How often have you seen pictures of families with a dog in it and wondered how they managed to pull that off, or IF you can pull that off?
Such pictures are littered all over social media, so my guess is, you’ve thought about it – a lot!
Imagine if you could juggle kids and family dogs, and still have enough strength to beam at the camera. That would be awesome, right?
Well, you can!
In this article, I’ll show you how you can manage the troubles that come with having kids and a dog without going insane.
Before that, we need to go over the benefits of having a dog in your family, especially for the kids. Here’s…
Kids and family dogs that grow up around dogs learn very early that they have to look out for someone other than themselves.
Maybe you’ve already taught them to keep their room neat, unload the dishwasher, and give a hand when needed. However, learning to take care of another living being is a different responsibility entirely.
You can teach your child to walk the dog, feed him at the right time, clean up after him, and bathe the dog. Yes, they won’t perform these tasks perfectly the first few times they try, but they’ll catch up with time.
A recent study on children who had pets (dogs and cats) growing up has discovered that the kids that did were less vulnerable to illnesses. And even when these kids fell sick, their immune system responded to a shorter and less potent course of antibiotics than those that didn’t have dogs around them.
A different study found that children born to parent(s) with respiratory asthma or allergies are less likely to inherit the ailment if they had a dog in the house. It is believed that exposure to dogs at a tender age helped boost their immune system.
Everyone is familiar with IQ, however, research has shown that EQ (Emotional Intelligence) plays an important role in children’s development. With a dog to practice on, children quickly learn about EQ, a large part of which involves reading emotions in others.
Caring for a being other than oneself requires compassion. Walking, feeding, and bathing a dog when there are other interesting things to do will teach a child to be selfless. It also helps your child bond with the pet. This bond promotes the release of Oxytocin (happiness hormone) in kids' (adults inclusive) brain, making them less anxious and stressed.
Aside from that, caring for a dog helps children build healthy self-esteem. Completing small tasks like refilling the dog’s water or meal bowl helps a child trust in their competence.
How do you peel your children off the couch and away from the TV?
Get them a dog.
With a dog around them, children get to run around, play, and stretch more than those without. This isn’t just a ‘good for kids’ thing. Dog owners find it much easier to put on their running boots and jog or head to the gym.
That being said, how do you actually juggle kids and dogs without burning out?
The first thing that separates families that successfully integrate a dog and one that doesn’t is a routine.
A routine that works is one that is beneficial to everyone involved. And it has a substitute in case one person is predisposed.
Establish a schedule for walking, feeding, exercising, and relieving the dog. Help your children understand the benefits of this schedule and why they should stick to it. Trust me, after some time, they’ll be the ones reminding you that it’s time to walk or feed the dog. With a routine, you can stop your dog from waking you in the middle of the night.
One way to make dogs and kids work is to create a safe space for them to be. Remove all toxic plants (if you have any), hide Lego pieces, and small toys that can be ingested. Hide footwears, socks, power cables, and any other thing that can cause harm to both kids and dogs.
The same goes for the backyard. You have to remove anything that can be tripped on, hurt the feet, or not suitable for play. You want them to play and have fun in the sun without you reaching for the first aid kit.
When making a schedule for your family, remember to add mind-stimulating activities to the routine. A great way to keep the body physically fit is to incorporate long walks into your day to day activities.
However, you also need to stress them out mentally too. Get your dog a food puzzle to play with, while your kids are working on jigsaw puzzles or playing monopoly.
You can encourage your kids to read a story to your dog while he’s munching on his favorite toy. This way, your dog gets to exercise his brain while your kid practices his reading skills.
Once in a while something you never expected comes up at the last minute. You have to quickly dash to the grocery store, your kid has music practice, or whatever event takes precedence over being with the dog.
When this happens, which it will, you’ll need the help of a trusted dog walker or sitter. It could be a neighbor’s teen or a paid dog companion – BTW, you should find a way to compensate your neighbor’s child though.
This will prevent your dog from developing separation anxiety when he’s left alone, or overwhelming you with attention when you return.
It’s very common to see regular gym members slowly withdraw with the addition of a new family member. However, if your routine is tightly packed and you can’t make it to the gym, don’t just sit on the couch or eat chocolate.
You can go for a hike, an extended walk with your dog, or just stretch right at home. There are mobile apps that show you how to use your weight as gym equipment. If yoga is your thing, clear a space, and follow some YouTube videos. You’ll feel happier, healthier, and less anxious or stressed afterward!
Remember, the longer you stop exercising, the harder it’ll be to restart or find time for it.
We all need some time off to rest our heads after a long day. While kids and dogs can go on playing forever, you have to include sleep time in the routine.
20-30 minutes before sleep time, put a stop to every frantic play session, and make everyone just chill out. Take the dog out for one last potty break to prevent him from waking you at night. Snuggle for at least 10 minutes with your kids before letting them doze off to sleep.
Your kids may request that pooch sleep in their bed. But, it’s up to you to decide if letting the dog sleep in their bed is a good idea. My advice? Decide before they ask so you don’t make a hasty decision.
Look, children are children. They’ll try to treat the dog like another human or a smaller version of themselves. They’ll try to drop the dog’s meal in his mouth, pass him food from their spoon, apply cream on the dog’s coat, or hug him a little bit too tight.
Say ‘No!’ very often.
It goes without saying that you need to supervise play sessions. A lot of times when a dog resorts to biting, it’s because the play was inappropriate or hurtful to the dog.
It’s much easier for an adult to read a dog’s body language. From an adult perspective, you can tell if the dog is tired of playing with the kid for the day. Is sick or in pain, or just wants to be on his own. So, teach your child to seek your permission before petting the dog.
Dogs get terrified when someone suddenly reaches out to them. Teach your child that the best way to safely interact with the family dog is to offer an open invitation. Let them stand back, open their arms out, and beckon the dog to come to them.
This serves two purposes. The dog calmly goes to the kid if he feels like doing so. And, there’s little risk of sudden aggressive behaviors towards the child.
Once the dog sniffs their hands and warms up to the kid, then it is safe to gently stroke him. However, they should use one hand to stroke under the chin, the head, and the back. This way the dog can feel where the hand is and isn’t startled by any movement.
This one boils down to empathy. Ask your child how they’d feel if the sibling started poking them while they were trying to sleep or eating.
Except the dog is licking, teach your child to steer clear of the dog’s mouth. Most bites are accidental, maybe the child wanted to get something from the dog’s mouth or place something there.
When playing fetch with the dog, teach your kids to use two balls. When the dog fetches the first one they threw, they should throw the second. The dog will drop the ball in his mouth and fetch the second ball. This way your kid doesn’t have to pull the ball out of the dog’s mouth and risk getting bit.
Remember, nobody is perfect!
The people beaming in those family pictures you fantasize about missed a couple of appointments. They sometimes forget to walk the dog, their dog soils the house once in a while, they forget some items on the grocery list and they misplace their keys too.
You just have to do the best you can to weave these tips into your daily routine, manage unwanted behaviors as they arise, and attend to your dog’s physical and emotional needs, just like you do for your children – which they are!