How Dogs Keep Kids Fit and Trim

A new study shows that buying a dog may keep your family in better shape.

By Emily Main

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• Start with an older dog. Peterson recommends that families opt for older pets, especially if there are young children in the house. "If you have a child and a puppy, you have two kids," she says. Puppies have not yet learned not to bite or scratch, and may jump up on a child innocently and knock him over. Puppies are also prone to having internal parasites, Peterson says. Those are pretty common in both puppies and kittens, she adds, "and because kids put everything in their mouths, puppies aren't a good idea, particularly if you have a very young child in the house." On the other hand, older pets are calmer, and if you're adopting from a shelter, you can usually find one that's been raised around children and is accustomed to all that energy (and may be more forgiving of the occasional tail pull).

• Buy from people who know their animals. Another benefit of adopting from shelters is that you have adoption counselors who are familiar with the individual personalities of all their animals, and can make recommendations for pets that are a good match for your family, says Peterson. "They know the dogs and can make a good match," she adds, which isn't always easy for the rest of us since we're easily swayed by a cute puppy dog face or a particular breed. "We all are drawn to a certain animal because of how they look," she says, "but basing a decision like this, which comes with a lifetime of commitment, on size or the way an animal looks can get you into trouble." If you would prefer to buy from a breeder, Peterson suggests looking for one "who's not just out to make a buck." Ask for references from a breeder you've found, or call a local veterinarian's office; he or she can usually point you to local breeders whose pets the vet has treated, and can vouch for proper care. And take note of the living arrangements of dogs when you get there. "If you go to somebody's place and the dogs are outside in pens or in the yard, not in the house, that's a dog that has not actually lived inside or had a lot of human contact," she says.

• Know the difference between "active" and "hyperactive" pets. Pets are great exercise motivators. But a dog that has boundless energy and appears on first meeting to be a good exercise companion may not ever calm down. "A hyper dog has a general activity level that is always high and can't relax. He's always going," Peterson says. Hyperactive dogs may not make good playmates for kids. On the other hand, active dogs will have enough energy for playtime but know when to calm down, she adds. It can be hard to tell the difference, though, because playing with an animal at the shelter's play yard or taking him home for a few days may not give you an accurate read of his personality. "That's why I say put some trust in the adoption counselors. Ask as many questions as you can," she says.

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