Is getting a puppy the safest choice with a toddler?
January 16, 2021 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Our home is dogless for the first time in 16 years. I think we have to get a puppy for safety reasons as we have a toddler.

Our son is almost 3. Our dogs passed away when he was 7 months old and 2 years old. I never worried about them and him as we owned them their entire lives and I knew their full background. He was very good with them too.

I want a new dog desperately but I think we have to get a puppy. I don't know that I could every fully trust a dog who's background I don't know. I'd much rather rescue an older dog, but I can't find any dogs that are recommended for young kids. They are looking for homes with no kids or teens at least. It could take years to find a dog appropriate for us and that makes me so sad. I've been working from home for almost a year now and it's lonely.

Is this reasonable? I have more dog experience than the average dog owner, so I feel like I should trust my gut feeling, but I also feel bad about it.
posted by disaster77 to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It’s okay to get a puppy. Wouldn’t you feel worse needing to re-home an older dog who wasn’t good with your little one? Also, puppies are fun! And your little one will have a great bond with a puppy.

My kids are teens and I got a puppy when they were little. It’s nice for them to grow up together.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:01 PM on January 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Puppies can also act aggressively though. It depends on the dog. Three is pretty young, and a volatile age that could include pulling tails or similar. Maybe wait till age 5 or so. It's hard to wait but having to get your kid stitches from a dog bite and then re-home a dog that bites is way harder.

However, there is no reason you couldn't start talking about pets at this age, how to be gentle with them, and so on. Hang out with some grown friends with pets to practice, see how your kiddo does. Take it slow; there's lots of time and your son won't be little very long.
posted by emjaybee at 10:16 PM on January 16, 2021 [9 favorites]

When my child was born, we had three cats, two have died unexpectedly recently in weeks of each other. She's 2.5, and even though our remaining cat is having some clear bordom and missing a bit of the socialization, we opted to not try and bring in another cat into the home until she's a little older.

Toddlers really don't understand how small baby animals are, can't control their gross motor skills, and are loud. They also find it delightful to chase things that are ruining away. I don't think a puppy brought up in that enviroment would necessarily guarentee a dog who is kid friendly and socialized. You may get a dog who doesn't mind, but you might not.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:33 PM on January 16, 2021 [14 favorites]

My thought is that you could more fully trust a dog that was mature that you could do a good evaluation of temperament than a puppy who will be more impulsive. Of course, you can't every fully, fully a trust - they will bite if provoked badly enough but some are clearly far more tolerant of young children than others. I think the problem is that right now so many people got pandemic dogs that there is just not the options that you would see in a normal year.
posted by metahawk at 11:07 PM on January 16, 2021 [8 favorites]

Research which dog breeds are best around young children. Some breeds, like terriers, have extremely sharp teeth that can easily puncture skin. The teeth will become duller as the dog grows.
posted by artdrectr at 11:20 PM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you do work with a shelter you can ask them if they have a dog they think would be good with young children. The best dog I ever met that was great with small children was a pit bull who was four or five years old.
posted by xammerboy at 12:48 AM on January 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Not necessarily. Contact local rescues and shelters until you find some you feel comfortable working with and tell them what you're looking for. People foster dogs in their homes and have a good idea which ones will be successful nanny dogs. This is their passion and there is nothing that will make them happier than finding the perfect dog for you. You should be able to find a dog that already has a proven track record with children.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:19 AM on January 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

Seconding emjaybee, I'm currently looking after a family pet for their own safety, since the youngest child in the house (similar age) went into a phase of tormenting them. This will pass though. Mercifully no injuries as the family were very vigilant. Practice being around other pets in a safe context can't be a bad thing I think, if that's an option.
posted by Flora Poste at 5:18 AM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

So we breed dogs, and would be very unlikely to place a puppy with your family at present. This is of course colored by the dogs we breed -- vallhunds are herding dogs, and we breed towards the drivey, performance, "delightful asshole" end of that spectrum, so our dogs are definitively Not For Everyone. It's also the case that our list of prospective buyers is usually just kilometers long, so it's easy enough for us to place the puppy in a home that's a lot like yours but doesn't have a toddler. However, this will probably also be the case for rescue or shelter puppies.

