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All children are one of a kind, and they all experience different things growing up, but one aspect of their upbringing is universal: the moment they ask for a puppy! While dogs are fun and cute, they also help to teach children impulse control, social skills and even help to enhance their self-esteem.
Getting a dog, especially when you already have children to look after, is one of the biggest (and possibly craziest!) decisions you’ll ever make. But while the sacrifices can at times be hard, the rewards more than makeup for it. Here, we look into the positives of raising children and dogs together, as well as exploring techniques for building the child-dog bond.
The Benefits of Dogs Around Children
Having a pet dog can actually help your child in ways you may never have even thought about. TV’s The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, believes young children can learn a lot about life from their pet dog and recommends bringing them up in the family “pack” together. Millan says:
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“Instinct allows us to appreciate integrity. Trust, respect, and loyalty are what a dog represents. Kids should be around dogs from an early age — before five — so they develop this instinctive side.”
Supporting Cesar Millan’s notion that dogs can instinctually teach children important virtues and character traits, a Pediatric Research study in 2020 found that, compared with those who don’t, children who have a pet dog were 30% less likely to have conduct problems, and 40% less likely to have issues getting along with their peers. One of the authors of the study, Hayley E. Christian, acknowledged that, while getting a dog is not a decision to be taken lightly, the figures clearly highlight how having a pet dog can enrich a child’s entire life, making it well worth it:
“Owning a dog comes with responsibilities and costs. But both anecdotal reports and research show that the benefits outweigh the costs.”
Keeping a dog as a pet from a young age can also teach your child important skills, including learning responsibility and how to care for another, as well as how to instruct and be disciplined. With many owners walking their pets and feeding them at similar times each day, your little one can learn to get into a routine. The companionship gained from a dog is also greatly beneficial since your child will always have their pet to play with and look after, keeping them entertained and helping them form a bond with their new family member!
5 Ways to Help Kids and Dogs Bond
Dog Behaviorist Nick Jones outlined five important things to consider when helping your child and dog bond. They are:
1. Research Child-Friendly Breeds
Often, parents or indeed children will choose a new companion based on appearances alone. But, as world-renowned dog trainer Brandon McMillan says, no two dogs are the same, and the most immediate differences are often visible through their breed:
“Imprinted DNA – This is where nature versus nurture comes into play. Certain characteristics are inherent to your dog and cannot be changed. Dogs are not a blank slate. Herding dogs, for example, already know how to herd from birth—they don’t need to be taught.”
One simple fact cannot be avoided: some dogs are a lot friendlier around children than others. Therefore, it’s always best to do your research.
2. Get Your Child Involved
Allow your child to take part in all aspects of dog ownership, be that feeding, training, grooming, or going out for walks. All of these activities build trust between dog and owner, as the dog naturally comes to rely on “the hand that feeds.” It’s also great fun for children to be involved in these activities, as they will feel like they are creating a bond with their pet and spending quality time with them!
3. Create Positive Associations with Pets
Owning a dog should be fun for your child and is also a great opportunity to drag them away from their TV or tablet screens! Create games and activities that include both your child and your dog, even if it’s as simple as a game of fetch. Doing so also opens avenues to other beneficial things for your child, like exercise and spending more time outdoors.
Another great way to build positive association is by creating things around your child and your dog that can last for years and years, for example, artwork, photos, or even writing a funny song together. One great option for younger children especially is a personalized pet book – these storybooks feature your child’s name and photo along with illustrations drawn to look like your dog!
4. Set Clear Boundaries
Children should be taught that dogs have their own unique ways, separate from humans. There are certain things that many dogs won’t tolerate, such as being bothered while they’re eating or sleeping. Let your child know what is and isn’t appropriate, as well as how to recognize the warning signs that their dog may be irritated or distressed. And of course, always supervise your dog around young children.
5. Intervene if Necessary
One thing you must always remember is that your pet pooch is an animal that acts largely on instinct. Any signs of aggression or changes in behavior should be addressed straight away. If acts of aggression aren’t acted on straight away, your dog can easily believe this behavior is acceptable and continue to behave this way, so they need to be taught immediately that it won’t be tolerated!
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Clearly, there are numerous benefits to bringing up children and dogs together. While having a pet dog is a huge responsibility for potentially over a decade, the benefits, such as the happiness they bring and the active lifestyle they offer, are simply priceless.
What’s more, forging a bond with a pet dog can also benefit your child’s development and aid their personality in countless ways, as well as creating memories that will last for a lifetime.