[originally posted November 16, 2009]
Forget violence and lewd language. In many households, it’s films like Hotel for Dogs, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and 101 Dalmatians (in any version) that require parental controls. All are dangerous viewing for families unwilling, or unable, to get their offspring a dog.
But even parents who are considering a furry pal for their kids should beware of films or ads depicting cute canines; the strong pet urges they awaken may be premature. Not all children are ready for the responsibility of taking care of a living creature, especially a high maintenance one like a dog.
How do you know if your child is ready for a dog?
- If he or she is old enough to ask, that’s a start — “ask” being the operative word. Never get a dog for a kid who hasn’t requested one just because you think he is lonely or needs to learn responsibility. That would be the equivalent of using real babies rather than dolls or eggs in one of those teen anti-pregnancy programs that involves taking care of an infant for a week. Robotic dogs are now widely available, should such a lesson be your goal.
- Take into account the circumstances that sparked the request. Wait at least three months after your child viewed the last dog movie.
In the meantime, try not to be swayed by the intense desire to stop the cajoling and whining that tend to accompany all pet requests. Inform your offspring that dogs are very sensitive to high-pitched sounds such as whining, and that you couldn’t possibly bring one into such an inhospitable environment.
- Finally, ask yourself: Are you or anyone else in the family willing to take primary responsibility for the dog if your kid loses interest? If the answer is no, don’t get a dog. It would not only be horribly unfair to the neglected pup, but also to the child, who’ll come to associate dogs with nagging and yelling and, as a result, never want to have anything to do with the species later in life.
If you do decide your household is dog-ready:
- Involve your child in the adoption/buying (from a reputable breeder, of course) process, thereby ensuring a match of temperaments and creating an emotional bond.
- Avoid bringing a dog home during the holidays, a sure recipe for disaster. (See my earlier post, A dog as a holiday gift? Think again)
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let your child associate getting a dog with the holidays, which is one way to ensure better memories of the season than most of us have. Either go together to get the dog in advance, stressing that this is a holiday gift, or give the child an IOU — perhaps tied to a stuffed animal — promising an excursion to get a pup in the new year. If your kid can’t deal with the concept of advance or deferred gratification — or does really creepy things to the stuffed animal– then she isn’t ready for a dog.
- Avoid family trips to stores that sell puppies. It’s tough enough for a grownup to remember the greater good of shutting down puppy mills, which tend to be the source of pet store dogs, when faced with the pathos of a small, squirmy cutie in a cage. Don’t expect your child to be able to grasp this difficult concept — or forgive you for dragging him away from that wagging tail.