One big reason is that of course the toddler should be the focus of the parents' attention, but that means that it's less likely for the puppy to end up raised properly and more likely for the pup to be left to do its own (probably destructive) thing for extended periods. The experience of raising Gozer the Gozerian into a lovely young-adult dog is trying and exhausting enough for someone who's not already run ragged with a baby or toddler. Another reason is that toddlers are, in the casual sense, sociopaths. Perfectly capable of performing empathy when it suits them, but not really understanding (or being capable of understanding at the basic neurological level) that the puppies are real living creatures that have feelings and experience pain just like they do.

All of this will likely be worse for shelter or rescue puppies, who are more likely to have been removed from their mother and littermates too young (because that's how they arrived), and who are less likely to have had the degree of socialization, enrichment and developmental help and assessment, and general fussing-over during their first few weeks. Well, less likely than our puppies anyway.

I know this is not what you want to hear, but the responsible thing to do here is to put having a puppy with all of those other things you unfairly can't do right now because you have a toddler. You want to keep looking for an adult or elder dog, or to look forward to a puppy in a few years.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:10 AM on January 17, 2021 [21 favorites]

Beagles are good with kids and very tolerant of kid-like roughhousing. When I was three after much research into dog breeds that are safe for kids our parents got us a beagle puppy. He was very sweet, didn't mind toddler me pulling his tail, and when he got bigger he literally used to let me sit on him like he was a horse (until I outweighed him to the point where that wasn't safe for him, by which point I'd grown out of doggie-as-a-horse phase.). Never bit me or was aggressive with me. Very mellow in temperament. He was a good boy.
posted by nayantara at 6:43 AM on January 17, 2021

I just want to empathize with you. I have a four year old who has been around dogs her entire life and we cannot find a rescue that will allow us to adopt the type of dog we are looking for. It's getting really frustrating. Anecdotally, I got a puppy at 3 and had that dog for 15 years.
posted by notjustthefish at 8:05 AM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not sure if you've raised a puppy before, but two important things to keep in mind are:

1) for a while the puppy will bite everyone (as in painfully, and drawing blood), including your kid if not physically separated at all times. This is not the puppy's fault and it cannot be punished for behaving as expected for a puppy. If it hurts your kid the fault is yours, not the dog's. Sorry to be blunt but a lot of people do blame the puppy for being a puppy in this scenario.

2) A 3 year old is not usually capable of reliably acting the way they need to, to avoid hurting/scaring/over exciting the dog. Again, physical separation will be needed whenever you aren't an arms length away. Lots of people are less cautious, but it's a gamble and that's how kids get bitten and dogs rehomed or euthanized. Waiting until the kid is old enough to behave appropriately is also an option (people often say somewhere in the 6-10 year range).
posted by randomnity at 8:10 AM on January 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'll also add a third thing, which is that a puppy needs constant hands on supervision to learn things like potty training and what can't be chewed. This is going to be very difficult to achieve while supervising a toddler unless you have 2 willing adults around to help all day every day at first. If you're the only one wrangling a toddler while the puppy's constantly peeing on the floor and ripping up the couch, you'll be tearing your hair out.
posted by randomnity at 8:15 AM on January 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

There's a third way that you may not have considered. Not all rescue dogs come from unknown / abusive backgrounds. There are often people who need to rehome beloved pets for various reasons, especially older people going into long-term care facilities and families moving to places where they can't have pets. You'll often find them on Craigslist and Nextdoor listed as "rehoming" or more often being sold for a nominal amount (because they love their dogs and don't want to risk giving them away for free to someone who might not have benevolent intentions).

