The 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey reveals that 54.4 million U.S. households own at least one dog. Clearly, Americans are ready for a puppy, but is your child? After all, getting kids their first puppy is meant to be a happy event for both child and dog. Here are some tips to ensure it’s also a responsible event:
Comfort level: It takes a certain amount of maturity for a child to be comfortable around pets. Many children take to puppies right away, but other may show symptoms of fear or discomfort. If your child falls into the latter category, it’s not a good idea to force the issue by bringing a pet into the house. Rather, enlist the help of a neighbor with a dog who will let you show your child how to interact safely with a pet. You can then consider getting a puppy once your child becomes comfortable around dogs.
Proper respect: It takes time for a child to reach an age when they understand how to treat a pet with proper respect. Children must be able to empathize with their pets as living beings, not to consider them to be toys or target practice. Children who have developed respect for pets know not to be too rough, not to tug or hit the pet, and to treat them gently. Another concept a child must learn is to give a pet sufficient space and time on its own, such as at meal time. If your kids are too young to exhibit self-control, they’re too young for puppies.
Ready for chores: Taking care of a pet is both fun and a chore. Parents can’t always do everything in the household, children have to learn to pitch in and be responsible. You can measure your children’s readiness to own a puppy by evaluating their ability to handle chores successfully. The chores can be modest – helping to set the table or unload the dishwasher – as long as the kids act responsibly and are willing to finish what they start. The more difficult the chores you assign to your kids, the more likely they are ready to take on the responsibility of caring for puppies.
Self-reliance: Kids go through a stage when they start to demand some independence. They want to demonstrate they can complete some tasks on their own, such as brushing their teeth, cleaning up their toys or preparing snacks for themselves. A child might not reach this stage of self-reliance until pre-teen or teen years. It’s only when children can complete their tasks without constant nagging that they are candidates for dog ownership. You still have to oversee their treatment of new pets, but you shouldn’t have to constantly remind them of their responsibilities.
Behaving well: Kids with behavioral issues may not be ready for their own pets. Warning signs include separation anxiety, inability to play with others, unwillingness to take a nap, and frequent temper tantrums. All these behaviors point to some underlying stress with the child, and that stress is often transmitted to pets. If that’s the case, your stress levels will only increase if your child shows poor behavior toward a puppy.
Energy level: Most kids are brimming with energy, so playing with a pet or walking the dog is not a problem. But if your children belong to the couch potato set, they may not want to turn away from their TV shows and video games in order to care for their pets. Inactive children might ask for a pet well before they are ready to expend the energy needed to care for the pet. Kids who like to ride bikes and play outdoors will probably enjoy doing active things with their pets.
Ability to share: Sibling rivalry and sharing issues can also extend to pets. Some children might resent the attention Mommy and Daddy pay to the cute puppy instead of focusing on them. If you have more than one child, will they fight about who gets to play with the dog? Kids who have developed the ability to share will probably be more successful as pet owners.
Interest level: It seems like the first complete sentence uttered by a child is “I want a puppy.” Wanting a puppy and maintaining an interest level in the pet are two different things. A child must show some responsibility for, and interest in, a pet once the novelty wears off. You’ll have to gauge how serious your children are when they ask for a puppy, and be convinced that it’s not just a fad.
Whenever you decide to bring a puppy into the family, it’s a good idea to talk with your veterinarian first and see which breeds are well suited to young children. A Great Dane for a small child might not be a good match. You’ll want a breed that is easy-going and gentle with kids, and your vet will have good recommendations on the breeds that will work best in your household.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.