In my years of training dogs I have run across few absolutes. It seems like there are dozens or even hundreds of ‘rules’ that dictate dog behavior and dog training. Having said that, it seems like I will find exceptions to most rules.
The topic I wanted to touch on today is one of those. Is this topic a hard and fast rule? No. But if I had to put a percentage on it I’d say that what I’m about to present is correct 99% of the time.
I’m talking about dog ownership and children.
I love dogs. I’ve got two of them in my home. I love kids. I’ve got four kids in my home. But what I realize is that, for all the best intentions in the world, children just aren’t capable of owning dogs.
Dogs and Kids- The Promises And The Pleading
In my career I’ve been in the home of hundreds, if not thousands, of dog owners. In many of these client situations I’ve found that the dog was purchased ‘for the kids’. The dog was invited into the home ‘to teach the children responsibility’. Or that the puppy came to live with the family because the ‘kids could take care of it’.
I can only think of one or two occasions that I’ve come across where this is actually the case. Instead, in most scenarios that I’ve come across, I’ve encountered strife and fighting amongst parents and children. Expectations that existed upon purchase of the puppy seem to go out the window within weeks and the family is left trying to figure out how to take care of this creature.
Dogs and Kids- The Reality
The reality is that most kids I meet under the age of 13, 14, or 15 can hardly remember to bathe themselves if they don’t have a parent telling them to do so. Most of them can’t make much more than a sandwich if they were hungry. They can’t drive themselves anywhere, they lose track of time when playing video games or playing with friends, and homework doesn’t get done unless the dutiful parent is on their case.
Now, I know there are plenty of exceptions as well as plenty of even worse cases. My point here is not to insult children. They are what they are. They are grown ups in training.
My point is, though, that how is it possible to take that level of understanding and awareness and make sure that it is waking up on time in order to take the puppy out to the bathroom? To supervise that young dog with enough precision that it can’t sneak away and chew on shoes? To be on enough of a schedule to remember when it’s potty time, meal time, etc.? To have the coordination, dexterity, and ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ to follow a training program?
The reality is that kids just can’t do this. This leads to a never ending source of frustration for me as I try to help dog owners understand that their puppy or dog isn’t going to reach it’s potential with a child at the helm. A few examples:
– We had a client where both mom and dad worked long hours and the 9 year old child was home alone with a German Shepherd. The complaint was that the German Shepherd would drag the child around the neighborhood when going on walks.
I was horrified to learn that they had even sent the young child out alone in the neighborhood with a dog that was about the same size as the child. It doesn’t matter how well trained the dog is, what if the dog has one bad day and drags the kid into traffic pulling after a cat? It doesn’t matter how well trained the dog is, what happens if a loose dog comes up and starts a fight with the dog and now the child is in the middle of 150 lbs. of dog fight? The potential for disaster is endless.
– We had a client where dad worked a lot and mom was home but wasn’t too interested in the dog. They wanted the 13 year old son to take care of the dog.
Think about the average day of a 13 year old. He leaves in the 7 o’clock hour for school and gets home during the 3 o’clock hour. He’s got homework, he’s got sports and activities, and hopefully time to play with friends. Where is it possible in that scenario that this 13 year old boy is going to have much time at all to dedicate to the training and care of a dog?
– We’ve had several clients with multiple children and a young puppy in the home. In these cases the children are often tasked with ‘supervising’ the puppy.
Folks, how many of you have kids that can go long periods without some degree of supervision? Let alone asking those same children to supervise and train an 8 week old dog? It just isn’t going to happen.
Dogs and Kids- The Ideal
After writing all this I don’t want to come across that dogs and kids should have nothing to do with each other. In fact, I think kids should be taught to feed and clean after the dog, train the dog, and care for the dog.
What I’m getting at is that it should never be the primary responsibility of children to care and maintain a dog. Any work the child does in that respect should be under the supervision of a parent to make sure it is being done correctly and with the proper techniques.