When you have children and dogs, you get inundated with all sorts of unsolicited advice. If you had dogs before kids, the advice includes being told that you should get rid of the dogs because having kids isn’t fair to the dogs and that they might even hurt the child. If you had a kid first, people will tell you not to get dogs because you won’t have time to take care of everyone.
Listen up: The only person who knows what’s right for your family is you, and I can tell you that dogs can be excellent additions to that family! Besides the snuggles and companionship that come with dogs, they also teach a unique set of life lessons that will stick with your child forever.
Depending on your child’s age, much of the responsibility of caring for a dog will remain on your shoulders. However, even the youngest member of the family can take part in simple tasks such as brushing the dog, washing food bowls, and going along for walks.
I would wear my baby in a wrap while walking our dog, Axle, and later I let her ride in a stroller. She’s watched me bathe him, brush him, clip his nails, and take care of his food and water. Since she started walking, she even tries to help me carry the food scoop to fill his bowl!
The biggest thing to remember is that children learn by watching what you do much more than listening to what you say, so let them see you treat your dog like a valued member of the family.
Our dog was 3 years old when we had our first child. Those newborn days were hectic, and I became both appreciative of and reliant on my dog’s calm behavior and independence during that period of adjustment. Puppies are wonderful and adorable, but they are much like children themselves in that they require frequent feedings and potty breaks and lots of attention. If you have the support system to help you through this stage, it can be a beautiful thing to watch a dog grow up alongside your child.
If the puppy stage isn’t your thing, I highly recommend adopting an older dog. You can meet with the dog prior to adoption to see how well the dog interacts with your child. Well-tempered senior dogs can be wonderful and patient teachers to introduce your child to the world of dogs.
Children are born into this world as selfish beings, and I mean that in the best way possible. They only know their needs, and it is up to you to show them that others have needs and wants, too. A dog is an excellent way to communicate this empathy for others! Involving your child in caring for the family dog helps them learn how to respect the needs of others.
One thing you’ll be teaching your child from day one is to respect a dog’s space. While it is up to the parent to maintain vigilant supervision of any child/dog interactions, it’s still important to teach your child basic dog body language. While every dog is different, there are few basic signs to watch for that mean a dog needs space. A dog who is growling, lunging, barking aggressively, or otherwise displaying “aggression” is waving a big “stay away” sign. They do NOT want to be messed with, and it’s definitely not something to take personally.
I remember when I was little and it hurt my feelings if a dog didn’t want to play with me. I didn’t understand that not all dogs like children, and sometimes dogs just want some breathing room.
Another behavior a child must learn is that a dog who is constantly moving away does not want to be chased; rather, he wants to be left alone. Much like when you or I have a bad day and just want some space, the dog is communicating that he does not want to be messed with and is peacefully removing himself from the situation.
Similarly, the child may want to be left to eat her lunch in peace, or may want to play with her toys without Rover all up in her business. In this case, you’re already ahead of the game if your dog knows a command like “go lie down” or another type of down/stay command. Teach this command to your child, and work together with your dog so that the dog learns to respond to the command from the child.
A dog can be an invaluable friend to your child. A dog’s presence is warm and comforting, and a child can speak all of his frustrations and secrets into a listening ear that isn’t subject to judgment or gossip. Dogs can also be very useful when dealing with children who have learning or confidence issues. Children with trouble reading may feel more relaxed if they are reading to their dog, which is why many schools and libraries have introduced after-school reading programs that include therapy dogs.
Did you grow up with a dog? Are your kids growing up with dogs? Let us know about the four-legged best friend in the comments below!
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About Meghan Lodge: Fits the Aquarius definition to a fault, loves animals, and is always pushing for change. Loves ink, whether it’s in tattoos, books, or writing on that pretty sheet of blank paper. Proud parent of Toby and Odin (cats) and Axle (dog). I’m a former quiet nerd who’s turned bubbly animal-obsessed advocate.