Children and Dogs Part I-The Beginning

‘Can we get a puppy?’, this question is where it all begins. Your children have been pestering you for months, may be years, with promises like, ‘I promise to take care of it’ or ‘I’ll walk and train it every day’.  Let me tell you something…. that’s unlikely to happen. Children (even in to their teens) have little concept of the commitment that is required to keep a dog, so eventually the responsibility will fall on your shoulders.

This is the first thing you must come to terms with if you are considering bringing a dog in to the family. Even if you have a super responsible and mature child, their life will change over the course of a 15 year period. Perhaps they will move out, go travelling, or simply never be at home for anything other than sleeping and eating. All of which will not include the dog.

If your children are pestering you for a dog, and you really don’t want one, don’t give in. It is your house that your children are living in, and ultimately you will bare the responsibility of the dog. Alternatives include, having your child volunteer at the local dog shelter, offering to look after friends or neighbours dogs, and fostering dogs. Each of these activities allows your child to have dogs in their life but without the continual commitment.

You might even like to do some of these activities before you adopt a dog to determine how a dog will fit in to your family. I knew a lady who had her daughter ‘borrow’ the neighbours’ dog and take it to dog training each Saturday for almost a year before this young girl was allowed to adopt her own dog. This would be a great lesson for your child, and your neighbours will be having their dog trained for free!

When you feel comfortable with the fact that you will be the primary carer of your dog, you should include the children in the decision making process and preparation for the arrival of a new dog. This is where you can buy some time- have the children do the research in to all things dog. By research I don’t mean one or two days of Googling ‘dogs’ but much more in depth research. Talk to the children about all of the decisions that need to be made in relation to this new dog. These may include…

Adopting an older dog or a baby puppy? Breeder or shelter? Which breeder or shelter? What breed? Local council registration cost? Initial costs, outlay and ongoing? Worming and flea treatment costs/brands? Pet Insurance? Training school? Which veterinarian? Food, including treats? Equipment needed, including toys? Walking destinations? Sleeping and living arrangements of the new dog/puppy? Pet minders if you go away? Other household pets’ needs?

This is just the beginning, the list could go on with your own questions particular to your family situation. You can hopefully see why this could buy you some time. It should take your children months and months to properly research all of this.

Having your children do this research is good for a couple of reasons. First, your children will realise that adopting a puppy or dog is a serious matter that requires thorough planning. It also gives you an opportunity to find out how committed they are, this will help you measure your expectations for them when the dog arrives. It also opens discussion on the topic, and gives all family members a voice about what they want and expect from a pet dog.

Benefits of having a dog with children teaches them many life lessons such as respect, patience, empathy and consequences of actions. However, one of the biggest lessons is the life cycle. If you are adopting your dog from a breeder, regular visits to the breeders home allows the children to see the baby puppies develop, how they feed and play. Unfortunately part of learning about the life cycle is also exposing your children to death. Children who have been through loosing a dog will experience first hand what grief feels like and the finality of death and that it is a part of life.

Children and dogs also bond very easily. It sometimes seems like they were made for each other. I am a big advocate of dogs (provided they are temperamentally sound) sleeping with teenage children. It builds strong bonds, and as teenagers are often awake late at night, it provides them with some good company. You may just need to let the dog out in the morning as it is unlikely your teenager will rise before noon.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are children, or even adults, that are scared of dogs, and this may be a reason that you would like to adopt a dog. Involving the children in the adoption process is a great idea to help them feel more control over the situation. If you or your children are scared of dogs it is best to adopt an older dog who is calm, rather than a jumping, biting puppy with sharp teeth. Greyhounds are wonderful for this situation, they are very quiet and only require on lead walking which would suit a family that is too scared to socialise at the local dog park. If you would like to know more about adopting a Greyhound, the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP) in your State would be the best place to start your search.

Children and dogs can learn so much from one another and it can give your child some wonderful memories for the rest of their life. The decision to adopt a dog should involve the children, but in the end, no matter how old your children are, the responsibility will fall on you. First and foremost you, the adult, should be ready to have a dog.


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