Originally posted Feb. 3, 2009
Considering adding a doggie to your family? Go for it, but be
warned: A dog will steal your heart, your shoes and quite possibly
your sanity, and will change the dynamics of your family
My kids were 1 and 4 and I was just starting to get my groove
back after years of sleep deprivation when we got our first dog.
Annie, an adorable beagle/Jack Russell mix, was definitely a
morning person. She greeted each day and each of us with great
gusto, generally before 5 a.m.
Sleep deprivation was one thing, but when Annie tired of having
small children probe her eyeballs and retaliated by baring her
teeth at Noah and biting Holly a week after we got her, she was
swiftly returned to her previous owner. It wasn't Annie's fault. We
just weren't the right family for this kind of dog, but I felt I'd
failed them all.
Eventually we tried again. We thought we had it made this time
with an 8-week-old puppy we could train. Abby, a Saint Bernard, had
so much in common with our two other 'children': she was a
warm-fuzzy who just needed to be housebroken and I was in
potty-training mode anyhow.
This is best accomplished by immediately scooping up the puppy
as she commences to squatting, to teach an association between
urinating and being outside, but it's not always convenient for
parents of young children who resent having their parents'
attention divided. One afternoon after I hastily dashed out
the door with the dog, Miss Holly ditched her diaper and did a
'naked baby dance' on the dining room window sill while
four-year-old Noah shouted demands for my internet password from an
Nothing can compare, however, to the time Abby stealthily sidled
past me out the front door and bolted for freedom. Accustomed
to humiliation by then, I grabbed a leftover Cornish Hen from the
fridge, hoisted Holly up on one hip and sprinted after my spirited
dog. I stood in the middle of the street waving the hen over
my head like a lunatic and begged for Abby to return as she
galloped down the street and out of sight.
Sure, we did the puppy-training thing, but, ultimately, a puppy
is still a puppy (for two to three years) and kids will be
kids-especially wee ones. Abby was only 10-months-old when that
reality became impossible to ignore. Twice, after irresistibly
dizzying romps with the kids through the house, our by then
125-pound and still growing Saint Bernard (think Scooby-Doo,
Clifford and now Marley) accidentally knocked little Holly off her
feet, her head landing within a hair's breadth of the radiator. I
was heartsick but the choice was clear: Abby had to go back to her
breeder. As a wannabe dog owner I was batting a thousand. I felt
like I'd given up a child, but size matters when considering the
right pup for your pack. I'm not proud of our track record-it's
horrifying, actually-but I hope that my family's experience can
save yours some heartache.
We hope the third time's the charm, and think we've found the
dog for us: Jake, a 1-year-old rescued Golden Retriever, is the
right size and temperament for us, and our
children are finally old enough to pitch in and help care for a
dog. The benefits to kids' self-esteem and confidence are
priceless, and the joy and friendship that kids and dogs can share
Things are looking up, except that Jake decided
to sleep between my husband and me, and ate a
psychopathology textbook shortly after he moved in. I guess
we're in trouble, if you really are what you eat…
Other things to consider when adding a pooch to your
~ Your lifestyle: Is everyone on board with the commitment to
adopt and care for a dog and dog-proof the house? A crate (for
sleeping in; also handy for those 'home-alone' moments for those
not yet house-broken, and for when you'd rather your doggie
didn't eat your house while you're out) and a couple of moveable
baby-gates can be lifesavers.
~ Are you prepared for the expenses of food, chew toys,
emergency vet bills and grooming?
~ Obedience training: All family members should attend, for
consistency's sake. The dog isn't the only one who needs to be
~ Consider adopting from a shelter. People aren't the only ones
losing their homes in the foreclosure crisis.
~ Pets die. Grief is hard but is not a bad thing for kids to
encounter and learn to manage. Surviving the loss of a pet
can help kids learn about the natural cycle of life and how to cope
with other losses later. However you explain death, avoid the
"putting to sleep" phrase: young children can be concrete thinkers
and may worry that if they go to sleep, they too, will die.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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