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When Is the Right Time for New Parents to Adopt a Dog?

Dogs are great for kids, but adding to the stress of being a new parent can pose a problem.

 |  Aug 29th 2013  |   1 Contribution


When you think of any old movie with a dog as a main character, there’s almost always a kid to go with it –- Lassie, Old Yeller, Snoopy cartoons. Kids and dogs can be the perfect companions. But the work of having a dog, especially in an urban environment, when the dog has to be taken out and walked twice a day, often falls to the parents. So it’s important to be sure you want to add the stress of being a dog owner to your already busy life of being a parent.

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Children and their beagle puppy by Shutterstock.

I happen to be in the opposite position: I’m already a dog owner and I’m in the process of becoming a parent (and getting quite close I might add -– one month to go!)

The process of getting a kid does not share many of the benefits of the process of getting a dog. First, you don’t get to pick what kind of kid you get. I’d like a nice mellow baby, quiet, easy, great with other kids. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Whoever is currently kicking me in the ribs is the one we get.

Nor do you really get to decide when you get the child. It’s a nine-month process, you have limited control over when it starts and no control over when it ends (unless you have a planned cesarean section, but even then, the doctors determine much of that as well). We planned to get our dog after our various vacations were over. Our baby will come whenever she's ready. Vacations, weddings, work projects -- she does not take those into consideration.

But, if you already have a kid (or kids) and it’s a dog you’re after, you have the opportunity to decide whether or not to get a dog, when to get it, and choose which four-legged sibling will fit best into the family. Lucky you.

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Combing the dog by Shutterstock.

The first question -- to dog or not to dog? There are so many reasons to give your son or daughter a furry best friend, I don't even know where to begin. I grew up with a Golden Retriever named Charlie, as well as a number of cats, and they provided me with hours of companionship, playtime and comfort. I had plenty of friends at school, but I remember feeling that no one quite understood me like Charlie did. 

Combine that friendship with the proven health benefits of growing up with a dog, which include:

  • Stronger immune system
  • Lowered risk of asthma and allergies
  • Lowered chance of obesity (with more motivation to go outside and exercise)
  • Stronger sense of responsibility
  • Improved impulse control, social skills and self-esteem

I could go on and on, but you can just read this this about how dogs make babies healthier and call it a day. Or look at this adorable collection of photos on Buzzfeed of dogs that will do anything for their small human friends.

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Happy little girl playing with dog by Shutterstock.

But there’s another side that you don’t see in Lassie or Snoopy –- dogs are a lot of work. Perhaps not as much work as a child (or perhaps more, depending on the dog and the child). So, getting a dog is not a decision to be taken lightly. You may want to wait until your children are old enough to help out with dog care, versus adding to the chaos and daily responsibilities. So, before you get a dog, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Do you have the time and energy to take care of an additional “child”?
  2. Do you live in a home that will make having a dog easier? Can you open the door to a fenced-in yard vs. having to walk down five flights of stairs to take the dog out late at night?
  3. Do you and your family have a dog-friendly lifestyle? Is there someone home most of the time, or, if you work, can you take your dog to work with you?
  4. Most importantly -– do your kids like dogs? Don’t assume that getting a dog will get your child over his or her fear of dogs.

How did you decide when it was the right time to get your dog? Tell us your stories in the comments!

About the author: Audrey is a contradictory mix of cynicism and sentimentality – thinks wedding vows are cheesy, yet cries at almost every episode of This American Life. Enjoys telling jokes with her 100-year-old grandma, drinking bourbon cocktails, and cuddling with her husband (Wes) and Schnauzer-mutt (Rusty). Creator of Hot Guys and Baby Animals and writer at Dogster.

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