On top of unconditional love, a dog comes with a surprising benefit: A Finnish study found that kids with dogs at home had stronger immune systems and fewer respiratory illnesses and ear infections than kids without them.
Try a rescue agency or shelter (skip pet shops and web stores). For a purebred, visit the breeder's home. A clean home and calm, friendly dogs are good signs. Go to akc.org for a directory of recommended breeders. “Remember that each breed comes with its own behavior traits and odds for disease,” says Steven May, author of What About Wally? Co-Parenting a Pet With Your Ex. Consider:
For Babies and Toddlers
Stay away from herding breeds such as Border collies and corgis, as they tend to be overprotective or view young ones as in need of herding. Consider easygoing toy breeds like King Charles spaniels and pugs. The midsize beagle and larger Labrador retrievers are equally laid-back.
Smaller breeds, like dachshunds, toy poodles, and shelties, provide younger kids with a wonderful opportunity for a hands-on approach to pet ownership. Prefer a bigger pal? Larger dogs that are more docile and tolerant of children include golden retrievers, collies, and greyhounds.
For Kids 5 to 8
Kids this age can handle some of the responsibilities, like staying on top of food and water bowls. Dachshunds, toy poodles, and shelties are playful and pretty tolerant of kid antics, making them top choices for this age group.
For Kids 9 to 12
Hand these kids the reins (and the leash). If you've been dreaming of a big buddy, look to docile golden retrievers, collies, greyhounds, German shepherds, Gordon setters, and Irish setters. They're all typically gentle around kids.