Kids and Dogs: Are You Ready For Both?

Let’s start with a little bit of background – a credibility check if you will. I am the proud father of 4 kids: 13 year-old triplets and an 11 year-old (two girls and two boys). These 50 years of child rearing doesn’t make me an expert by any stretch of imagination, but I’ve been around kids.

I am also, along with my wife, the owner of Pet Camp – an overnight and day care facility for dogs and cats in San Francisco. We’ve been open for 17 years and  can care for as many as 175 dogs a day.

Given this combination of on the job training I’m often asked about the overlap between kids and dogs. Not the question, “Is having a dog good practice for having a kid?” because as anyone with kids and dogs can tell you the answer to that question is “No!” But there are more complicated questions like:  Can I deal with both? Is there a breed I should avoid? Is my child old enough for a dog? How about a puppy vs. an adult dog?

Now there isn’t one right answer for any of these questions, but I think there are points that will help parents come to the conclusion that is best for them and their family.

1. Can I deal with both a kid and a dog?

Yes. Every parent has a bad parenting day, or more realistically a bad parenting 20 minutes. You know, those 20 minutes when you did something or said something to your kid you wish you could undo or unsay. Balancing home life, work life (either in the home or an outside job) and kids is really hard.  And yes, a dog is one more creature to care for, but if you’re managing the rest of your life you can successfully add a dog to the mix. It will add some time to your day, a morning and evening walk etc. but a dog will add so much more to your life and the life of your kids.

2. Is there a breed I should avoid?

Ok, no matter what I say here I’m wrong. There are certain breeds that do better in certain types of households. The variables you need to think about are: Are your kids young? Are you a first time pet parent? The questions here are less about the dog and more about the humans in the family. If you have little kids (infants, toddlers) while you might think a small dog is a good idea, you should think about a larger dog. Even the best behaved younger child is going to get excited and rough with a dog at some point. You don’t want to set the dog up to fail when its ears are pulled, its nose poked or who knows what else. When our triplets were very young and learned the word “teeth” they would go over to our Newfoundland, pull up her jowls and bang on her canines yelling “teeth-teeth-teeth.” They loved the dog, the dog loved them and all we heard from the dog was her tail pounding on the floor as she wagged it.
I’m much less confident that a smaller, frailer dog would have responded in the same way. Do you need a 125 pound Newfie? No, but a Tea-Cup Poodle or Chihuahua may not be the best bet either. Select a dog that is hardy enough for your family’s life style. Really, you’re not feeding your kid on your best China plates (at least we never did in our house). A fragile dog is probably not a good idea either.

If you’re a new pet parent you might want to stick with “easy” breeds. By that I mean dogs that not only want to please their human family, but are also easier to work with. Lots of sporting and working breeds fall into this category, but staying away from the herding breeds and most of the terriers might be a good idea. Remember, you’re in the process of “training” your child and as much as you love your dog, your human child will take priority (at least most of the time), so don’t take on a dog challenge that will overwhelm you.

3. Is my child old enough for a dog in the family?

Another quick disclaimer, there was a point in our life where we had 3 dogs (a Newfoundland, a Great Dane and a Labrador Retriever) and 4 kids under two years of age. This is NOT the fact pattern I would recommend you emulate but it shows that young kids and dogs can do just fine together. A friend of ours used to suggest the 2 year old rule: don’t add a puppy to your house until your youngest child is 2 and don’t have a kid (or another one) until your puppy turns 2. I’m the first to admit that there is no scientific basis for this rule – but those first 2 years of a kid or a dog are really hard. Really rewarding – but really hard. If you’re still getting up in the middle of the night for a baby do you really want to also be getting up for a puppy?

If you’ve got your heart set on getting a dog before the 2 year hold has expired, consider adopting an adult dog. There is an amazing array of great adult dogs looking for a new forever home, some at your local shelter, some at local rescue groups, and some at breed specific rescue groups. This is a great way to bring the love of a dog into your house, provide love to a dog who really needs it, and avoid some of the work associated with a puppy.

Now, if you already have a puppy and realize you’re unexpectedly about to have a baby too, don’t worry.  You’ll be fine.  See question number 1.

4. Adult vs. Puppy

Well as you might have guessed from the above response, I think that adopting an adult dog is great way to go (even if you don’t have young kids). If your kids are older and they want to experience the joy (and work) of a puppy that’s an ok route, but if you are in the midst of really young kids think long and hard about the advantages of not having to house break a puppy at the same time you’re trying to toilet train a kid.

I know there are a million other questions you might have about kids and dogs, but I hope the above gives you some help in reaching a decision about what is best for you and your family. If you have more questions, think I’m crazy, or have different thoughts feel free to let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading!