Should you get a puppy to grow up with your child?
The internet is awash with adorable baby-and-puppy pictures and time lapse videos of children growing up with pups. ‘I want a puppy to grow up with my baby/toddler/child’ is something we often hear.
It is completely understandable why people think this is a great idea but, to be absolutely honest, in a large proportion of cases, this turns out to be less ‘good idea’ and more ‘good grief, what were we thinking’. Puppies need a huge amount of work, training, and attention to become the childhood companion you envisage for your child.
Unless you have a lot of experience with raising puppies, we strongly advise that you either get a well-socialised adult dog which is used to children, or wait until your child is around 5 – 6 years old before getting a puppy. Of course, there are many cases where things work out just fine but, sadly, in our experience, there are many more where it really does not – to the detriment of everyone. Here’s why you should think very carefully about adopting a puppy when you have very young children.
Are you ready for another baby in the house?
Raising a puppy is pretty much like having a baby. Except, instead of being confined to a cot a lot of the time, puppies are running around, getting into everything, from the moment they arrive. Not only that, the puppy won’t be wearing a nappy and it won’t be house trained. It won’t understand that you can’t give it attention all the time, and it may not even sleep through the night. It may bark while your baby is sleeping. It may jump up on you while you try to feed your baby. You need eyes in the back of your head to house train and watch a puppy. It will chew up your and your children’s stuff. It may dig up your yard and shred your furnishings. It might dig in the diaper disposal bin or jump up on your toddler. Are you prepared for all of this?
Have you got the time?
Part of being a parent is being busy. All. The. Time. Even when your children are a bit older, you’ll find yourself driving them all over the place for play dates, dentists, classes, etc. or having other parents with children visiting you. If you also work outside the home, it’s even tougher. Raising a puppy takes a lot of time, as well as patience and supervision.
Parents of babies are often sleep deprived and many barely have time to shower in the mornings, let alone run around carefully training and socialising a puppy. Shouting at the puppy, leaving it outside because you can’t cope, not working with it or training it – these things are going to result in an unhappy puppy, a stressed-out you, and a situation far from your dream of them ‘growing up together’. You cannot just leave them to look after themselves (not if you care about the puppy and want a great doggy companion when they grow up).
Be very honest with yourself and make sure you will have enough time and energy to do both properly.
Puppies play ROUGH
It is normal for pups to bite or nibble on things – that’s how they investigate and learn about the world around them. Puppies also have very sharp teeth. An innocent bite from a pup out exploring can hurt a baby or toddler and, even if the bite isn’t severe, this could frighten your child enough that the won’t want to interact with the puppy again. Or they could scream, which will freak out the puppy, which could react by biting with intent this time, or becoming afraid of the child.
Puppies also tend to jump up on people more, which could knock your child over. If your child is learning to walk, an adult dog will generally know to move out of the way but a puppy probably won’t and can get stepped on or trip a wobbly child up, causing them to fall. Do you want to take these risks?
Children play rough too
Growing children don’t always know their own strength nor have the coordination to handle wriggly animals. Puppies are babies, which means they’re fragile. Children who love animals can be so enthusiastic that they inadvertently overwhelm or frighten a pup. They tend to want to grab, squeeze and hug, kiss, and chase them around to play with or cuddle them. They also may shout or squeal loudly. This could terrify a puppy so much so that you end up with a pup that grows into a dog which hates and avoids children. And, again, a scared puppy could hurt your child.
Sadly, we have dealt with many cases like this, where puppies and kittens have been injured, sometimes fatally, by children who were unsupervised and didn’t realise that they couldn’t play as roughly with the animal as they did.
Puppies are expensive
In its first year of life, your puppy needs the following:
- Good quality puppy food until they’re 12 – 18 months old, depending on size. Puppy food tends to be pricier than adult.
- Accessories (bedding, bowls, collars, leads, jerseys, toys, etc. – they grow fast so you’ll be buying more than just one collar or harness, jersey, etc.)
- Tick and flea treatments
- Grooming supplies or grooming parlour trips
- Vaccination & deworming at 8 – 10 weeks
- Vaccination & deworming at 12 – 14 weeks
- Vaccination & deworming at around 6 months
- (If you took them for their 2nd vaccination before they were 12 weeks old, you may need to go back for a rabies vaccination as this is generally not done earlier.)
- Vaccination & deworming at 1 year old
- Sterilisation at 6 months
- Puppy school (this really is a must if you want a well-adjusted dog later on)
- Doggy daycare might become necessary
- Puppies often get upset tummies or get into mischief and hurt themselves, so you may find yourself going to the vet in between too. Pet medical aid is a good idea.
It all adds up and new parents on a budget could really struggle. FAW includes vaccination and deworming up to date of adoption, microchipping, and sterilisation in the adoption fee but the rest will be your responsibility. (And don’t skimp on those basics like vaccinations or you could end up with way more pricey treatment if your puppy gets a preventable sickness.)
