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Choosing a family dog: Types of dogs to pick with caution

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Dogs are a wonderful addition to any household, but some dogs are not suitable for families. Small children may not have learned how to handle the family pets, probably can't participate in the dog's training, and are defenseless if the dog becomes aggressive. Older children may have less time and patience for a dog, and could bring friends home the dog doesn't know. For these reasons, certain dogs should not be considered as a potential new pet.

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Powerful Breeds

Often, the first dogs that come to mind to not bring into the family home are dogs that have a proclivity for aggression. These dogs range all over the scale from toys to giants, but the most dangerous are the powerful breeds that can cause major damage before anyone can react. While a lot of these powerful dogs aren't aggressive in the right hands, they can put someone in the hospital very easily if they do snap.

Pit bulls, rottweilers, mastiffs, and similar dogs are generally sweet natured if they come from a reputable background. The problem lies in the amount of damage these animals could do to children if they even once "had enough" during play time and gave the toddlers a warning bite. Akitas, chow chows, and similar breeds are naturally aggressive and territorial, and need extensive socializing to ensure they don't become dangerous.

Small Dogs

It's easy to look at that adorable teacup poodle and think how perfectly it would fit into your apartment, and the kids would have so much fun pampering and playing with it. However, small dogs, especially toy breeds, tend to be nervous and high-strung. After all, they're surrounded by giants as far as they're concerned. Chihuahuas, toy poodles, and other very tiny dogs may not fit into a home with children, as they are easily frightened and may bite. In addition, children who do not know how to treat an animal gently may seriously injure a dog that is small enough to pick up and carry around.

Some small breeds were developed as personal guard dogs and have a one-person loyalty built in. Papillons, Lhasa apsos, and miniature pinschers are more aggressive small dogs that may choose one member of the family, then guard him or her from everyone else.

Other small breeds came into existence as rat terriers, badger hunters, and related high-energy pursuits. Small terriers, such as the jack russell, should be considered carefully before being added to the home. They love to run and jump, and often bite playfully if they're not taught they shouldn't. Playful bites can injure just as easily as aggressive bites.

Uncertain Backgrounds

Before rescuing a dog, consult with the shelter staff about its background. Be as honest as possible about what the animal will encounter in its new home. Neglected or abused animals will likely need a quiet, child-free home in which to recuperate. Even a dog that appears to have completely recovered from its past experiences may be dangerous, especially if you don't have details of its mistreatment. Some of the most mundane actions can be construed as a continuation of abuse that the dog will not tolerate.

Shelter dogs that have been there a long time, or have been surrendered by families that, after several years of the dog's kennel-bound boredom , finally decided they didn't have time for their pet, are generally poorly socialized. This is not to say that rescue dogs should not be family pets, but use caution during selection.

Regardless of the type of dog, all members of the family need to understand canine body language in order to prevent potentially dangerous situations. Any child who is too young to recognize these cues must be under constant supervision. Very, very few dogs are "flash biters" -- that is, biting without any warning -- and it's estimated that the vast majority of dog bites are preventable through understanding a dog's normal reactions.

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