Dogs and Children

Signs Your Child is Ready for a Dog

It seems that as soon as your child is old enough to speak, they’ll start asking for a puppy. Although adding a puppy or dog to the family can be very beneficial for growing children, it’s important to ensure they are ready for the responsibility of caring for a dog. Parents also need to be prepared to teach both children and dogs how to properly interact to guarantee safety for both of them. The six signs below will help indicate if your child is ready to add a furry member to the family.

Your child is comfortable around animals

Often parents feel the best way to overcome their child’s fear of dogs is to add one to the family, but that’s a common misconception. Children who are afraid of dogs often make mistakes when caring for them or choose to not care for them at all. Build your child’s confidence around animals by visiting pet stores and animal shelters or visit a friend or family member who owns a dog. Forcing your child to interact daily with a dog may only increase their natural fear.

Your child respects animals

If your child does not have the self-control to respect an animal’s space, it’s likely not a good time to add a dog to the family. Kids must understand the proper way to interact with animals, like how and when to pet a dog, for example. Sensing an animal’s mood and understanding its boundaries is crucial to ensuring your child and pet live happily and safely together.

Your child keeps up on their current chores

The novelty of walking, feeding and grooming the dog will fade a few weeks after bringing the puppy home, but the work still needs to be done. It’s important that your child is regularly helping out with chores before getting a dog so you can be confident they will be ready to help out with pet care.

Everyone in the family is committed to getting a dog

Taking care of an animal is a team effort, especially when also juggling busy work and school schedules. Make sure every family member is on board to help care for the dog, and that the desire to have a pet is long-term and not a current fad.

Your family has successfully tested out pet ownership

There is so much more to owning a dog than just cuddles and playing fetch, so give your child a trial run of dog ownership by dog sitting for a family or friend’s pet. If your child is bored of taking the dog out, or refuses to help clean up after the dog, it’s most likely not the time to get a pet.

You, as the parent, are ready for the responsibility

No matter how many promises they make, kids at some point will neglect their pet care responsibilities and the parents will need to step in. Assume that you will be the main caretaker for the dog, and your children will play a supporting role. No matter how ready your children seem to be, if you aren’t ready for a dog, it’s best to wait.

Introducing Your Child and Dog

If you have an infant or young child, bringing a new dog home can be an adjustment for the entire family, including the dog. Follow these few dos and don’ts when it comes to successfully acclimating your new pet and your child to each other.

Do buy crates, tethers and gates to be able to set up boundaries that help separate your child and dog

These tools will provide a safe barrier between your child and dog, but will still allow the dog to feel included and not isolated from the family until he warms up to the child.

Don’t force interaction between your dog and child

Allow your dog to approach your child rather than suggesting your child forcibly approach your dog. This can very easily make your dog uncomfortable and put your child at risk. Once your child learns to walk, be sure to teach them to always allow the dog to come to them first, and never corner or trap the dog.

Do familiarize your dog with your child’s scent and sounds

To help your dog feel more at ease, introduce your child’s scent to the dog by allowing him to smell clothing items or a stuffed animal before bringing the dog home, and again once he is home. This is especially important when you are bringing a new baby home from the hospital and the dog is already a member of the family.

Don’t leave your child unsupervised with the dog

It only takes a few seconds for your child to provoke your dog, putting themselves at risk. If you need to leave the room, always take either your child or dog with you. If you are the only adult present, sometimes it’s easier to put your dog in his crate or behind a gate so you don’t have to worry about being so attentive.

Do allow your dog to be curious

It’s natural for your dog to want to sniff and lick your child, it’s his way of getting to know them. Don’t scold him for being curious, just always keep yourself in between your child and dog, and be prepared to pull the child away if needed.

Don’t allow your child to take the dog’s food, treats and toys

It’s important for children to not only respect your dog’s space, but his things too. Allowing your children to take the dog’s toys for themselves puts them at risk and shows your dog that he has no ownership over his things. Plus, a dog’s toys or food can harbor germs that can make children ill.

Do pay attention to your dog’s behavior and body language

Your dog will make it clear that he is uncomfortable through his actions. If he’s licking your child but standing back with an outstretched neck, he likely is trying to get out of the situation. If he growls at your child, don’t scold him, understand that he is uncomfortable and react accordingly.

Don’t forget to give your dog some one-on-one time

If you choose to bring a dog or puppy into your family, be sure that he is going to get the attention and affection he needs. It’s easy to forget this when there’s a baby in the house, but it’s not an excuse to neglect your dog.

Benefits of Dog Ownership for Children

Owning a dog is no easy task, but the benefits are abundant, especially for growing children. According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, research demonstrates that pets have a positive influence on a child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.

Here are six ways having a dog in the family will benefit your child:

Responsibility

Even a young child can start to learn the importance of responsibility when caring for another living being. Kids gain a sense of accountability when tasked with caring for a pet and learn about consequences when they slip up. A gentle reminder that their pup is counting on them goes a long way!

Self-Esteem

Studies have shown that children with pets in their families typically have a higher self-esteem than those who don’t. When caring for an animal, children learn to take pride in their daily care routines and feel a sense of accomplishment as the dog grows and develops with the child.

Compassion

Adding a dog to your family when the kids are still young teaches them how to care for a dependent being. Children will understand the importance of nurturing an animal and will learn that to build trust with an animal, you must show it compassion and kindness.

Emotional Well-being

Dogs help calm children and offer them companionship when they are upset, stressed or lonely. Dogs provide children with a constant feeling of acceptance which is crucial as they grow through different stages of life.

Cognitive Skills

It has been proven that children often feel more productive and prefer to do their homework or read when they have a pet sitting with them.

Health

Studies show that children from families with pets are better equipped to fight off infection than kids from non-pet households, showing significantly higher levels of immune system performance. Plus, there’s always the added benefit of physical exercise that comes with walking and playing with the dog.

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