Are Your Kids Asking for a Dog? Here’s What You Should Know.

You may have kids who have been begging for a dog.  If so, this article contains some things to consider before adding a four-legged member to your family.  I interviewed a friend of mine, Tracy Ridings, who has five kids, a husband, a cat, and a dog for her advice.  With full houses, like Tracy’s, there are many things to consider before agreeing to add another furry member to your family.

Laura: Why did you decide to get a dog?  
Tracy: I had a dog growing up, and I loved the idea of what dogs can do for kids.  For instance, dogs are known for giving unconditional emotional support.  However, since we have five children, we wanted to ensure that all the children were out of diapers before getting a pet.  Not only did this open up space and time for a pet, it also gave the children the chance to learn responsibility by having to care for the pet.

Laura: What research did you do prior to getting a dog?  
Tracy: After much research, we decided to adopt an Australian Shepherd.  We picked that breed because it only sheds a couple of times a year vs. other breeds who shed all year long.  We looked for personality traits that would fit well with our family.  For instance, we needed a breed who was good with kids, easy going, and low maintenance.  However, with any breed, we learned that the breed’s traits aren’t always 100% guaranteed.  My husband didn’t want a small dog, but since we have small children, we didn’t want a dog who was too large, so the Australian Shepherd was a nice compromise since they are medium sized.  If you have a breed in mind, it's always best to first check with shelters.  Most people are surprised at how many pure bred dogs are available for adoption at the fraction of the cost of going to another outlet like a breeder or pet store.  To us, rescuing a dog was our first choice.

Laura: Do you have any regrets choosing this breed?  
Tracy: We didn’t realize that our dog would chase and attack cars regardless if she was on-leash or not.  If our dog is on-leash, she can overpower the kids no matter what type of leash we tried.  Our dog has no pain tolerance, so she must be muzzled when going to the veterinarian because she tends to bite the veterinarian or their staff.  I would probably not get this breed again, because I prefer having a breed that can be off-leash, walk next to me, and come when called.

Laura: How did your family agree on the dog’s name?  
Tracy: Our dog, named April, had been known by different names previously, like Annie, and Ariel while in the shelter.  We rescued her in the month of April which started with the letter “A” to make the new name recognition a little easier for her.

Laura: Did all the children agree that this was the best breed for your family?  
Tracy: Not at first.  One of my older sons didn’t necessarily care about getting a dog; he is more of a cat person.  However, once I showed him a picture of April in a dirty shelter kennel, my son fell in love with her, and immediately came on board with adopting her.

Laura: Did you get professional training for your dog?  
Tracy: Yes.  We used both group and private dog training classes.

Laura: What kind of socialization are you providing for your dog?  
Tracy: We take April to the off-leash dog park regularly and have play dates with other dogs.

Laura: How did you introduce your dog to other pets in the house?  
Tracy: We already had a cat, so we kept the cat in a kennel for the first 24 hours after bringing April home so that they could smell each other.  We then had April on-leash for the next 24 hours to make sure the cat and dog could safely get used to each other. 

Laura: What rules did you put in place prior to getting a dog?  
Tracy: We made it very clear to the kids that the dog was their complete responsibility.  We had a list of pet chores, and we would have the kids rotate the chores weekly to see which chores they preferred the most.  We would also occasionally rotate the chores if the kids started to get bored.  I trained the kids how to do the chores.  It took a lot of patience, because kids don’t always do as good of a job as an adult.  However, there were times when it made sense for me to step in.  For instance, if the dog had an accident in the house as the kids were running for the school bus, it wasn’t practical to leave the urine on the floor until the kids came home to clean it up.  The main reason that the kids did their pet chores, was because I refused to do them.  I told the kids that if they didn’t do their chores, the pet could be negatively affected.  I further reinforced the importance of doing their chores by making sure the pets got their meals before the kids did.

Laura: Are your kids asking for another dog?  
Tracy: Most of the children were four to six years-old when we got April.  The children are older now, and will be in college soon, so this time-frame worked out well since we don’t plan on getting another dog for the foreseeable future. The youngest child doesn’t know yet that we aren’t planning on getting another dog, so the outcome of this is yet to be seen.

Laura: What advice would you have for other families considering getting a dog?  
Tracy: Get a dog when the kids are old enough to remember the parents bringing the dog home.  This way, the kids can remember most of the dog’s life.  The kids also get to grow up alongside the dog.  Another tip is to be realistic about how much time it will take to train a puppy, especially if you have kids in diapers who also need bathroom training.  Factor in your lifestyle.  For instance, if you travel a lot and can’t take the dog with you, it might be best to wait until you have more time at home.  If you miss having a dog, but can’t commit to getting one, consider fostering a dog.  By fostering a dog, you won’t have the long-term responsibility of owning a dog.  Fostering will also give you a chance to become more familiar with different breeds.  Please note that it’s important to first talk to your kids about fostering and the emotional outcome that happens once the pet is adopted.  Usually, older children will understand that they are just babysitting the foster pet, but younger kids may not understand that this isn’t their permanent pet, and become distressed after the foster pet goes to their forever home.