By: Kimberly Noetzel
Make sure Fido is family-friendly.
Congratulations! You are ready to add a pet to the family. But how do you select an animal companion who will be a good match for the next 10 to 15 years?
Foremost, experts say, is to select a pet based on his or her personality instead of looks, breed, size or age. How a pet behaves around and reacts to everyone in the family are crucial variables, but are two of the most overlooked factors by prospective pet parents.
“The biggest mistake that people make when selecting a family pet is going by looks instead of personality,” says Sam Kabbel, president of Pet Behavior Solutions, Inc.
“People often pick the pet based on size, color, breed or even their own past experience with a specific breed, instead of thinking in terms of functionality or practicality.”
Cheryl Naumann of the Humane Society agrees. “The pet that you think you want may not be the right fit at all,” she says. “You need to select a pet that is appropriate for the age of your children, your lifestyle and your activity level. Is a dog who wants to run and play the right match, or would your family prefer a lap cat who’s content to sit on the couch and watch TV?”
Rabbits, guinea pigs and other small, domestic mammals are a smart choice for families “on the go” much of the day or who prefer a quiet companion. They’re also less expensive to care for and they don’t need a daily walk or much space.
Consider these pet-selection dos and don’ts:
• Do select a dog who shows preference for the children over everything else. “You want a dog who will approach your children first and who is interested in them,” Kabbel advises. “Ideally, a dog will take cues from your children’s behavior. For example, he will play with the children, but he can also calm down even when the kids remain active.”
• Don’t select a dog who is avoidant or fearful of the children, or one who demonstrates any level of aggression toward children. Aggression includes biting and snapping as well as less-obvious behaviors such as lip-curling, baring teeth or excessive barking. (And never assume that a puppy will “outgrow it.” He or she is more likely to mature into an adult dog who is intolerant of children.)
• Do select a cat that is docile and does not mind being picked up and carried. A cat who hides from the children, or who hisses, growls or scratches at them, is not the right match. “This experience needs to be positive for the child and the pet,” Naumann says. “An animal who is terrified will not be happy in your home, and your child’s experience with that animal will not be good.”
• Don’t get a pet on impulse or because you saw the breed or species in a movie or on TV. Animals used in entertainment have undergone very specialized training and are closely supervised and coached while performing.
• Do consider an older pet. Adult pets are often already well trained and their behavior yields few surprises. Puppies and kittens are adorable, but it may be several months before you see their true personalities. Puppies and kittens also require lots of training.
• Do consider your housing situation and daily schedule. Do you have ample time and space for another family member?
• Do evaluate your financial capability. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, it costs $215 to $350 a year to provide basic care for an average-size dog, and about $180 a year to care for one cat.
• Do teach by example once the pet comes home. Show your children that your pet is an important member of the family. Always demonstrate respect and compassion and ensure that the pet’s needs are met.