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Ask the Trainer: Choosing the Right Dog for Your Family

Q: I am a mom with four kids, ages 3 to 11. We recently lost our dog and are thinking about fostering before we adopt again. In addition to a dog’s overall personality and demeanor, are there specific warning signs or behaviors I should be looking for to help choose the right dog? How do I know what is an innate behavior or instinct, and what is trainable? Also, when the kids first meet the dog, what is the best way to introduce them? 

A: You can learn a lot from a dog just by watching her. When meeting a dog for the first time, pay attention to her tail—a wagging tail means she is happy and relaxed, a tucked tail reveals she is fearful or uncomfortable, and a straight tail shows prey oriented behavior. Reading a dog’s body language will give you a lot of insight into her state at the moment.

A dog who is showing signs of fear, even after you spend some time with her, may not be the best fit for a family with young kids. When dogs feel threatened, their actions and movements can be unpredictable, and you won’t know what may trigger a reaction. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t a good home for a dog like this, but she would not be the best fit with children.

When you finally do find a gentle, balanced dog who meets your criteria, introduce her to your human pack in a relaxed environment. The ideal situation is to have the dog on leash, with your kids in a calm state-of-mind. Take everyone on a nice long walk, but don’t have your kids touch the dog yet. By walking with all of the kids, the dog has a chance to get comfortable with them. When everyone seems ready, find a nice area, have the dog lay down, and have each child go up to the dog individually. Let her sniff them, allowing them to pet her calmly and softly in the middle of her back. If all goes well on the walk, you can let the dog off-leash (in an enclosed area) so that she can introduce herself to the family.

Good luck with your search for the perfect dog. Fostering is a great way for people to help homeless animals, and an ideal way for a family such as yours to meet some great potential pets!

AUG.Ask the trainer photoAbout the Trainer: Tilman Colbert-Jones has been training dogs since he was 14 years old, and became a certified trainer at the age of 18. At 21 Colbert-Jones become the youngest Training Director and Iron Dog competition judge in the world. He has been the lead trainer at Urban Pooch Canine Life Center (UrbanPooch.com) for nearly 3 years. In addition to his work in Chicago, he works with Canine Units throughout the country and competes with his own Belgian Malinois on Regional and National levels.

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