“As soon as Sam is the right age we will have a dog,” said my friend. According to their research, 5 years old is the magic number.
The problem with this enticingly simple rule is that there are many 5-year-olds who are nowhere near ready to safely share a household with a dog – and many 2-year-olds who are. There is further Teenagers Who can be either an incredible asset or a dangerous weak link.
The real key to successful dog ownership is whether or not that adult in the household are ready to manage the situation. If so, almost any dog and child combination can work. Is the timing right for your family? Here are the five questions to ask yourself:
1. Is at least one adult in the household really excited about owning a dog? If you’re just doing it “for the kids,” don’t do it. For busy parents who really didn’t want a dog at all, the relentless nature of dog grooming quickly becomes overwhelming.
2 In the family, is the dog lover who is home and most available? If the dog lover works 70 hours a week but promises to take care of dog grooming, this is not the time to get a dog. Even very smart dogs cannot be trained to throw themselves on the carpet only when Daddy is home.
3. Who trains the dog? The dog-child combination is deeply rewarding when the dogs are well integrated into the household through good management and training – and virtually impossible to manage if they are not. Will you be able to find the focus and energy it takes to teach a dog the behavior that is vital to the health of the parents and the safety of the children? Will you be ready to solve problems – “He tore Fluffy the Bear apart!” – Thinking about solutions such as exercise, training, dog-free gates, strategic storage of tempting items, etc.?
4. Who will train the children? No matter how much you work with a dog, if she’s exposed to kids sticking pencils in her ears, she’ll learn to defend herself. You will not agree with the result. Teaching your children – and their friends – how to play with dogs in a friendly and safe manner is imperative. Can you commit to this careful oversight?
5. How do you feel about chaos? I know you are envisioning a sleepy puppy snuggling up in your child’s lap. Here’s a more helpful visualization exercise: Playdate mom is on your porch, horrified because she just stepped in a shit. You can’t hear them over your sobbing toddler whose pop tart was stolen by your pup. While you are standing in the doorway apologetically, the puppy slips, runs through the mud and jumps on the Playdate mum’s daughter, who is wearing (wearing) a beautiful dress.
Now I ask you: are you ready for a dog?
Dogs always bring some level of unpredictable chaos into a home. That was welcome for our family. It’s a 25 year old tapestry of fun, warm chaos. Knowing that we couldn’t have a pristine white couch was the door to a more relaxed lifestyle. The acceptance that a shoe could be chewed was a reminder not to overvalue possessions. Having animals in our home has taught us how to roll the punches and laugh at mishaps. Not a bad curriculum for your kids, is it?
The key is that the adults in the household must adopt this attitude. So it depends on whether the parents are ready for a dog. Are you ready to tackle that inevitable mud pop tart disaster one morning with a little quick action, lots of laughs, and then some problem solving? If so, you are the right age for a dog!