The teenage phase
Once puppies reach 6 – 12 months (we call it their teenage phase), that’s when chaos really comes calling. And, if you adopted the pup at around the time you had your baby, that stage will arrive just when your little one is starting to crawl, walk, get into things, demand a lot more attention, etc. And, if you have not sterilised your pup by now, you may struggle with other issues as well, such as testosterone-driven ‘humping’ or female dogs in heat
Sadly, it is at this age that many dogs get surrendered to shelters for the simple reason that people cannot cope (and imagine what kind of example that sets for their children…). Rehoming dogs that have been returned at this stage is very difficult. On top of them not being ‘cute puppies’ anymore, the dog has been returned and labelled ‘difficult’. Would you adopt a juvenile dog that was returned by a family with children because they ‘couldn’t cope with it’? Probably not. So, what makes you think anyone else will adopt yours in a hurry? On top of that, this poor animal, which is used to a home life, finds itself in a high-stress shelter environment and starts acting up, making it even less likely to be adopted. The end result in most cases is that, either the dog sits in a shelter for years, slowly becoming increasingly stressed and depressed, or it gets euthenised. All because someone did not think through their decision to get a puppy and did not put in the work they should have. So, we urge people to think VERY carefully and be prepared for the work that lies ahead.
Whose job is it anyway?
(Hint: it’s not the children.) It’s great to have a dog to help teach your child responsibility but the onus of all its care still rests with you, the adult. A child of any age can’t have sole responsibility – this is unfair to them and to the dog.
You can delegate tasks like filling water bowls, brushing fur, giving food, etc. but you still need to supervise to ensure it’s done correctly and timeously. We have dealt with many cases in which dogs have literally been left on the end of a chain to starve to death because the parents felt they needed to teach their child ‘a lesson in responsibility’. Involve children in an age appropriate manner but you need to be realistic: even if you get the dog ‘for the children’, it is going to be mostly you doing all the work. Will you have the time and patience for this?
Still think you can do it?
If you haven’t had a puppy before/for a long time, we suggest at least fostering a puppy for a couple of weeks while it waits for a forever home. You’re helping to save a puppy’s life by letting it ‘couch surf’ while it waits for a home while also testing the waters of puppy ownership.
If you do decide to go the route of a puppy, we recommend first finding out what resources are available in your area, such as puppy and dog training schools. Puppies do not come with manners, and children and dogs don’t start out with fantastic friendships. It is a parent’s duty to teach their children boundaries and dog-interaction rules, and ensure that the puppy also receives the training that they need to become well-mannered dogs.
OK, so, a puppy isn’t going to work but you still want a canine companion – what age, size and type is best?
Adopting a well-socialised young adult dog is actually the best choice for families with young children. You know exactly what you’re getting in terms of personality, size, looks, etc. The dog is over its crazy puppy and teenaged phases but still has plenty of energy to play and many years ahead of it. These days, dogs can easily live to ten to fifteen years or more, which means that your children will still grow up with the dog, and it should still be with your family for many years to come.
As an added bonus, adopting an adult dog teaches children that it isn’t just ‘new, young, cute’ things that have value (just as dumping a juvenile puppy at a shelter teaches children that they can just get rid of things that are too ‘hard’), so it becomes a teachable moment too.
Age: For children under 5 – 6 years of age, it’s best to get a dog of around 2 years old which is well-socialised and used to children. They’re over their puppy and juvenile phase, so are less likely to destroy toys left lying around, dig up the garden, etc., but are still very playful and loads fun. We recommend waiting at least 6 months after your baby arrives until you’ve settled into a routine (and aren’t so sleep deprived!) because new dogs of any age still need some work to settle in.
Size: Medium to large dogs are best. Small and toy breeds can be hurt easily by children that may not know their own strength yet or are still learning to walk and may stumble over a small dog underfoot. Children may also be inclined to pick up small dogs, which could lead to them getting injured.
Temperament: Don’t go for looks, go for temperament and personality! Actively look for a dog which is calm, non-reactive, and eager to please, but still has a playfulness that means it will enjoy spending time playing with your children.
Energy: You want a dog which is playful and active but not hyperactive.
Type/Breed: Getting an adult dog means you can already see its personality and, at FAW, we make a big effort to screen dogs for their suitability with children. The number one thing to look for is temperament (as above). As a general guideline, there are certain breeds that one needs to be a bit more cautious about (although, of course, there are always exceptions and it also has a lot to do with how they’re raised, if they’re sterilised or not, and other factors within the home).
– Herding breeds like Collies and Australian Shepherds sometimes try to ‘herd’ people, which can result in nipping at the backs of their legs.
– Terriers, especially some of the small ones with a high prey drive, can be very excitable, intense, and feisty (and prone to biting), and have a tendency to destroy toys and chase children.
– Dogs bred for protection like Chow Chows, Sharpeis, Rottweilers, etc. are also not always ideal as they may like ‘their’ child but are often not ‘stranger friendly’, which will be problematic when your child has friends coming and going a lot.
– Some of the toy/lapdog breeds, such as Pekingese and Chihuahuas, can be very possessive over one person and lash out at children trying to approach.
It is important to note that, no matter what age dog you get or how calm or good it is with children, children should NOT be left alone with dogs.
If you need advice on choosing one of our animals to adopt, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
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