Selecting the Right Pet
for Your Kids and Making
OR MANY KIDS, THE FAMILY PET IS their best friend—a companion
who not only provides unconditional love, but also teaches them about
Ffriendship, responsibility, loyalty, and empathy. While most family pets
are cats and dogs, other animals may also be appropriate for children. Rabbits,
hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, small birds, and fish can make great family pets,
for instance, as long as they receive the specialized care they need.
The key to creating a true “family pet”—one who is gentle,
such as veterinarians, animal trainers, and animal shelter
loyal, and loving to both animals and people—is to treat
adoption counselors who can help you select the right
the animal as a beloved family member and to provide
animal for your family.
the training and care he deserves. It’s not enough to get
a pet “for the kids.” A pet is not a temporary playmate
What Kind of Dog Is Best with Kids?
for children, but a lifelong family member who depends
As a parent, you want your child to be safe around your
on the entire family, especially adults.
dog. You want to know which breeds are good with
children and which aren’t. The truth is, all dogs have the
How Old Should My Child Be before We Get a Pet?
potential to bite, and a dog’s breed is only one of many
Although many experts recommend a child be at least
factors that affect temperament and behavior. The best
six years old before a pet is brought into the family, you
dogs for kids are those who receive proper socialization,
are the best judge of your child’s maturity. At the very
humane training, exercise, and attention; who are given
least, your child should exhibit self-control and understand
adequate food, water, shelter, and veterinary care; who
(and obey) the word “no.” If you think your child is ready
are sterilized; and who are safely confined.
for a pet, first introduce her to friends’ well-behaved pets
so you can observe your child’s behavior around them.
How Should My Child Interact with Pets?
To protect both your child and your pet, it’s critical
Should We Get a Young Animal or an Older One?
that an adult supervise all pet-child interactions. It’s also
Many families with young children choose a kitten
important to help your child see the world through your
or puppy, believing these pets are safer, easier to train,
pet’s eyes. Ask your child how she would feel if someone
and more adaptable than older, larger pets. But this
poked at her eyes or pulled her ears. Explain that even
isn’t always true. Because puppies and kittens are fragile,
the most docile pet has limits, and that all animals must
require extra time and care, and are prone to play-related
be treated with caution and respect. Help your child
scratching and biting, they may not be appropriate for a
household with young children. Adopting a friendly, calm,
I Pets need space and may not always welcome human
adult animal who has a known history of getting along
attention, especially when eating, playing with their
with young children may be the best choice for your
toys, or resting.
family. Before making a decision, talk with animal experts
continued on reverse side
For complete tips and advice on pet behavior and other pet care topics, visit www.petsforlife.org.
I Pets may become upset by too much petting or
As soon as you bring a pet into your family, set up and
stimulation. Teach your child to heed warning signs
enforce rules regarding proper pet care. For example,
(such as hissing, lip curling, retreating, and growling)
tell your children not to pull the animal’s tail, ears, or
that indicate her animal friend wants to be left alone.
other body parts, and insist that they never tease, hit,
I Other people’s pets may feel and display discomfort if your
or chase the pet. Teach children how to properly pick
child touches or even approaches them. Tell your child to
up, hold, and pet the animal. These simple lessons are
get permission from an adult before touching another pet.
essential to helping kids become responsible caretakers.
Explain how some pets may feel threatened when stared
Although certain pet-care activities must be handled by
at, cornered, or hugged.
adults, you can still include your children by explaining
I Animals in pain may lash out or bite anyone who tries
what you’re doing and why. For example, when you take
to touch them. Teach your child to leave an injured
your pet to the veterinarian to be spayed or neutered,
pet alone and to notify an adult immediately.
explain to your child how the operation not only reduces
I Some dogs get excited and may even become dangerous
pet overpopulation but can also make your pet healthier,
when children scream and run. Teach your child
calmer, and more affectionate.
appropriate behaviors around dogs.
Involve your children in pet-training activities, which
I Dogs contained in yards or cars may try to protect their
not only make your pet a more well-mannered family
territory if approached. Teach your child not to tease or
member, but also teach your child humane treatment
get close to them.
and effective communication.
I Dogs may become overly excited and dominant during
Ultimately, your children will learn how to treat animals—
games such as tug-of-war or wrestling, possibly injuring
and people—by watching how you treat the family pet.
a child in the process. Teach your child not to play such
They’ll study how you feed, pet, and exercise your
games with dogs and to instead play fetch with a ball
companion animal. And they’ll pay close attention to
how you react when a pet scratches the furniture, barks
How Can I Help My Pet Feel Safe?
excessively, or soils in the house. Frustrating as these
problems are, “getting rid of ” the pet isn’t just unfair to
Pets, like children, need time to adjust to new surroundings
the pet and your children, it also sends the wrong message
and circumstances, and need opportunities for downtime.
about commitment, trust, and responsibility. When faced
Provide pets with a place of their own where they can retreat
with pet problems, get to the root of the problem. Often a
from children. Don’t put your pets in situations where they
veterinarian, animal shelter professional, or dog trainer can
feel threatened. For example, dogs left alone in yards can
help you resolve pet issues so you can keep the whole family
be accidentally or intentionally teased by neighborhood
children. What’s more, pets live longer, healthier, and
safer lives when kept indoors with the family.
For More Information
How Can My Kid Help Care for a Pet?
Below are some books to help you choose a pet for your
family. Please note that, except for its own materials, The
Allowing children to help care for a pet teaches responsibility
Humane Society of the United States is not affiliated with
and instills a feeling of competency and accomplishment.
any of these references and their inclusion here does not
Choose tasks appropriate for the age of your child. Even
represent an endorsement.
young children can be involved in some aspect of caring
Benjamin, Carol Lea. 1988. Dog Training for Kids.
for an animal friend—selecting a new toy or collar,
John Wiley & Sons.
assisting with grooming, or carrying a food can.
Christensen, Wendy, and the staff of The HSUS. 2002.
How Can I Teach My Kids to Take Good Care of Pets?
The Humane Society of the United States Complete
Guide to Cat Care. St. Martin’s Press.
The best way to teach your children how to be responsible
pet caregivers is to be one yourself. This should start
Lane, Marion S., and the staff of The HSUS. 2001.
before you even get a pet—make sure you have realistic
The Humane Society of the United States Complete
expectations about pet ownership. And take steps to
Guide to Dog Care. Little, Brown, & Company.
select the right animal for your family at the right time.
Rosenthal, Lisa. 1999. A Dog’s Best Friend: An Activity
Book for Kids and Their Dogs. Chicago Review Press.
Adapted from material originally developed by applied animal
behaviorists at the Dumb Friends League, Denver, Colorado.
This information provided for you by
©2000 Dumb Friends League and ©2003 The HSUS.
All rights reserved.
Promoting the Protection of All Animals