While your kids may convince you they are ready for a dog, as a parent it’s important to remember that you will always have primary responsibility as the canine caregiver, and it may be a 15-year commitment. Your kids can help, and take on more chores as they get older, but it is not realistic to assume children in elementary or even middle school can take on all the tasks of dog care.
Feeling comfortable with dogs
If your kids haven’t had much exposure to dogs, it’s best to introduce them to different canines and teach them how to behave around the animals. Kids must understand that dogs aren’t toys — they are living, feeling creatures and can nip if annoyed. Teach your children to respect a dog’s space, to never pet a dog without asking the owner’s permission, and show them how to properly approach and touch a dog. Once your kids are fairly comfortable with dogs and don’t overreact, they may be ready for one of their own.
Helping around the house
If your child knows to put his toys away when he’s finished playing, or places his dirty clothes in the hamper without nagging, he’s showing signs of responsibility and reliability. That’s a good indication that he may be ready for a dog. With supervision, you can assign him dog-related chores once Fido arrives, whether it’s making sure there’s always water available or taking the dog for walks at specific times. If your child does not yet keep up his end of performing simple chores, inform him that until he shows some initiative, no dog will live in your house. If he does step up to the plate consistently, maybe you can reconsider the dog issue in a few months.
Ask yourself honestly: Are your kids generally well-behaved, or are they little hellions? If they often get into trouble, they can get into even more hot water with a dog, or risk the animal’s health and safety. Generally, kids grow out of these behaviors, but if a child is constantly throwing tantrums, refusing to go to bed — you know the drill — it’s not the right time to add a dog to the family.
Kids have shorter attention spans than adults. That’s normal. However, if your child gets very excited over certain activities or items, then quickly loses interest, that doesn’t bode well for getting a dog. You have to gauge whether the interest will remain once the “newness” of the dog wears off. If your child has certain strong interests and demonstrates a commitment to them, that’s a good sign he or she will retain interest in what you hope is a four-legged best friend.
Are your kids active and athletic and love to play outdoors, or would they rather watch TV or play computer games no matter how nice it is outside? Active kids are more suited for a dog, especially a puppy or young animal. If your child is a true couch potato and you can’t see that changing anytime soon, either postpone getting a dog or adopt an older dog who is perfectly content to lie around most of the time. An active dog and an inactive child are not a good match.
If the positives outweigh the negatives, your kids are ready for a dog. Discuss exactly what caring for a dog entails, and assign tasks before the dog ever enters your home. Of course, flexibility counts. Your child may promise to pick up dog poop, but once he’s actually dealing with it, it may just become too “gross.” Assume that’s going to become a parental chore.
Discuss what kind of dog you plan to get, whether you’ll purchase a puppy or adopt an older dog, and any other canine-related issues. Kids generally prefer a puppy, but if no one is home during the day, a certified kid-loving adult dog makes sense. Plus, these dogs are usually already house-trained and leash-trained, and past the chewing everything in sight stage. No matter what type of dog you choose, remember that it’s now a member of the family.
Jane Meggitt graduated from New York University and worked as a staff writer for a major New Jersey newspaper chain. Her work on pets, equines and health have appeared in dozens of publications, including The Daily Puppy, The Nest Pets, Horse News, Hoof Beats and Horseback magazines.