Kids and Canines – How to Prepare Your Home, Your Child and Yourself for a Dog
Kids and canines go hand-in-hand, so thinking of getting a dog for your children is part of every parent’s life. I was getting pleading puppy eyes from my kids long before we adopted a canine. But as I explained to them many times while we walked in the park past other kids towing schnauzers or petting retrievers, having a dog is a big responsibility. I’d always had dogs growing up, but since my wife and I had our two kids, we had yet to bring a pet into the mix.
Our daughter was the hardest to convince. “I’ll play with him every day,” she’d say. But as my wife and I tried to explain to her, dogs don’t live on play alone. From major health issues like vaccinations to minor ones like bad breath in dogs, and from daily walks to ongoing training, I found out there was more to getting and training a dog when kids are involved.
From my personal experience, here are the main points you should know before you bring together your kids and canines for the first time.
Kids and Canines: Picking the Breed
There’s a lot of debate over breeds. For kids it’s the cute factor. For parents, it’s usually safety and training. However, just as the dog needs to be trained to respect the children, children need to know that dogs deserve respect too. Remember that just because a breed has a safe reputation, it doesn’t mean that individual dog doesn’t need boundaries.
Even Pomeranians can snap at children who haven’t learned how to treat a dog properly. When you single out a few likely puppies for your family to consider, don’t neglect to find out how big the dog is likely to grow. We decided a small mixed-breed dog was best for the size of our house and our children.
Kids and Canines: Setting Responsibility and Ground Rules
Dogs are a fantastic way to teach kids how to have some responsibility. In our home, our daughter is in charge of feeding the dog and making sure his water dish is always full. Our son makes sure the dog gets let out in the morning to do his business, and the whole family takes an after-dinner stroll with the dog most evenings. When we were training our dog, we made sure to communicate to the kids that it was their job to clean up any messes the dog made.
As I expected, in the first few weeks the kids were super enthusiastic about their new responsibilities, but when the newness wore off there were occasional lapses in motivation. To solve this, my wife and I made a “doggy-list” which we hang on the refrigerator. This checklist includes all of the dog-related tasks that need to be done in a day, and all of them have to be checked off before the kids can play.
Likewise, your dog will need to be taught from the very beginning what is acceptable behavior and what is not. This is especially important for families with toddlers or babies, as you might want to declare the nursery a no-dog zone. Older kids should help in the training process and know all of the rules, so the dog gets rewarded (or punished) consistently for certain actions.
Kids and Canines: Consider the Time Commitment
As illustrated by the “doggy-list,” every parent who is thinking about bringing a dog into the mix needs to consider carefully how much time commitment the pooch will require. Dogs are happiest in homes where they get a lot of time with their family. If you and your kids are already overcommitted with homework and after-school activities, maybe getting a dog isn’t the right idea at this point in time.
The first time our son asked for a dog we were just getting used to the idea of him having a sister. My work schedule also made it seem overwhelming. For us, it was the right decision to wait until both kids were able to help take care of the dog.
Kids and Canines: Prepare Your Home and Environment
“Dog-proofing” is another important pre-pooch step. You’ll need to remove any clutter from the floor that new dogs may find interesting for a nibble, for example your kids’ toys, and block off areas of your home that you don’t want the dog to enter. The American Kennel Club recommends making sure electrical cords or other wiring is out of the way, and that anything toxic is removed from access in the garage or garden.
While we were house training our dog, we put plastic rug covers in the center of the living room and in the kids’ playroom. Later, our dog had been housebroken, but developed a love of smelly shoes. Several shopping trips for footwear later, our dog has been broken of the habit — and we also hang our shoes on a closet rack when we get home. Kids and canines can be very loving and enjoyable relationships, as long as certain rules are set-down by parents!
About the Author: Brent Harte is the CEO of Vitahound. He writes about dogs and dog care for pet sites and magazines.