My First Best Friend – Is my child ready for a dog?

It’s a dilemma that’s faced countless mums and dads. What do you do when your child asks for their first dog? What do you say when it seems like you can’t walk through the local park without your little boy or girl seeing a cute, playful puppy and turning to you with a look that says: “oh please can I have one”. As a good mother or father, you want to give your child all he or she wants in the world. But as a responsible parent you also want to make sure that both you and your child are ready for a dog. So how do you achieve that?

The truth is that we can’t expect a young child to understand all the factors that need to be taken into consideration when you bring a new dog into a home. So it falls to us, their parents, to weigh them up instead. To do that we have to ask ourselves some questions. Why does our child want a dog? Do they really understand what it means? Are they capable of looking after a puppy? By answering these questions we, as parents, will be able to decide whether to say yes or no.

Here’s a guide to some of the questions you need to ask in deciding whether your child is ready for a dog.

Do you want a dog too?

If you are getting a dog purely to please your child, then the chances are it’s the wrong decision. You need to want a dog yourself. After all, when your child is asleep and at school, it’s going to be your responsibility to look after it. If the idea of having a dog in the house is something that’s strongly opposed by you or your partner, then you really should think again. It may upset your child in the short term, but that will be outweighed by the long term unhappiness it may cause your family.

Why does your child want a dog?

It’s really important that you understand your child’s motivation for having a dog. Are they asking for one purely because a friend has one? Is it something they’ve talked about consistently? Or is it a recent ‘fad’? Do they talk about the responsibilities that come with dog ownership – grooming, bathing, taking it for regular walks, checking its general health? Do they understand that a dog is for life, not just for the time when it is a playful puppy?

Why do you want your child to have a dog?

Ask yourself why you want your child to have a dog. Again, if you are getting a dog purely to placate your son or daughter, to stop them constantly nagging you for a puppy, then you are making a mistake. This is no reason for getting a dog. If, on the other hand, you feel that you want your child to experience the unique pleasure and companionship that comes from owning a dog, that’s another matter. Equally, if you want your child to learn responsibility through dog ownership, that too is a positive.

Is this a long term decision?

Are you sure that this is something that your child – and your family as a whole – is going to be committed to for the long term? It’s the easiest thing in the world to fall for a puppy. Anyone can go aaaah and fawn over a cute, eight-week-old dog. But dogs don’t live for a week. They can live for fifteen years – and more. Will your child be there for the dog in a month, a year or a decade from now?

Is your child good with animals?

Many children are comfortable around animals. Some, however, are not. It’s important that you think about this in advance of getting a dog. If your child has shown an interest in other people’s dogs or perhaps looked after a friend’s pet, that is a good indication that they may be suited to owning a dog. If you’re in doubt about their rapport with dogs, ask a friend if you can borrow their pet for a day or two. See how your child reacts and behaves around the dog. This will give you a strong indication of how they would be around their own dog. Also, think about how your child is around other animals, such as cats, horses or farm animals. Do they seem scared or intimidated by them? Do they shy away from them? If so, it’s a sign that they are not a natural ‘animal person’ and may not be suited to a dog.

Does your child get easily bored?

Is your child someone who sticks at things? Or does he or she tend to go through phases, being obsessed with toys, tv programmes or friends for a week or two before dropping them forever? If it’s the latter, then getting a dog may not be the right thing for your child. The chances are they will get bored with it too.

Is your son or daughter a sensible child?

The way your child behaves around their dog is going to be crucial. For instance, if they are going to treat it like a toy and squeeze its nose and tug at its tail, then the relationship with the dog is going to end badly – and quickly. If, on the other hand, your child has a grown-up and responsible attitude to dogs, there’s a good chance they will make a great dog owner. Again, seeing your child inter-acting with a friend or family member’s dog will give you a good clue.

Is your child a quick learner?

Some dog training principles can be understood by children. For instance, the ‘pack leader’ methods taught by trainers such as Cesar Milan and Jan Fennell, can easily be grasped by even the youngest members of the family. In Fennell’s method, for example, to establish their leadership of the pack, the human members of the household make a point of eating in front of their dogs before giving them their meals. (Dogs associate the eating order with leadership.) Children can easily understand this – and apply it. The faster they are to learn, the better.

Have you sought out advice?

You should read as much as you can about children owning dogs. There are many quality books out there and, of course, the web is full of great advice. In addition you should talk to people. Chat to friends, family, local dog owners, especially those with young children. Ask them about their experience. Listen and draw on their advice.

A friendship that is second to none

Having a dog can be a brilliant, life-affirming experience for a child. A faithful, good-natured dog can provide young people with love and affection, friendship and devotion that is second to none. It can also teach them important lessons about responsibility and show them how to empathise and understand the creatures with whom they share the world.Choosing the right time to give your child his or her first dog is crucial. Get the timing wrong and you could ruin their chances of ever forming a strong relationship with a dog. Get it right and it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.By asking yourself – and your child – the right questions, you can go a long way to ensuring that you get it right every time.

Thank you for reading

Thank you for reading this edition of our newsletter series. We hope this information took you one step closer to making a good decision. If you need a bit more time to think, wait for next week's edition, which will discuss how to chose the right dog.

If you'd rather have the contents of the series in a single downloadable ebook format, you can get it here.

If you are ready for that special puppy, visit our puppies for sale.