An article called, “The One Thing No One Tells You Before You Have Kids: Don’t Get A Dog,” was released on Slate this week. In the article, the author discussed how she went from being a devoted companion to her border collie–American Eskimo mix, Velvel, to not having any time for Velvel after her baby was born. The opinions in the comments section mostly ranged from critical to scathing. How could this woman abandon her beloved dog?
Though she puts it very harshly (she seems quite angry with her situation), I think the article raises some valid issues about planning for parenthood. Anyone who’s been a parent can relate to the exhaustion the author feels. Babies and young children require a LOT of attention, and animals, rightly or wrongly, often take a back seat during these difficult years. There are many people who even give up their animals when kids come along because they can’t cope or behavior problems develop (so sad, since animals can bring so much to a child’s life). Sometimes, medical issues such as life-threatening allergies/asthma don’t leave parents with too many choices. Thankfully, there are many animal rescue shelters that take in “surrendered” animals without judging the families. These rescue organizations even keep in touch with the families so they can keep them informed about the quality of care their pets are receiving.
Here are some things to consider if you’re a dog lover who’s planning on children:
1. Type of dog
The author’s border collie/American Eskimo mix obviously requires a lot of exercise and mental stimulation, which, without planning, may be a problem when kids come along. Maybe consider a breed or breed mix that works well during this time frame. Also remember that puppies are babies too, so mixing human babies and canine babies at the same time may be more than you can cope with.
2. Get creative
When kids are little, it’s harder to find time for the twice-daily walks. When weather is nice, pop the kids in a stroller, snap the leash on the dog, and make an adventure of it. For dogs who need to run, off-leash parks are an option. When weather is bad or time is short, take the dog in the backyard or even the basement and throw a fetch toy. As soon as the kids are old enough, get them involved in playing fetch with the dog or helping you walk the dog or push the stroller. It’s good exercise for everyone and teaches your kids responsibility.
3. Get help
Consider a dog-walker to take up the slack, even if it’s only three times a week. A parent or friend that can sit with the kids while you walk the dog is a good option as well. Or go at night when you and your partner can share walking duties (one pushes the stroller, one holds the leash)
4. Budget for grooming
The author complains about dog hair being everywhere. Anyone with a shedding dog can relate. So make regular grooming appointments to get rid of excess hair – especially furry undercoats (like her American Eskimo cross would have) and minimize shedding in the house. Also, get a good lint-roller or sticky sheets to get rid of hair. Use baby gates to keep dogs out of areas where baby spends most of his/her time so there’s no dog hair on the floor. Also make sure your dog is on a high quality food and supplement with EFAs to help with coat issues.
5. Get kids involved in playing with the dog as soon as they’re old enough
Kids should be supervised, of course. It pays off down the road. At my home, my daughter Maya is the resident “dog whisperer”. She loves to teach the dogs new tricks and even has a portable agility set that she puts her dog through on the front lawn. Great for mind and body!
6. Keep them busy
Dogs need mental stimulation so get some raw bones or toys that use their brains. A dog will spend a happy hour or two chewing on a raw bone or trying to get the treats out of a toy. It keeps them happy and busy. Make sure it’s the right type of raw bone and the right size for your dog, and it’s best if the dog is in a place you can watch them. There are several toys on the market that you can hide treats in so dogs are kept busy for a period of time. Brain games are as important as exercise and are great if you don’t have as much attention to give.
You can successfully combine children and dogs in one home, if you take the right steps. Teach your dog with positive training methods from the get-go so they’re well behaved when your human babies come along. Yes, it will be busy, but animals bring so much to children’s lives (not to mention ours!), it’s so worth it!
Dana Cox is the co-founder, Chief Creative Officer and editor-in-chief of Redstone Media Group, which publishes Canadian Dogs Annual, Animal Wellness Magazine, Equine Wellness Magazine and Integrative Veterinary Care Journal, and associated websites. She regularly attends veterinary conferences to stay apprised of leading edge and best practice therapies and modalities. Dana lives in Peterborough, ON with her husband and fellow co-founder, Tim Hockley, and their family which includes two children, a dog and a cat.