Pets and Toddlers

Dear Mr. Dad: I really want a dog but my wife doesn’t think it’s safe with our 2-year old daughter. Is she right? Aren’t there some benefits as well?

A: A dog could make a great addition to your family, but you and your wife are both right: there are some risks and rewards.
Some of the risks include:

  • Aggressive behavior. Dogs, even the nicest ones, can be unpredictable, and there’s always a risk that it could attack, bite or otherwise harm your daughter.
  • Defensive response. When dogs act aggressively, it’s often because they feel threatened. Some dogs are fine with being chased, having their tail pulled, having their food eaten, or even having a finger stuck up a nostril (my daughter did this to a friend’s dog). Others will react in much the same way you might if someone did that to you.
  • Rough play. Dogs can get excited and might accidentally knock your daughter over.
  • Allergies and fleas. Pretty self-explanatory.
  • Messes. Toddlers, preschoolers, and dogs have accidents. It comes with the territory. Plus, some dogs may tear up your house if they get left alone for too long.
  • Time and money. Dogs aren’t like goldfish—you’ll need to spend a lot of time walking, grooming, and playing with it. Will that cut into time you’d otherwise spend with your wife or daughter? In addition, PetEducation.com estimates that keeping a dog costs $800-$2,500 per year.

Now some benefits:

  • Dogs can be fun and loving.
  • Having a dog around can help your daughter learn to love animals and treat them with respect.
  • Your daughter can learn some responsibility by helping care for the dog.
  • Some research indicates that kids raised in households with pets are less likely to be allergic later.

If you do decide to get a dog, her are a few important guidelines.

  • Do plenty of research. Some breeds, like labs, are known for being great with children. But dogs are individuals and even the most family-friendly breed can’t guarantee a good personality or good behavior.
  • Find the right dog for your family. Shelter? Breeder? That’s a decision only you can make. Some people worry about adopting from a shelter, but as PetEducation.com says, “There are some real diamonds in the ‘ruff’ to be found at the local humane society.” Then there’s the puppy vs. older dog debate. Getting a mature animal may eliminate the need for house training and some of the bouncing-off-the-walls-and-chewing-on-everything puppy behavior.
  • Include your daughter in the process. Try to get her input. If you have a choice of dogs, watch which one your daughter is drawn to. And try to arrange a time when girl and dog can spend some time together before bringing the four-legged one into your home.
  • Teach your toddler how to interact with dogs. She needs to know how to approach dogs with caution, pet them, play with them, and how not to provoke or surprise them.
  • Supervise, supervise, supervise. Despite the “Good Dog, Carl” books (if you haven’t seen them, they’re great), a dog is not a babysitter. Don’t ever leave the two of them alone together. You never know when one might do something to the other.
  • Create safe zones. Your dog needs a place to call his own, where he can go to get away from your daughter. And your daughter needs a place to get away from the dog.

Finally, have fun. Millions of families have happily and safely brought dogs into their lives.

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