I never wanted a dog. As I grew up I quickly jumped from school to job, marriage to house to kids, leaving no room for even thoughts about getting a dog. I felt smug towards those who felt tied down by their pets. I had secretly scoffed at people who treated their dogs like children. Whenever my husband brought up getting a dog I found myself repeating the same cold argument my dad used when we asked for a pet as children– “animals are meant to be outside”.
To top it all off I had absolutely no interest in dealing with the pet hair and drool in my already messy house or having our children step in a big steamer when running around outside. In short, I was positive I did not want a dog. Especially and baby and puppy, together.
And then we got a dog.
When I was seven months pregnant.
In the middle of winter.
With a 2 1/2 year old.
It is still up for discussion whether my slip in judgment was caused by pregnancy hormones (I’m guessing the same ones that make us cry during toilet paper commercials) or if my husband Jedi mind-tricked me, but I am leaning towards the latter. My co-workers can attest to the fact that I quickly became that proud annoying parent I never thought I would be: “We got a puppy! Look how cute he is! LOOK!” while shoving my phone in front of nurses and doctors faces alike. And all of their responses were: “You’re pregnant! It’s winter! What are you thinking?!” After hearing the same response about 40 times the consequences of our rash decision finally started to sink in.
The first few weeks were the hardest: Listening to puppy howl in his crate at night. Taking him out in a blizzard every hour. Spraying every surface possible (including hands) with anti-chew spray. Cleaning up accidents. Taking him for walks when all you want to do is sleep. And most importantly, teaching both puppy and child to treat each other with respect and caution. It was all such a whirlwind.
I had no clue what I was doing. When our beautiful baby boy came in February it was overwhelming and looking back I’m not sure how exactly we survived. It was hard enough learning how to look after a new baby and getting my daughter accustomed to being a big sister. Throwing a puppy into the mix who needed constant monitoring and attention really tested my patience. It was like having two newborns.
Now that our puppy has just had his first birthday, I am very happy to report that we have survived and that it was all worth it. Our house is full of energy and love and laughter because of him. He does a pretty good job keeping the kids occupied while I cook or get the dishes done which is a bonus. I sweep the floors a lot less. We spend a lot more time outdoors as a family and get more exercise. Our neighbours, friends and family adore him.
My children have such a close bond with him that will only continue to grow as years go by. He will be a constant joy in our children’s lives and he will always be there to greet them off the bus. This experience has made our family stronger and I am proud of what we have accomplished. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
We have invested a ridiculous amount of time on him to ensure life would progressively become easier and thankfully it is finally paying off. He knows all the necessary commands, has rarely chewed on our kids toys (although he has an impeccable destroy-rate when given his own), he is crate trained, gets along with other animals, is gentle with all children especially our own, will stay on our property and is learning to walk off leash. Having a puppy with young children is not for the faint-hearted but it is doable and will make your family’s life more full. The purpose of writing this article is so A. you all can laugh at my idiocy of taking on too much as always and B. I can help anyone who has decided to embark on a similar journey. Here are my suggestions.
I’m just going to say it. Getting a puppy requires a bigger commitment than having children in order for it to work. They are not of life and blood and it can be really difficult to deal with typical bad puppy behaviour if you are not 100% sure you wanted him/her. As anyone can see from looking on the Kijiji and Facebook classifieds it is a lot easier to get rid of a cumbersome pet than a raging toddler. And it’s not fair to the dog to be poorly treated or given away.
A dog owner needs to be completely committed to having a dog or else both of your lives will suffer. Do your research into what type of dog you want prior to getting one so that they will complement your lifestyle and activity level. And be honest with yourself. Are you really going to be willing to walk your highly active dog for an hour daily a year from now? Will you be home enough? We originally wanted an Australian shepherd but decided to get a smaller dog with a lower activity level.
I never realized how expensive dogs are before I owned one, and ours is only 10lbs! Between the cost of buying our puppy ($400), his shots, deworming and neutering ($600), good quality dog food ($40/month), toys and bones to prevent damage to your own items ($200), grooming ($50/visit), puppy classes ($160+) and other miscellaneous items it really can add up. And I’m not saying to just invest money either.
We invested a ton of time and effort in the early stages to teach our puppy the rules of our household. Dogs, just like babies do not automatically know not to chew on everything and defecate all over your house! Most dogs are people pleasers and if their owners spend time to train them it won’t take long for them to get the hint. We found that sternly saying “ah-ah!” when the dog does something bad sends a clear message that it was wrong behaviour, then we would give the dog a positive alternative (give him a chew toy, take outside to do business).
The more you catch bad behaviour consistently and reward positive behaviour the less time it will take to train your puppy. Think of it as doggy boot camp. I would also recommend partitioning off your play room to begin with and teaching your kids to keep toys out of puppy’s reach in the beginning stages to avoid total toy destruction and meltdown city. If you are thinking of getting a puppy right before having a child I would recommend having the puppy housetrained before baby comes. Cleaning up messes will be the last thing you want to worry about when you have a newborn.
It is very important that your puppy has positive associations with your children from early on. But you must be there all the times as things can easily get out of hand. Even my now 3 1/2 year old who is generally very sweet and loving has been in roughly a million timeouts for being too rough with our puppy. We are probably excessively strict but this is not only to protect the puppy but to protect our kids from being bitten.
Being strict with your kids about your own dog will also teach them to be cautious of the ones they don’t know well. I recommend crate training your puppy so that you have somewhere to put your puppy for a timeout from the children or if you have to leave the room. Also putting them in a crate when you leave prevents your dog from destroying your house. We made the mistake of trusting our dog out recently and he chewed a hole in our couch. Awesome. Won’t make that mistake again!
Treat your dog like any other member of your family because that is exactly what they are. In the beginning stages we wanted to make sure that our puppy knew who was alpha to prevent any behavioural issues and because we have young children we ended up taking that to a whole new level. After awhile I found that being so strict was taking away from our enjoyment of having a puppy and it just seemed like a whole lot of work.
Being a hard-ass all the time is tiring! So I would recommend that once your puppy is trained and knows his manners, relax and do the things with him that makes all that hard work worth while. For example, I love having him up on the couch in the evenings as it is the only quiet time we get together, even though we generally do not allow him up on his own (especially after the couch chewing incident). A little bit of loving goes a long way.
If you have chosen to raise a puppy with young children, good for you! You are very brave. If you put the effort forth and ride out the difficult times in the beginning it will all work out. Your family will have a loyal best friend to traverse the world with for years to come. Now what could be better than that?