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You’ve Agreed to Get Your Kids a Dog — Now What?

Your kids have been begging to get a dog for years, and you and your partner have finally given in. What next? You’re not just going to walk into a pet shelter and walk out with a brand-new family member. There are a few more steps you need to take to ensure that you pick the right pet for your family and that this new pet is coming home for the long-haul.

Find a good rescue organization. Skip pet stores and breeders—there are so many shelter dogs that need a good home. You can even find rare or special breed rescue groups, if your kids have their hearts set on a specific type of dog. The Shelter Project—a joint project between the Humane Society of the United States and Maddie’s Fund, a family foundation for pet adoptions—is an easy-to-use resource for finding a reputable shelter near you.

Find a vet. Before you adopt, most shelters will ask who your vet is. It’s important to have one before you bring a dog home, because you want to be able to get immediate treatment if an issue arises. (When your puppy starts vomiting all over the living room rug is not the time to Google pet doctors.) The best place to start is with recommendations—find out where your friends, neighbors, or the shelter workers take their pets. Make sure the vet has accreditation by the American Animal Hospital Association—that means it meets the AAHA’s facility, equipment, and quality care standards. If you choose a breed known for health issues, you can look for a board-certified specialist who has studied two to four more years in that specialty.

Stock up on supplies. Once your new pupper is home, you’re going to have your hands full adjusting the animal and your family to the new normal. That’s not the best time to be running off to the pet store. Make sure you have food, food and water dishes, a leash, a harness, a tag, a dog bed and blanket, and a crate or fence if necessary. After you’re all settled, you can pick up additional necessities, but you should have at least all of those on hand pre-adoption. If you’re not sure what food to buy, ask the shelter what the dog is currently eating.

Dog-proof your house. Make it easier for a new dog to adjust to their home by removing potential hazards before he or she even gets there. That means covering trash cans with lids, blocking areas that are off-limits with baby gates, and securing places like cabinets and closets so the doggo can’t get in and wreak havoc. Your kids can help by picking up toys and shoes from the floor so your puppy doesn’t turn those into its own toys.

Find a good trainer. Dog training is important not only because it teaches pets to be obedient, but also because it helps socialize them so they’re on good behavior around other dogs and kids (too many dogs are returned due to “problem behavior” that could be easily fixed!). Again, recommendations are your best bet. Unfortunately, there’s no government agency that regulates or licenses trainers, so you have to do your own qualification check—ask about past experience, education, and training methods. You want a trainer who uses positive reinforcement over yelling, leash pulling, and other scare or pain tactics.

Be prepared for the paperwork. Shelters ask a number of questions before allowing people to take home pets, not only to ensure that the animals go to a good home, but that they’ll stay there. Some questions might touch on: what type of home you live in, how old your kids are, any other pets you might have, your previous experience with pets, and your expectations of the animal. Many animals are returned due to landlord issues, costs, and lack of time for care—answering these questions will help you and the shelter avoid that sad situation. You may also be asked for references, so make sure to line those up ahead of time.

Make sure the kids actually help. If you’re adopting a dog, your kids should be involved from day one. First, they should be a part of training and learn basic commands and skills (like “sit,” “stay,” and taking the dog for a walk). Then, make them a part of everyday care. Whether it’s feeding or walking, strengthening the bond between kid and pet will make it so the dog recognizes (and listens) to your child as an authority figure. And let them have fun together! Encouraging your kid to play with the dog gives them both exercise, lets them bond, and makes your kid more likely to want to be around the dog—even when it comes to the less-fun aspects.

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