By J. E. Davidson
At some point almost every a parent hears the plaintive cry, “Can I have a dog?” Children naturally love animals and want a pet, and there are some wonderful lessons to be learned from having a dog.
For the child a dog is a built-in playmate there for the pure pleasure of having fun. When children play together it often turns into an argument over the rules, accusations of unfairness, hurt feelings and mock fighting that sometimes turns into the real thing. Those things never happen when your child is playing with a dog. The dog is just thrilled to have the child’s attention; he doesn’t care what game it is. Whether they are playing ball, fetching a stick, or just lying in the grass together, they are comfortable and secure in each other’s company.
A dog can be your child’s soul mate; a caring being he can turn to when he’s upset and unhappy and needs an outlet for pent-up emotions. The dog comforts the child with his presence and unconditional love. Too often well-meaning parents offer advice when all a child really needs is love and consolation. He can tell all his problems to his dog without fear of criticism and being told that he is wrong to feel the way he does. Kids think that their parents don’t understand them (even though we’ve all been children ourselves this is a foreign concept to a child) but Sparkey knows just exactly what they’re feeling.
A child can learn responsibility from owning a dog. If all parents waited to get their child a dog until they thought he was responsible enough no kids would have dogs! The parent must realize that they will be the primary caretaker of the dog but should encourage the child to help with the daily care. Depending on your child’s age they may be able to fill the food and water bowls, take Fido for his walk, or give him his bath. Your child can learn to nurture and care for another living being just as you care for his basic needs. Don’t make the mistake of telling your child he can have a dog if he takes care of it and then find it another home when he doesn’t. This is expecting too much of a child and is unfair to both the child and the dog.
Take your child’s age and demeanor into account when deciding what type of dog to get. Some kids have their heart set on a popular breed but the two may not be a good match. Don’t get your rambunctious toddler a toy breed puppy, and don’t get your fragile daughter a huge guard dog. Small children may accidentally hurt a puppy with rough play, and larger dogs, especially the guard or herding breeds, may try to dominate the child. Teenagers may be able to handle a more dominant breed.
For children less than six years old you will be better off choosing an adult dog. Dogs about two years old still have plenty of play in them but have lost their wild puppy energy. Adopt a dog that has been raised around children and is known to be good with them. Most animal shelters will work with you to find the right dog for your family, or take in the dog of a family who must give theirs up for some reason.
Puppies will also require more time and attention than an adult dog. They need to be trained not to nip and jump, and children will often encourage this type of behavior through their play. It may be cute when the dog is small, but no so endearing as it grows larger and stronger. Just like kids dogs need to be socialized and learn acceptable limits of behavior. A child who is old enough to understand basic dog training techniques will be able to teach his dog to sit, stay and lie down. He may be able to teach the dog cute tricks such as balancing a treat on its nose that he can demonstrate to friends and family. Training a dog requires patience and when the dog masters the command or trick your child will feel a sense of accomplishment for reaching a goal. The emotional rewards the child receives will encourage him to work toward other goals he may set for himself in life.
A dog may also teach a child to deal with loss. Losing a dog to illness or accident can be a tragedy to a child, or any dog owner, but death is part of life and we must learn to accept it and deal with it. We learn that we must value those who are with us because they won’t be around forever. Children who learn to deal with stress and loss at an early age will adjust better to similar situations later in life. We don’t want to see our children hurt, but to refuse them a dog because it may cause them pain later is not a valid reason.
There may be good reasons why you can’t have a dog in your home. You may have family members that are allergic to dogs; you may live in an apartment that doesn’t allow them; you may not have the time or resources to care for one; you may not like dogs. That doesn’t mean that your child can’t have a relationship with dogs. Older children may be able to find a job dog-sitting or walking dogs for neighbors. Take younger children to visit the homes of friends or relatives who have dogs who are child-friendly. The rewards of loving a dog and having that love returned are priceless.