Kids and puppies. Is there a cuter combination? Running and playing, all floppy ears and giggles and snuggles.
Well, before parents rush off and buy the first fluffy puppy that catches their eye, there are some things they should consider.
“The first thing we recommend to a family starting their search for a new companion animal is to do their research,” says Laura Clark, executive director of the Whatcom Humane Society.
It’s nice in theory to get the kids involved, but in reality it’s going to fall on the parents.
Angela Lenz, owner and lead trainer at Tails-A-Wagging in Bellingham
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Much of that research will focus on finding a breed that will be compatible with a family and the role they hope the dog will play in their lives. Parents should consider the household’s activity level, how much space a dog might need, and what they want in a dog, from size and activity level to temperament.
One of the big misconceptions Clark sees is that parents think that they need to get a puppy so it can grow with the kids. That’s not always the case, especially in a busy family that may not be able to put in the time for training. In a busy house with two working parents, adopting an older dog that has a good track record with children can be a great option.
“Understand that puppies take months and months and months of work,” says Angela Lenz, owner and lead trainer at Tails-A-Wagging in Bellingham. “Good dogs don’t happen by accident. It’s a conscious decision to make sure our dogs are well-socialized and well-rounded.”
Whether it’s a puppy or an adult, a dog is a big commitment that takes work and training. It’s important to be realistic about responsibilities and have the whole family on board, parents and kids.
“It’s nice in theory to get the kids involved, but in reality it’s going to fall on the parents,” Lenz says.
“That’s why it’s important to understand some age-appropriate chores for children and to teach children how to safely and respectfully interact with animals.” Preschoolers can help brush the dog gently and give treats with supervision; younger elementary-age children can help hold the leash with parents on walks and work on tricks and play; older elementary-age children can practice commands and put out water and food.
One tip Lenz has for preparing a family for dog ownership is attending a few puppy preschool classes, which are offered for free at Tails-A-Wagging. The classes let kids and parents see some of the work that goes into puppy training, meet dogs of different breeds, and learn about handling puppies and socializing. Once a family finds a puppy to call their own, the classes can continue to help the dog and the family get a good start together.
“We have to make sure we set everybody up to succeed,” Lenz says. “We set the dog up to succeed and we set the kid up to succeed.”