Puppies are awesome, but as others have mentioned they're unpredictable and can be just as dangerous - and they often need more supervision.
posted by Mchelly at 8:34 AM on January 17, 2021 [9 favorites]

If you did try to get a rehomed dog, I bet paying a dog behaviorist to evaluate beforehand would be worth it.
posted by flimflam at 8:53 AM on January 17, 2021

I would add in that as hard as it is, it may be worth waiting until the end of the pandemic. I think there will be people who find their post-pandemic lifestyle isn’t dog-friendly, and lots of good doggos around then. Meanwhile your child will be getting older.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:11 AM on January 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

+1 for a no here for the dog welfare reasons GCU Sweet and Full of Grace described. Puppies are several handfuls at the best of times, and it would be unfair to the animal you got it and then need to rehome or euthanize it because it acted like a puppy (nails, teethy, energetic yet clumsy, poopy/pee-y, barky, horny) around your kid.

My suggestion to you, as a person who volunteered with shelter dogs for a few years, is to find a shelter or rescue org you like, and then spend some time getting to know the adoption staff - so when a likely prospect comes in, they think of you immediately and give you a call. This means your timeline is a little longer/more nebulous than you would like, but that is time your kid will spend growing bigger.

I know it's tough, but you need to be fair to your potential adoptees as well as your kid.
posted by snerson at 9:30 AM on January 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

When I get a puppy it stays with me 24-7 for 2 months and I teach a lot more than sit and stay cause I want it to be a happy helpful and considerate member of the household. I wind up with really smart obedient and useful dogs. I wouldn't be able to do that if I was also tending a kid too young to participate in the training.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:45 AM on January 17, 2021

Puppies are all fine & good, they're small & easy to control, though they like to bite, wrestle and fight as part of their play which isn't a great mix with a toddler. But it's when they hit their teens they are a terrible idea to have around small children. Much like teenage humans they start to rebel a little against the rules to see what they can get away, even neutered hormones kick in and they are trying to establish their relationship to other pack members as adults, which can lead to aggression. Throw in you have a toddler and are trying to give a young dog all the attention & training it needs to grow up well adjusted.

snerson above posted what my suggestion was going to be.

Remembering too that 90% of the training of the child/dog relationship in most cases will need to be of the kid not the dog.
posted by wwax at 10:01 AM on January 17, 2021

I think you could do quite well getting a retired show dog. It will have a known history and be totally used to being handled and most of the show dogs I know live in the house at least part of the time and have plenty of exposure to kids. You will still have the problem of people being reluctant to place a dog in a home with a little kid, but your chances will be much better.
posted by HotToddy at 10:22 AM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best piece of dog adoption advice I ever got: "Pick the floppiest one."

Get a puppy. It's okay.

I'm planning on getting an old dog when I'm old. Get the dog that meets you where you are. (Dog friendships tend to work like this -- take two two-year-old dogs and they get along delightfully. Two and twelve, well, they're both unsatisfied.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:38 PM on January 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I was in your position about a year ago—and ended up adopting a one year old fluffy mix when my kid was 2 years old. The rescue group allowed a 2 week trial period to make sure my toddler and the dog got along, which I’d recommend. I actually really wanted to get a 6 year old gentle lab who let my toddler squeeze her in a tight hug but someone else adopted first.

One good thing about the dog was that he was house trained mostly. I could not imagine potty training while dealing with a toddler!

We also taped areas around his food, crate, and beds. It was important early on that the toddler knew that was the dog’s space. Now they’re ok with each other and she can lay in his bed and he doesn’t mind, but early on I think he definitely needed that space.

We never allow the dog and the toddler to be alone together. Always supervised and I constantly remind them both that play should be gentle (they can definitely stir each other up). I also give the dog a lot of time alone with me (snuggles after kid goes to bed, separate long walks together).

It turned out good for us but it is ongoing work. The dog is not my kid’s best friend. Maybe when they’re both older. Right now they basically coexist. (This makes me sad because my dog before was best buds with my kid when she was an infant. Playing fetch and snuggles. I try not to push this or bring in any expectations.)
posted by inevitability at 7:24 PM on January 17, 2021

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