So…Your Child Wants a Dog

My parents had a German Shepherd when I was born.

Butch was my best friend as a young child. I learned to walk hanging on to his collar. He accompanied my mom and I on walks. In my earliest memories, he was always there; he was my best friend, my confidant and my protector.

Researchers at the Bassett Medical Center in New York recently released the results of a study that looked at childhood anxieties and dog ownership. The study included 643 kids between 6 and 7 years old, 370 who lived with a dog and 273 kids who did not live with a dog. They found that of the kids with dogs, 12 percent tested positive for suffering from anxiety compared to 21 percent of the children without dogs. Dogs provided other benefits for children; the kids with dogs were less likely to be afraid when alone in the house and fewer kids with dogs were thought of as shy. Anne Gadomski, a research scientist and an attending pediatrician at the Bassett Medical Center, said the idea for the research came about in part by her observations as a pediatrician. “I’ve always been impressed with how a baby’s first words are often a pet’s name,” she said.

Dogs are our closest animal companions and can provide numerous benefits for all family members, not just the children, but having a dog in the household also has drawbacks. So before you give in to your child’s request for a dog, let’s look at the pros and cons.

The Benefits of Dog Ownership for a Child

Dogs are wonderful companions. They enjoy the company of others, including people, and have fun interacting with us. A wide-eyed dog who drops a ball in your lap and looks at you, wagging his tail wildly, is the best playmate ever.

Dogs also provide a wonderful feeling of security. Even a small dog who doesn’t look like he could protect anyone can bark, and we all (even children) know the bad guys don’t like barking dogs.

Several studies in the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia have shown that dogs stimulate social interactions with other people. Dog owners, when walking their dog, will talk to other dog owners, neighbors and other people who comment on their dog. Kids talk to both adults and other kids about their dog. What breed (or mixture of breeds) he is, how old he is, his favorite games, and many other aspects of their dog.

Children who live with dogs are more apt to be active, inside the house and outside, because dogs need to be walked and love to play.

©istockphoto/Louis-Paul St-Onge

©istockphoto/Louis-Paul St-Onge

The Downside of Dog Ownership for a Child

You may think about getting a dog for your child because your child is begging and pleading for one, but your child, no matter his age, cannot be the sole person responsible for the dog. A parent must supervise the dog’s care closely and be ready to step in when needed. The dog doesn’t deserve to go hungry, or have matts in his coat, or have an untreated ear infection because the child was distracted, upset, forgetful or busy.

Even a teenager, who might be responsible in many ways, is going to have obligations, distractions and other evolving issues. School pressures, tests and applications for college, driving lessons and dating will interfere with thoughts of the faithful dog at home. Eventually the teenager will leave home and in most cases, the dog stays home with Mom and Dad.

Dogs cost money. There is the purchase or adoption fee, veterinary visits, vaccinations, spaying or neutering, toys and other supplies. Good quality pet food is not cheap. A fenced yard, a crate for in the house and other housing supplies are not cheap. Even a babysitting preteen or a working teenager is not going to be able to pay all the costs of dog ownership.

Dogs also need our companionship and our time. Dogs love to snuggle up against someone, go for walks and play. Dogs need training, too, to be the best they can be. Just as dogs provide companionship for us, they also need our companionship.

If a Dog Will be Great for Everyone

Once you’ve weighed the pros and cons and had a serious talk with all of the family members, adults and children, and everyone decides a dog will be great for the family, then it’s time for some research.

What breed of dog do you, your child and other family members want? Or mixture of breeds? What size of dog do each of you want? Do you want a dog with a short coat or longer coat? A busy dog or a quiet dog? A social dog or a protective dog? There are many research options available, in books and online, to help you make this important decision. Just take your time; don’t be rushed into this as a poorly thought out decision could result in your family dealing with the wrong dog for you all and that will be a disaster for you, your child and the dog.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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