading to premature death. They also have a host of other potential medical issues, but the heart defects are the most common and severe.

Toy/Lap Sized:
Maltese is a good recommendation, if he wants a "lap dog". Laid back, easy to work with, smart but not too smart.

Corgis are great dogs, they have a big dog personality but they stay small.

If he wants a higher energy dog, Jack Russell terriers are very smart and easy to train, but they have high exercise needs.

Medium Sized:
Labradoodles are some of the friendliest, most gentle medium-sized dogs I'm aware of. Extra bonus, they don't shed. They are somewhat high energy as puppies, like labs, but they calm down much faster than labs do. This would be my top recommendation if he wants a dog he can grow into. Small females bred from a toy poodle should top out at 25-30 lbs.

Lab mixes in general tend to come out on the friendly scale, although sometimes quite energetic.

Other members of the spaniel family might be an option - Springer spaniels in particular are quite gentle. Cockers are great too, although some of them are temperamental.
posted by zug at 2:35 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Golden doodle mixed from the small poodle. You get the intelligence of the poodle, the friendliness of the golden retriever, the size you want, and minimum shedding. They also have hybrid vigor, so tend to live longer than purebred dogs. (15 years or so.) No major health concerns, no major grooming requirements. They're very gentle and sweet animals.

My parents have owned both male and female dogs, and currently have a male. In my experience, male dogs are far more affectionate and people oriented than female dogs. My mother was firmly against getting a male dog, but now she swears she'd never get another female. I know why people seem set on one sex or another, but male dogs aren't necessarily humping marking maniacs. I wouldn't discount a dog purely based on sex.
posted by xyzzy at 2:59 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about a Maltese? I

FYI, here in Australia Maltese are the number one dumped dog. I don't see any reason why this wouldn't be the case in the US. This means that a) shelters have a tonne of maltese/maltese-crosses but b) they are the most-dumped dog for a reason. Part of that reason is that they look more like teddy bears than dogs I think and people are unprepared for the reality. It is worth noting however, that they were kindly put in the "fair" category in The Intelligence of Dogs, and they can be on the hyperactive, barky, nervy side. This is not to say that all Maltese are like this (of course not!), but be aware that this is a known thing with them.
posted by smoke at 3:20 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

What about a Havanese?

I met a Havanese puppy while in a training class with my Newfoundland. The Havanese was adorable, sweet, smart, and incredibly friendly, and she got along well with the other dogs and people in the class. My father met a Poodle/Havanese therapy dog when he was hospitalized a few years ago -- she really cheered him up!

My husband and I prefer large dogs, but we've said more than once that if we were to get a small dog, the Havanese would be at the top of our list.

Best of luck to your son and his future pup! :)
posted by Boogiechild at 3:47 PM on September 23, 2012

Columbus Dog Connection has some resources and connections to shelters and rescue orgs in your area.

As a life long dog guy, I suggest meeting dogs instead of thinking about particular breeds. I don't have any favorite breeds or any that I dislike either, but based on my experience, I'm a big fan of mixed mutts. Typically, they are less demanding and are more apt to adapt and fit in.

Good luck. I hope you find a beautiful and awesome dog!
posted by snsranch at 4:37 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are the most wonderful, gentle, affectionate dogs you could ever want to meet - but they are horrifically in-bred to the point that it has jeopardised their health. Apart from the aforementioned heart valve problems, they also suffer from neurological complaints. My own Cavalier only lived to be 8 years old and I am afraid that is not an uncommonly short lifespan.

Unless you could source a Cavalier puppy from a reputable, responsible breeder, I would be wary of getting one. They are fantastic little dogs but .. be prepared for the potential heartbreak.
posted by kariebookish at 4:50 PM on September 23, 2012

I have a 12 yo schnoodle, Chloe, who has been wonderful with all 5 of my grandchildren.
She is smart, affectionate and doesn't shed. I think she represents the best qualities of both poodles and schnauzers. We went to puppy kindergarten, adult obedience classes and agility training; she remembers those lessons from long ago. Her vet refers to her as "the sweetest dog". Chloe weighs 16 lbs, so is "lap" size. I met both her parents when picking her out. If you google "schnoodles", you will find more info and great pictures.
posted by sushrob at 5:26 PM on September 23, 2012

my first dog was a cavalier king charles spaniel and he was my best friend when i was a very little kid. there are lots of pictures of us sleeping together in hilarious configurations.

my second childhood dog was a schnoodle. he was fun and active, patient, friendly, cuddly, and loved by all! i still have his ID tag on my key chain after missing him for 13 years now.

now i have a mini poodle - he is the cuddliest dog i have ever known and actually seems uncomfortable if he's not curled up on/beside someone. i found him lost in the woods (and in a terrible condition). in his previous life he was neglected/abused, so he's a little skittish and has some carryover anxiety from that time. his teeth are also terrible and he needs to have them brushed more often than i remember to. i don't know how old he is but his age is estimated at about 10-13 and he's still very sprightly and has zero health problems besides his teeth (i freak with worry whenever he has to 'go under' for a teeth cleaning).

