A Dog for the Kids

Growing up in a household with pets provides the perfect opportunity to teach children about responsibility, compassion and the cycle of life. Many breeds of dog make excellent family pets and thrive in the company of children.

A puppy should not be bought for a child. The decision to get a dog should be one made by all the family. Ultimately, the responsibility to discipline, feed and care for the dog for the next 12 plus years, is going to end up with one of the parents – usually  Mom. You need to be really sure that you are ready to make that commitment. For the first few months, the puppy is going to need special input, if it is to grow up to be a friendly, calm and confident dog. The puppy will have  to be house trained and exercised, fed, walked, socialised to a variety of experiences  –  people and other dogs  and taken to puppy classes –  far too much for a child to handle.

When a puppy is bought for a child, many challenges can result. The puppy often bonds with one of the parents and ignores the child leading to a very disappointed child. Many puppies become too strong and boisterous for children to handle. The child also often discovers just how much work it is to look after their puppy what with feeding, grooming, training and scooping poop.

There are a few exceptional children who make excellent dog handlers and could benefit from having a dog of their own. These children are sensitive, serious and happy spending time on their own. I have seen some wonderful partnerships of children and dogs. The breed needs to be small enough for the child to handle but not too busy or snappy. Female dogs are best or very laid back neutered males. (It is very difficult for a child to handle a dog who is interested in challenging other dogs or trying to lift it’s leg on everything.) You will know if your child is one of these special children who should have a dog of their own. If you are not sure, chances are, he or she isn’t.

A far better option is to get a dog for the whole family. The children can still be involved – they can help with grooming, training, feeding and walking. Everyone should share the responsibility of owning the dog. You need to choose your breed and breeder carefully to make sure that you get a dog who will fit in well with your family. A high energy breed like a Jack Russel might seem like a good option for an active family but can be too much to handle in a bustling household. Golden Retrievers and Labradors are often recommended as perfect for children but they can be far too boisterous. Some breeds to consider that are not too busy or reactive (don’t have a short fuse!) are the Beagle, Basset, English and Irish Setter, Bull Mastiff, Standard Poodle, Miniature Schnauzer and Pug. Choose a breeder who has children and allows their children to handle and interact with the puppies from the day they are born. Make sure you take the puppy at 8 weeks of age, not younger or older as this can minimize the risk of the puppy developing behavioural problems.

Teach your children how to handle the puppy gently. Show them how to stroke the puppy from head to toe, not pat or grab which can make the puppy over excited. Don’t allow the children to carry the puppy around (they might drop the pup by mistake). Don’t allow them to pinch or poke the puppy or disturb him when he or she is sleeping. Don’t allow any rough play or chasing games. Puppies should not chase children and children should not chase puppies. All play should be supervised by an adult and should include a toy. (no teeth on skin).  Puppies who are handled gently, learnt to be gentle dogs. If the puppy does nip the children, use a spritz from a spray bottle filled with citronella scented water to distract the puppy.

Crate training is a perfect management tool for a family dog. A crate is your dog’s own personal den where he or she can escape from the goings on of the household and feel safe and secure (and not shred your house when you are not watching!) Crate training uses a dog’s natural instincts as a den animal. The main use for a crate initially is housetraining. Dogs don’t like to soil their dens. The crate can limit access to the rest of the house while the pup learns other rules too, like not to chew on furniture. Puppies raised in busy family homes need a quite spot where they can relax without being harassed by the children. The crate provides refuge for the pup while preventing him or her  from getting overexcited. The crate can either be a fold up wire cage or a moulded plastic travel box. Baby gates are also useful to cordon off the puppy while children are playing

You need to put as much time into choosing a family dog as you would into selecting  a family car. Do lots of research and ask lots of questions. The right choice can lead to many years of happiness. For advice on choosing a family dog, contact info@capeprovincedogclub.co.za



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