Dogs are overwhelmingly the most popular family pet in the U.S, with an estimated 47% of us having at least one in our homes. Dogs are also generally the pet of choice for children as their playful and inquisitive natures help make them good companions, and their boundless energy and desire for the outdoors is something most children love.
But is getting a dog the right thing for your family? Are there benefits to bringing children up with a dog? Are there any significant drawbacks? Like most big decisions there are several pros and cons to having such a dependent pet, so let’s have a look at the arguments from both sides.
Dogs can be instrumental in helping children develop a sense of responsibility and patience – traits any parent would agree are hugely important for their child to acquire. Allowing a child to have some responsibility in caring for a pet, whether feeding, walking or cleaning up after it, will give them a unique sense of achievement and reward that is often hard to find in other areas of a child’s life.
In addition, patience is a key skill that may be enhanced in households with dogs. As any dog owner will know, dogs can be exceptionally frustrating; they bark, they slobber, they scratch, they whine – and children must learn to deal with these irritations without lashing out or snapping. Similarly, the patience required to teach a dog to sit, to go to the toilet appropriately and to behave properly while on walks also has significant benefits to a child.
Aside from these important qualities, growing up with a dog in the house has been proven to have hugely beneficial effects on the development of a child’s social skills. Perhaps the most important trait of all is empathy, which remains one of the key reasons parents decide to get a dog for their household:
“Parents have traditionally encouraged children to respect and care for animals in the belief that this would enable children to become more caring, compassionate, and responsible,” says Elizabeth Omerod, a veterinary surgeon at the Pet Health Council. “Studies demonstrate that children who interact with animals have higher levels of self-esteem, greater empathy, and better social skills.”
Dogs, like humans, are social animals, and although there are clearly vast differences between the way humans and dogs interact, there are also important similarities. Dogs feel emotion and pain just like humans do, they crave affection and attention. The bond that develops between a child and their dog can truly be life-changing. Another invaluable life lesson is often imparted through pet ownership: the idea that death is part of life. While it may seem somewhat morbid, understanding life’s cycle and experiencing grief and bereavement is an instrumental part of growing up.
Finally, when considering the pros of getting a family dog, the original reason dogs became man’s best friend can’t be overlooked. Aside from their companionship, a family dog can provide a unique sense of protection that can be priceless if you have children. Just the presence of a ‘beware of dog’ sign has been shown to reduce the risk of a burglar entering a property, and the sound of dog barking is obviously a further deterrent. You don’t necessarily need a Doberman or Rottweiler to protect your home, as there are many guard dogs that also make excellent family pets.
So now we’ve covered a few of the many pros of getting a family dog, what are the cons? In relation to children, the only significant universal con is the potential risk that dogs possess. No matter how dependable and docile a dog is, they always need to be supervised when in the presence of small children and babies. It doesn’t matter how well-trained a dog is; if a child is poking it or irritating it then dogs – like humans – can snap. However, this remains a very low-risk among dogs renowned for being good around kids, such as the German Shepherd and Siberian Husky.
The amount of care and maintenance that most dogs require also cannot be ignored. If you want your children to help care for the dog you must carefully consider what they can and cannot do – and whether you are happy to take on the additional responsibilities unsuitable for kids. Is your child old enough to walk the dog on their own? If not, this is something that you are going to have to do – a daily walk is not a preference for a dog, it is an absolutely essential requirement.
Another thing worth bearing in mind in relation to children is that dogs have no concept of time. If you have small children who have bedtime schedules then you must take into account the fact that a dog can play havoc with your plans. Dogs won’t stop barking because of a sleeping baby in the next room; neither can they factor in weekends and allow you to have your well-earned lie-in or avoid waking up the kids at 5 AM.
As long as you do your research there should be few unexpected cons to a family dog. There are many people who compare having a dog to having a small child that never really grows up. That may well be the case, but as any parent will tell you, the rewards of parenthood far outweigh the cons. Ask any dog owner, and chances are you’ll get the same answer.