After months of your child begging and pleading, you finally decide to surprise her with a new dog. If you take the time to choose the right dog and plan a calm introduction, you will set the stage for many happy years of fetching, petting, giggling and chasing.
Educate yourself on pet adoption. There are many books, websites and forums available (see resources). Adopting a dog is a serious commitment. Dogs need playtime, exercise, nutrition, affection and consistent training.
Research the different breeds and their traits. Obviously, you want a child-friendly dog, but also evaluate your lifestyle. Do you live in an apartment or a house with a yard? Do you have other pets? Does anyone in your family have allergies? Is someone home during the day? Do you have the energy and patience to raise a puppy? Do you have a landlord or neighbors to consider?
Check out different breeders, pet stores, shelters and rescue organizations. A breeder is more expensive, but will provide a history of the dog’s lineage. A dog from a shelter or rescue organization has an unknown history, but is less expensive and by adopting one here means you are saving its life.
Build up to the surprise. Tell your child all the reasons why it’s not possible to get a dog. Then surprise your child by presenting him with a “gift certificate” to pick out a dog, or you can choose the dog and surprise your child at home. Pick a weekend where you have fewer obligations, so you can focus on making your new dog feel secure.
When you are picking out the dog, look for alertness, a healthy coat, and a friendly personality. Ask about the dog’s health, behavior, and history. Find out the organization’s policy on guaranteeing a healthy dog. Have a collar and leash for the dog. Before you bring the dog in the house take him for a walk around the neighborhood. This will give him a chance to investigate the area, exercise and relieve himself.
When your child meets the dog for the first time, focus on the excitement of having a new dog, but don’t overwhelm the dog with attention. Make a game out of showing your child the “secret signs” of a dog: if his tail is wagging he is happy, if his paws are stretched out with his butt in the air he wants to play, if he’s growling and his tail is down he’s scared or upset and you should leave him alone. When you greet him, stand still, look away from the dog and hold out your hand. Wait for the dog to come to you and then pet him.
Let your child name the dog and pick out the bed, dishes and toys. Teach her how to feed and walk the dog. Include him in the vet visits and applying for a license. Watch a show like “The Dog Whisperer” as a family to learn about dog training (dogs love to watch the show too).
Play with your dog! He is a new member of the family and will return your love a thousand times over.