When I was 6, I begged my parents for a dog. I showed them how responsible I could be by putting a ribbon collar and leash on my stuffed dog named Muttsy and towing him around the house. I snuggled with him at night. I told him to “sit” and “stay” (he was the most obedient dog.) But, try as I might, I (and my family) remained dog-less until I was 9 or so. I used to think my parents were mean, spiteful and unfair for denying me my very own real-life Muttsy, but now that I have my own dog I realize that my parents were smart. At that time, I was six, I had a three-year old brother, plus an infant brother – not a good equation for bringing a puppy into your home.
Some people argue that kids need dogs, while others insist that you’re nuts if you get a pet specifically for your kids. Now, I’m biased; I love dogs. When I have children, rest assured that we will still have dogs. I am obsessed with my own dog; I volunteer at shelters; and I check out dogs on the street like they’re dudes. I consider myself very responsible about pet ownership, and I encourage every family who is thinking of getting a dog to consider the following:
The Time Commitment – Dogs are a lot of work. Granted, this work is fun and incredibly rewarding, but a dog will need your time and energy! Dogs look to their families for guidance regarding behavior, so it is integral to invest a lot of time in training your new family member, preferably using positive reinforcement, to ensure a smooth adjustment to your family’s life.
Understand that a dog usually needs guidance as to appropriate behaviors in any given situation: in the house, on walks, in the yard, and especially when interacting with children. Be there to reward desired behaviors and to modify undesired behaviors. If you get stuck, don’t hesitate to do some research and consult a trainer! I’ve done it, and it’s well worth it; a total sanity saver.
What will you do with your dog while you’re at work? Think about this when bringing your new family member home. Some dogs are completely content to snooze all day, while others require more activity. If you and your dog are up for it, try integrating your dog into family activities like movie nights, an awesome game of backyard football, or family walks. I have great memories of our dog Daisy sitting next to my parents while I played soccer games. If you’re not able to take Fido with you everywhere – and many people aren’t – there are services available to busy families. Doggie daycare, dog walkers, and puppy playgroup businesses exist to provide your pup with an outlet for energy and companionship if you’re going to be gone for a long stretch of time.
The Responsibility Factor – If you expect your kids to train, budget, and trek a dog to and from the vet/training/doggie daycare, then you are nuts. You are the adult, so act accordingly. Have realistic expectations for what your kids can and cannot do. They can: play with the dog (supervised by an adult at all times), go for walks with you and the dog, attend training class (which is a great bonding experience for family members and the dog), pick up poop (a humbling experience), and help feed the dog. Giving your kids increased responsibilities with their dog will help them feel more confident, and will teach them to care for something outside of themselves. Additionally, animals can help shy kids develop confidence (check out Paws for Tales in San Mateo, CA).
The Financial Commitment – Dogs, like kids, can be expensive. Vet bills, training, treats, leashes, and doggie clothes (if you’re into that kind of thing) add up. If your family is not in a place to take on that financial commitment, consider volunteering at a local shelter as a family or fostering an animal for a rescue organization. Many animal rescues and shelters have programs for children to volunteer with a parent. One of my favorites is Berkeley Animal Care Services in Berkeley, CA. Not only will you be helping an animal in need, but you’ll also lead your children by example in displaying compassion and caring for something other than themselves.
Now for a shameless animal shelter plug – If you’re thinking of getting a pet, please look into adopting. I can’t stress this enough. Animal shelters are overflowing with incredible animals that can fit any family’s lifestyle. Many smaller rescues often place their animals in “foster homes,” so the pups are familiar with a home environment by the time they reach their forever home. If you’re looking for a purebred dog, there are plenty of purebred rescues across the country. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), about twenty-five percent of all dogs in shelters are purebred. Another benefit to shelters? They’ll make sure your new furry family member has been spayed or neutered, and often cover that cost as part of your adoption fee so you won’t have any “surprises” when Fido comes home.
Image Credit: Matteo Paciotti