How to find the perfect dog for families with special needs
Pets can add a lot of love to our lives, and they can be especially beneficial for families with special needs. Dogs, in particular, can help your child with special needs develop social and emotional learning, motor skills, and more.
But choosing a dog can be a stressful process: the next thing you’ll know is that you’ll be researching for hours, trying to find the perfect breed of dog for your family. That’s why we spoke with Kelly DiCicco, Adoption Promotions Manager at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Adoption Center to give you all the information you need to find the dog of your dreams. Read on for the best tips and tricks for welcoming a four-legged friend into your family with special needs!
Before we get to the tips, let’s first talk about what makes dogs special. Cats, hamsters, fish and other animals can certainly be less work, so why adopt a dog? “The companionship and joy that dogs provide can be a wonderful addition to any home,” DiCicco said. For children with special needs, this emotional support and positivity that dogs uniquely mimic will help them grow and develop.
Dogs provide comfort and stability that allow children with developmental disabilities to feel safe and calm. While you can certainly look for trained service dogs, these are often quite an expensive option for families. So if you’re looking for a more affordable way to add a furry friend to your life, check out our tips for navigating the pet-finding process.
Adopt from a shelter or rescue organization
You may be wondering if shelter dogs are suitable for children with special needs, and the answer is: yes! There are even benefits to going to a shelter or rescue organization: “When you adopt from a shelter or rescue organization, you often have the benefit of learning valuable information about the animal’s background, including any significant medical or behavioral needs, and who their ideal adopter is. could be, including how they would get along with the kids,” DiCicco said. “Some shelters even have animal behavior counselors you can talk to to determine which dog would be best for your household.” You will receive personalized attention at shelters to find the perfect dog for your family.
Plus, you’ll be doing something good that your family can be proud of. “Adopting an animal from a local shelter saves more than one life. Adoption not only moves an animal from vulnerability to safety, but creates space at the shelter and shifts more resources and attention to the remaining animals,” DiCicco said.
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Don’t do too much research
Isn’t it better to be over-prepared as a parent? Well, in this case, no. If you do too much research beforehand, you risk developing too concrete an idea and missing out on lovable, suitable dogs for your family.
“We encourage adopters to keep an open mind and heart when considering shelter animals in case you find the right chemistry with a pet you’ve never considered before, such as a senior pet. or even those of a different race, size or species,” DiCicco said.
And in the worst case scenario, you were already prepared for a certain type of dog, but your family ends up choosing another, shelters have resources in place to provide you with all the information you need about the dog you are looking for. have chosen. “If you end up adopting a different species of animal than the type of animal you originally considered, shelter staff can share information about proper care and time needed for the animal in question,” DiCicco added. .
Attend a meeting
It goes without saying that meeting dogs in person is essential for adopting. You will actually be able to interact with the dogs and see how they play with your children. The best part about searching in person is that you’ll have the shelter’s expertise on your side to help you make decisions. “Meeting a potential pet in person during a meet and greet session with the help of shelter staff can be a great way to find out if the dog is right for your family and your lifestyle,” DiCicco said.
Meet and greets are often more revealing than researching dog breeds online. Of course, some dog breeds are known to be ideal for children with special needs, such as Golden Retrievers. But DiCicco recommends that you pay more attention to the dog’s personality and your family’s daily habits than to its breed: “Each animal, even those of a specific breed, has a particular personality and temperament. Ask questions and lean on the shelter staff for advice – they are the experts at making the matches and can usually provide information to help you decide whether or not the animal you are interested in is suitable for your specific needs. your family. Your personality and lifestyle, as well as time spent away from home, should also be explored to determine which pet is right for your household.
Don’t neglect older dogs
You might be inclined to just stare at the puppies — I mean, it’s hard to resist those cute little eyes and excited energy. But there are a few benefits to adopting an older dog for families with special needs. “Raising puppies properly takes a lot of time and hard work, whereas most adult and senior dogs have more established personalities, manageable energy levels, and may have mastered basic commands,” DiCicco said.
As many of us know, raising a child with special needs can be time consuming. Between school reunions, doctor’s appointments, therapy, and after-school programs, adding a newborn puppy to the mix can make it difficult to manage. If you don’t have much time in your schedule but still want to adopt a dog, older dogs may be a better fit than puppies.
Older dogs may not be as energetic as puppies, but again, each dog has a unique personality. Your kids may just meet an older dog at the shelter that they have an instant connection with. “When you are looking for a new pet and have the opportunity to interact with an adult or senior dog in a shelter, you may appreciate being able to know the size, energy level and personality of the dog” , added DiCicco.
Consider getting a dog
Another option you may not have considered is foster care. “If you ultimately determine that now is not the best time to adopt a dog, temporary fostering can give you the opportunity to single-handedly change an animal’s life for the better and is a rewarding experience for those who choose to become caregivers,” DiCicco said.
The only downside to fostering is that your family will eventually have to give up the dog, and parting with a pet can be an unsettling experience for children with special needs. However, you can potentially adopt the animal yourself after adoption, if you are ready. You can also start adopting a new dog soon after the other dog leaves your home.
If you decide to welcome a dog, you will be fully taken care of. “Many shelters across the country offer training, resources, and materials to prepare you to take an animal into foster care. The time required for fostering varies from a few weeks to several months, depending on the animal’s needs,” DiCicco said.
Align with daily responsibilities
Whether you’re adopting or adopting, choosing a puppy or an older dog, adding a pet to your life will take time and effort. “When preparing for adoption, it’s a good idea to make a schedule of family members who will help care for your new pet,” DiCicco said, “including playing, feeding, groom and take the dog out for walks.” Giving your child with special needs small tasks, such as filling your dog’s food bowl, can build self-confidence and leadership skills.
Make sure everyone in your family is happy
Choosing to adopt a dog is a family decision, so have an open conversation to check in and hear everyone’s thoughts. Especially if you have multiple children, be sure to bring them along so they all feel included in the process.
Sure, it’s hard to please everyone, and there can be disagreements here and there, but ultimately the dog you choose should be one that everyone gets along with. This will make it easier when you get into the day-to-day life of owning a dog: “The whole family should be on board and willing to welcome the pet into the home,” DiCicco says.
Welcoming a furry friend into your family is very exciting, so enjoy the process and rely on support systems, like shelter staff, to make your decision. Good luck in your search for pets!