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Just because you have a rambunctious toddler roaming the house doesn't mean a family pet can't roam the manor too. "Children can come to have a lifelong appreciation of animals, and as they get older, owning an animal can be a wonderful tool to teach responsibility, communication, kindness and commitment," says Steven May, pet expert and co-author of "What About Wally? Co-Parenting a Pet With Your Ex." Ensuring the safety of both your pet and your toddler is key, though. Choose an animal companion that will interact gently with your little one.
The most important thing to remember when buying or adopting a dog is to first understand its disposition and to take the necessary steps to properly introduce the little one and the dog. "The best dog breeds are those that are relaxed and protective of the family," says May. He recommends Labradors and golden retrievers for younger children because of their calm disposition. Cocker spaniels and corgis are also appropriate choices for little ones, but May warns that they can be a bit more rambunctious. "Each of these breeds bond closely with their families," he says.
Adult dogs that have been trained to be respectful to and calm around other pets and people would be a safer choice than an overly enthusiastic puppy, advises Patrick Mahaney, a California-based veterinarian. "Dogs trending on the lower-energy side of the spectrum will be less likely to excitedly approach, pounce on, scratch or push over a toddler," he says. Mahaney recommends breeds such as pugs, English bulldogs or even greyhounds as the best dog for a toddler.
Cats can be wonderful with children, although their disposition is totally different than dogs, says May. "They are very independent." An older cat, though, may be more appropriate for a toddler as opposed to a kitten with lots of energy. Kittens can be physical with their front claws, May warns. An adult, non-aggressive cat can provide your toddler with just the right amount of mellow cuddling she needs when playing quietly.
Pets teach children how to care for another's well-being. As your child learns how to feed and take care of himself as a toddler, a fish would be a great option for teaching him how to responsibly care for another living thing. Fish can be easily stored in a bowl or small aquarium in your child's room as a reminder that he is the primary caretaker, responsible for daily feedings (with a little bit of help from mom and dad).
If you're searching for a low-maintenance pet for your toddler, you can't get much easier than a hermit crab. Stored in small (and often portable) tanks with gravel, hermit crabs require nothing but daily food and water. Your toddler can handle and play with a hermit crab, too -- with your guidance, of course. This particular pet also offers quite a learning experience for your toddler as she watches the crab outgrow its shell over time.