Behavior Bytes | June 2012
by Dr Stefanie Schwartz, Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist
09:26 PM, Monday, June 18
Dear Dr. Schwartz,
 I have three children, three-year-old twin boys and a 6-year-old girl. They have been begging me for a dog for ages, so I’m about to purchase a Golden Retriever puppy because everything I’ve read says this breed is so great with children. What are your thoughts?

Thanks, Busy Dad

Dear Busy Dad,
Most of the dog breed books out there are filled with anecdotal tidbits that can be cut and pasted into any number of breeds, and just switching the pictures to match. Golden Retrievers can be wonderful dogs. My late brother Joey was a beautiful, noble Golden. My sister Josie is a lovely sweetheart of a Golden girl. BUT, for a busy household with three young children, you have to realize that getting a dog, especially a puppy, is like having another child. Are you ready for that? You don’t really expect your children to take care of this dog, do you? Are you prepared to devote hours every day to a young dog who needs to walk, play and socialize with other dogs, too?  Realize that the mistakes you make in raising a large dog are amplified compared to the same mistakes you might make in raising a small dog. The consequences of your inexperience will be far more significant the bigger your dog is.

So you have several choices:
1) Get an adult Golden Retriever from a shelter or rescue organization where it has already been evaluated as a true family dog.
2) Get a smaller adult dog that is easier to care for (e.g. less brushing is needed for Pugs, Boston Terriers). 3) Wait until your children are older. Regardless of the breed, it’s the individual dog that has to be perfect for your family. And you have to be ready to provide for all his basic needs and keep him safe from the antics of three spirited kids.  Any dog you acquire will not be a toy for the children; you all have to be prepared to accept responsibility for the dog’s welfare for a lifetime.

Dear Dr. Schwartz,
I recently lost one of my two cats to old age and kidney failure. My remaining cat Baby seems lonely, but at 11 years of age I’m wondering how she might take to a new kitten?

Dear Baby’s Mama,
Is Baby lonely or are you still grieving for your other cat? Baby might be perfectly happy to have the rule of the house. However, if you do want a young kitten my suggestion would be to get two! That way, they will entertain each other and give Baby some peace. She might still be playful, but you don’t want her to be the only playmate for a solitary kitten. Get new toys, a cat tree or two, and at least three litter boxes in different areas of your home to give them lots of options. You might consider an older calm cat who is used to living with other cats. The most important thing is to introduce them very slowly. Keep the newcomer(s) confined to a cat proof room for several weeks before they are let out to explore their new home. You can never undo a bad first impression, so take more than enough time to get it right. You can download tips about pet selection and introducing new pets on my Quickfix Handout Page at

­­­­Dr. Stefanie Schwartz is a board certified veterinary behaviorist based in Southern California. She sees patients at California Veterinary Specialists in Carlsbad and at The Veterinary Neurology Center in Tustin, CA. For more information, please call (949) 342-6644 or visit

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