MORGAN COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - Most animals are born in the spring and by summer they are old enough to be weaned away from their mothers. That's when many people look for a new family pet.
It's estimated more than 59 percent of households in Alabama have pets. Experts said owners should do their homework before selecting a breed of dog.
Carol Wicks is Decatur's Animal Services Director, she said there are many things families should examine before choosing a pet. "Take a good, hard look at their own lifestyle first. Do they have children? How old are their children? Where do they live? if they live in rental housing, they need to check and be sure of any restrictions might be."
Wicks said to consider the need for room in the house and a fenced yard versus walking the dog.
She said small children have not learned to inhibit their own behavior. "They do things like pull ears, try to take food out of the mouths of the dog, getting to close to them while they're eating...that kind of thing."
"When it comes to dogs and choosing a dog for a toddler, a lot of the experts said a bigger breed dog will actually get along better with that toddler than a small dog and there's a reason for that. Many of the larger dogs were actually developed to be companions for children or guardians for children or nanny type dogs."
Dog trainer Amanda Haag agrees. "Even the gentle giants, the mastiffs. Bulldogs are wonderful dogs for children. If you go to the smaller dogs, shih tzus, Maltese, Chihuahuas, they're a little bit more nervous. They like the quietness of an older home and not the activities of children."
She suggest starting with a medium sized dog.
If you are looking for a cat, Wicks suggests a slightly older kitten.
She said parents should teach their children to avoid animals they don't know. "You're not going to be able to outrun the dog so just let him come up to you and sniff you if you think he is not posing a threat."
But if the dog is aggressive, she said to teach the child to be very still and fold their across their chest.
Haag said at least make a fist. "That way if they try to bite my hand, it's a lot harder for them to bite this than fingers."
Haag said eye contact may be a challenge to the dog.
"If you are wearing a jacket or if you have a purse feed that to the animal if they are coming toward you in an aggressive manner," added Wicks.
Wicks said talk to the dog in a low, slow voice and don't make sudden moves.
Click here for more tips on preventing dog bites: http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/home/dog_bites.html