we also have a mini schnauz, who is extremely affectionate and smart - but as schnauzers grow older (she is 9) they tend to want to be left alone a little more and don't like to wrestle/jump up and cuddle as often (see sherber's comment above!). she is spunky and stubborn and loves to fetch. she has her papers and stuff, came from a reputable breeder.

our last mini schnauzer quietly passed away in her sleep at the age of 12.

tl;dr cavalier king charles spaniels, miniature schnauzers, miniature poodles and mini schnoodles are all a big thumbs up from me (an unrepentant dog cuddler/smoocher). all of our dogs have lived to 12+ but the poodle and schnoodle stayed in better health, longer. just brush those teef!
posted by quiteliterally at 5:39 PM on September 23, 2012

One thing about mixes: the size thing can come out of the blue. I met a boston terrier/boxer mix that weighed 100 lbs. I still have no idea wtf happened there.

The other thing to remember is that 95% of the people with dogs goddamned love their dogs. It's going to work out. Get an adult dog (five or six year olds are not going to remember in ten years if they got to have a puppy).
posted by Blisterlips at 7:07 PM on September 23, 2012

I cannot say enough nice things about owning a basset hound. They are extremely affectionate, love people to a fault (the dog book my wife claims they are "incapable of biting a person"), and are very smart. They are also quite sturdily built, get to about 50-60lbs, but are still small enough for a child to walk and otherwise care for. Ours has what we call "buffering...", where upon being given a command it takes a few seconds to sink in (my guess is he's deciding whether or not to actually do it; at 10mo old he's a bit of a troublemaker). Also, bassets are loud when they want to talk. The annoyances of basset life are minor compared to the fun of owning one, though.

I would steer away from females, though, regardless of breed; in my & my wifey's experience, females tend to be more neurotic and nippy than males; there's a reason TV's "Lassie" was a "laddie": easier to train, much more cooperative than the females.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:14 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

This guy fits all your criteria.
posted by Lieber Frau at 9:34 PM on September 23, 2012

Consider a pug dog - they're great with kids.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:10 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

We have had 2 Australian Cattle Dog mixes. One we got from a farm, the second we just got from a rescue agency. We have a 2 and a half year old daughter, and we've had our new dog for a month. He is 7 months old, and at times too high energy for her. He jumps up and gets generally excited. However, I will say that we've never had any concerns whatsoever about their love and tolerance for our child and her play with them. Both of them are super snugglers, very smart and unbelievably loyal. And very responsive to human emotion...respond quickly to discipline and display shame when caught misbehaving. Not sure that a cattle dog is right for you, as they get to about 40 pounds.

However, I will say that whatever breed you pick, rescue agencies are a great fit. Ours had several puppies available and offered a three week window during which we could return the dog if we thought it wasn't going to work out. Plus the dogs are generally in a foster home, and those fosters can give you some indication as to the dog's personality, which is nice.

On the puppy front, puppies are a lot of of work. And a lot of energy. If your son is anything like me, all it takes is meeting a dog, and I'm in love! So maybe you can convince him that an older dog is good just by introducing them.

Best of luck!
posted by fyrebelley at 10:57 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You've got a lot of great advice here, so I'll just throw in:

Poodle mixes are great. Low shedding, not too large, long lifespan.

I have a bias toward Corgis (big dog, small package, eternally puppy-like, etc) but they definitely require a hardcore commitment. Is your son looking for an "occasional pet" or a "new best friend?"

Cavalier King Charles is kinda the "go-to" breed for people who want a mellow lap dog, but they're not exactly commonplace, at least in my experience.

If your son wants a real "project dog," one that he can train, and that will need him and require a committed relationship, I'd give Corgi the nod. Again, biased, but of the "highly intelligent, trainable breeds," they are among the smallest and least demanding.
posted by ShutterBun at 11:11 PM on September 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have a dog, but I have friends who adopted a corgi recently and they get along swimmingly well. The corgi isn't a puppy though, fairly old, but it means that it's a sedentary lap dog for the most part. It's sociable and loving, apparently the only issue they've encountered is its kitchen-garbage-diving and occasional herding tendencies. Hopefully the corgi won't try to herd the kid too much.
posted by Hawk V at 11:59 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm going to suggest a Papillon !

I puppy-sit a Pappilon for a family friend. Nemo is smart -- he is a bit stubborn about breaking bad habits. (Owner lets him get away with murder) But he's learned that at my house, he does not grab food -- even if it is on an accessible tv table :p. Note all I have to do is the sharp "eheh no". And then reward him like crazy when he is politely waiting. Anyway, I found it interesting that he understands that the rules are different in different places (my training doesn't seem to affect him back at home). Way too smart! The wikipedia article referenced above about dog intelligence puts Pappilons in the top ranking.

They are tiny, but not hyperactive. They are much more chill than any Pomerainian I've met (I grew up with a Pom) or Chihuahua (my grandparent's had one). I think Nemo is 7lb soaking wet. They love love love interaction and cuddling.

I'm familiar with a 7/8 year old, so I cannot speak for how the breed behaves in puppyhood.
posted by Librarygeek at 10:07 AM on September 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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