We have been caring for a lovely 1 year old spaniel recently on behalf of her breeder who is my friend. She is the sweetest dog you can imagine, and we absolutely adore her but unfortunately Lady Grace is not a fan so we are helping to find a forever home for her. I’ve had many sleepless nights where my brain has been drafting this post so I have finally written it, in the hope that it’ll stop haunting me.
It breaks my heart that a sweet young dog is in this position and I can’t even put to words how angry I have felt on behalf of the innocent dog whose life has been so profoundly affected. It could have easily gone really wrong but luckily for Zuma, her life is being turned around just in time.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about dogs and families in the past month, so here goes – my uncensored thoughts on the idea of “getting a dog for the family“:
If you are a parent who’s thinking about getting a dog and any of your reasons includes the word “kids”, DON’T DO IT.
Seriously, DO NOT GET A DOG FOR YOUR KIDS. If you hear friends or family talking this way, also tell them to not do it.
Not unless you or the other adult is prepared to take full responsibility for the dog and effectively be its parent – a dog that is “the whole family’s dog” doesn’t have anyone to turn to, and a puppy especially needs the safety of at least ONE caretaker who they can trust.
You’re doing no favours to anyone by pretending the dog is “everyone’s” just to be inclusive. And if you don’t like the idea of being a dog’s “parent”, tough luck because latest canine science shows that’s exactly how dogs perceive us… you’re mummy or daddy to a dog whatever terms you choose for yourself and that’s the responsibility you need to take on.
Doing right by the dog you bring into your life includes (but not limited to):
1. Making a significant time investment in learning about dogs including their needs and behaviour.
You may get away with less if you don’t have kids but… the stakes are higher with non-adults (see point 2). Attend the puppy course religiously, then sign up for the adolescent course because the puppy course was just the appetiser – the absolute bare minimum. Expect to spend significant amounts of time in the first two years of a dog’s life learning about them and working with them, because EVERYTHING hangs on you being their safe haven and doing things together as a team is a great way to build that relationship. You’re the only one who can help your dog navigate and thrive in the human world you’ve brought them into.
2. Training your kids, EXTENSIVELY AND COMPREHENSIVELY.
Yes, training. Raise a dog and train your kids because they are usually unpredictable and rude from the perspective of a dog even though they are Precious Little Angels to you – if you asked the dog, they might use less flattering names. When you ignore this responsibility, your kids will 100% ignore the dog’s communication, trample all over their boundaries and then the poor dog just can’t take it anymore – yet the dog will get the blame, often paying for your negligence with their life.
3. Monitoring your kids to protect the DOG from them.
If you have a problem with the dog, start by looking for the issues in your offspring because I can guarantee it’s either them or you. If something bad happens, it is absolutely and completely YOUR failure. You don’t have a problem dog, you’re a “problem human” and most likely so are your kids.
If that seems excessive, don’t get a dog 🤷♀️
It’s not a human right to have one – it’s a huge PRIVILEGE to share your life with an intelligent, emotional, sentient creature of another species and it should be treated as such.
You might think of them as a family member, but… how would you feel if your kids’ teachers totally overruled them, never listened to them and then told you what horrible monsters and delinquents they are when they finally throw the tantrum they are entitled to?
It isn’t a dog’s job to be your kids’ therapist or entertainment, nor is it the dog’s job to teach your kids responsibility – that is your job as a parent, and by delegating that to a dog (!) you have failed pretty abysmally to set an example.
Kids have all the time in the world to experience dogs but a dog only has a short childhood and teenage time which you NEED to get right – otherwise they can easily end up being a very challenging dog and ultimately find themselves in a shelter.
Most dogs that get rehomed are between 12 and 24 months, because cute puppies turn into terrible teens and people give up, even if they themselves laid the groundwork with their own ignorance and laziness – dogs pay the price because nothing good happens to a dog in a shelter.
It’s no excuse to not have time to meet the dog’s needs – the dog did not have any say in being in your life, so make sure you do your absolute best and then 50% more to ensure you honour that commitment to care for them from cradle to grave, with the respect you wish other people will treat your kids in the outside world.
Repeat after me: if in doubt, just err on the safe side and DON’T GET A DOG.