Lets get a dog for the kids

Kids and dogs, puppies and kids, all those cute images from dog food commercials and camera ads and old "Lassie" reruns. Ahh, the power of myth! A dog will be a real part of the family! Yes, it seems quite natural to think that children and dogs go together. I've heard it said hundreds of times that "we're thinking of getting a dog for the kids." For many prospective dog owners, it seems logical to assume that the dog will entertain the children, teach them a sense of responsibility, and be a willing and affectionate companion.

Well, if you're still in that starry-eyed thinking stage, stay there until the idea matures into the realization that you're bringing another living being into your home, and that this new family member deserves an unconditional and lifetime commitment. Be aware also that not every dog is an entertainer, a teacher, or even a willing companion. And to top it off, just like people, the new dog or puppy may take an instant dislike to one or all of your children!

Still with me? Great! It could very well be that getting a dog or puppy "for the kids" will still turn out to be the best thing you could do for your family. But understanding your dog's needs and your children's limitations is the key to getting off to a good start. Understand also that expecting a new dog to fill a void in a child's life caused by divorce or the death of a parent is expecting too much from a canine companion. Yes, it can work on rare occasion, but the odds are really against you.

While some people are instinctively good with animals, most of them are not. I have a gut feeling that the ones who are "good" with dogs somehow learned from the generation before them just how to live with a dog. Mom and Dad were probably there to supervise the interaction between dog and child from the start, and served as good role models in caring and coping with the new canine member of the family.

Similarly, you must anticipate doing the same for your children if this venture is to succeed. Assuming that you've done all the right things in searching for the kind of dog you want - reading up on breeds, visiting litters, talking with owners, etc. - and have picked out the dog of your dreams, bringing him home is the first important step in the process.

Bring the animal home when there's not a lot of commotion going on (Christmas, Easter, birthdays are not a good time for this!) Pick a time when you have a weekend at least or a few days off to spend lots of time with the kids and the dog. Start a feeding and exercise schedule for the dog, and stick with it. It isn't as important who does the chores for the dog as the fact that they get done with consistency. It may help to write the schedule down, stick it on the refrigerator door and check things off when the jobs are done.

Show your children how to play with the new dog. (We throw the ball 'for' the dog, and not 'at' the dog, Junior"). Dogs have very sharp hearing, and so keep the youthful squealing and yelling to a minimum. Show them how to pet the dog - easily, gently, with no tugging, scratching or pulling hair. Step in and stop the child who puts a "bone-crusher" hug on the new pet.

Teach your toddler that dog food is not human food, and to leave the dog dishes alone! Fido can get quite upset about competition from Junior at his food bowl, and ugly feelings can develop. Teach all your children not to hand-feed the dog. It's not good for the dog's diet, and it's certainly not appropriate and possibly dangerous if your toddler tries to mimic this on his own. Also, it might result in your dog being fed Play-Doh when you're not looking!

Remember, if you have very small children and decide to buy a very small, cute puppy, in six months Junior will still be about 25 pounds. Rover, on the other hand, could weigh upwards of sixty pounds, all wrapped up in a wiggly, rambunctious package that can make your toddler's first steps an obstacle course!

If you are truly committed to getting a dog for the family, keep in mind these three rules:

  1. Rationally consider the demands of caring for a new pet while taking care of small children, and decide whether this is the right time for you to take on this extra responsibility.
  2. Supervise all dog-and-child interactions so that both children and pet are protected.
  3. Teach by example, and learn how to care for the dog. Let your children learn from a good role model.