My Kids Want a Dog

Filed under: Expert Advice: Big Kids

Dear AdviceMama:

My kids (6 and 8 years old) are begging me for a new puppy but I don't think they're going to keep their promises once the newness wears off. They have even written a contract saying they will walk and feed the dog every day for the next 10 years, but I don't see how they're going to follow through when I have to nag them to brush their teeth or do their homework. Still, I think a dog would be a sweet addition to our family. I just don't want to be stuck doing all the work. What do you suggest?

Canine Confusion

Dear Canine Confusion:

I suggest that if you want the pleasure of a family pet for many years to come (hopefully at least 10 to 15), you should definitely get a puppy (or a rescue dog.) And if you think it would be really fun to have a puppy, and that it might even prompt your children to learn responsibility by taking care of their cherished new pet, I would suggest you take a long bath or a nice nap so you can start thinking like a sane person again.

Unless tragedy befalls them, all puppies become adult dogs. And while dogs are terrifically entertaining, loyal and companionable, they aren't nearly as cute as puppies. I would say the window of puppy cuteness lasts perhaps two to six months depending on the dog and your children's attention span. After that, you will have yourself another child with poor bladder control, behavior challenges and a tendency to chew on your furniture.

I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but the fact is, you are going to end up taking care of the dog. Sure, at the beginning of their love affair, your kids will be begging to let him sleep in their bed, and will rush home from school to tend to his every need. But within a few weeks or months, the newness will wear off and you will end up reminding and nagging them to keep their promises.

Children are absolutely delightful, but they live very much in the moment. They need us to be what I call the captain of the ship in their lives, which includes managing the mundane details of day-to-day living -- including taking care of a pet.

This is not to say that you can't include dog-related tasks on your children's list of chores. (I'm a big fan of chores, by the way.) Your children can be expected to help feed the dog, pick up the poop and let it out in the morning. But this will require your ongoing input and that's just the way that it is.

A dog can add enormous pleasure to your family, and can offer your children a beloved and faithful friend for life. I would simply urge you to line your expectations up with reality and make sure you don't enter into a bargain with your children that is almost guaranteed to fall apart as the novelty of a new puppy wears off. Best of luck to you!

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.