Allowing a child the opportunity to have a dog can provide many valuable lessons about love, friendship and responsibility. Dogs and children are as natural a combination as peanut butter and jelly, and if your child expresses an interest in a pet you should at least give the idea some thought.
Benefits of Getting Your Children a Dog
Depending on the age of your child, having a pet is one of the best ways to teach your child about responsibility. Make it perfectly clear to your child that the dog is dependent on him for his food, water and for being let outside and groomed. You may consider creating a chart so that your child can see each task, and check it off when it is complete. If the child fails to let the dog outside, and the pet has an accident on the floor, make it your child’s duty to clean up after the dog.
The amount of responsibility given to the child will, naturally, depend on their age. If the child is very young, give them small tasks and then the level of responsibility can increase as the child gets older.
A dog can be a wonderful companion and friend to a child. This special bond can be especially meaningful to an only child. Also, if your family moves frequently, such as a military family would, having a dog can help ease the trauma of moving for your child. While the child will still have to leave behind most of his friends, if he has a dog he will at least be able to take along his ‘best’ friend.
Love and Loss
The lessons a child will learn by having a dog are not all pleasant ones, but all are important. A child that has a dog has the opportunity to learn about what it feels like to lose someone they love. Losing a pet can help a child to learn about the grieving process. The parents should treat the death of a dog or other pet as a teaching moment. If the dog is ill, use that as a way to teach your child about selflessness and about being there for loved ones when they need him most. While a sad lesson for sure, it’s one that, if taught properly, will help your child as he becomes an adult.
Choosing a Dog
While there is not a specific breed that is necessarily a poor choice for a child, it is important to consider the personality of your child when selecting a dog. If your child is very active, you will want to choose a breed that will be able to keep up with a high level of activity. On the other hand, if your child tends to be more sedentary, you may want to select a dog that is less active. Of course, selecting an active dog for your inactive child may be a good way to encourage your child to ramp up his activity level!
Also, if your child spends a lot of time away from home with extracurricular and social activities, you will want to choose a dog that requires less human interaction (unless there are other family members who are willing to spend time with the dog).
Dogs and children should be a combination that enhances the life of the child, not interferes with it. There are dog breeds to fit every lifestyle and personality. By doing a little research before selecting a pet you will help ensure the best possible match.
Keep in Mind
Small children should never be left alone with a dog regardless of the breed. Babies especially should always be kept under close watch when a dog is present. Sometimes, when a baby is harmed by a family pet, it is not because the dog was being aggressive. Often, babies and small children are injured by dogs that are doing what they consider to be playing with the child. Keeping a close watch can ensure that such a tragedy will be avoided.
Even with older children, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the way that they interact with the dog until you are certain that both the child and the dog understand acceptable boundaries. For example, you want to make sure that your child is not hitting or otherwise hurting the dog either intentionally or by accident during play. Also, you want to make sure that the dog is not attempting to dominate your child during play. This will take work on your part until the dog learns his place in the family.
Before the dog comes home, your child is going to promise you that you will never have clean up after, feed, groom or walk the dog. He will swear on his Playstation that he will be the single most responsible dog owner that the world has ever known. The truth is that while your child has only the best intentions, there will probably be times when you have to clean up a mess and otherwise look after the dog.
As mentioned earlier, dog ownership is a great way to help your child learn about responsibility, but that isn’t likely to happen overnight. If you tell yourself ahead of time that you will likely have to take up the slack while your child is learning the ropes, it will be much less frustrating for you than if you plan to never have to lift a finger for doggy duty.
Also, even if you have the most responsible child in the world, having a dog in the family is more than likely going to add some extra chores for mom and dad. Dogs shed, so you may have to dust and vacuum a bit more often. There will be times when the dog will need to be walked and fed when your child isn’t home, and you’ll have to take care of it.
The benefits and friendship that a dog will bring to your child are well worth the small inconveniences. Dogs and children are a combination that will leave your whole family with wonderful memories of your child’s ‘best friend’.