Your child wants a puppy. In fact, she's desperate for one. For every holiday, birthday and good report card she puts in new request for a dog. She's relentless, but you're unsure. Pets are a wonderful addition to the family, but they are also a lot of work, and you may have a lot of questions. What's the best age to get a dog for a child? How do I know if my kid is ready for a pet, and if she isn't, how do I explain that to her?
These questions are important to ask yourself. Just as you wouldn't make a significant life decision without weighing all the considerations, you shouldn't adopt a dog without determining if this is the best idea for your family.
Buy Yourself Some Time to Think
If your child usually puts in the request for a new puppy during special life moments, like birthdays and holidays, remind her that pets are not presents. Adopting an animal is a significant lifestyle change, and a pet cannot be treated like a stuffed animal or toy. Talk to your child about the many responsibilities of owning an animal, and be clear that life moments are not appropriate times to gift a pet.
This discussion will give you time to think about whether your child is ready to help take care of a pet, and will encourage your child to take time to think about it, as well. Ask her to come up with a list of three reasons why she wants a pet and three ways she can help take care of a puppy.
What's the Best Age to Get a Dog for a Child?
There is no perfect age to adopt an animal. Every child reacts differently to pet ownership. Every dog transitions uniquely to being adopted, and every family situation is different. Some children are born into families with pets, and others don't have an animal living in their home until they are teenagers.
Knowing your child's personality and behavior will help you identify what to do when your child wants a puppy. First, consider her age. Toddlers will not be able to help take care of a pet, though, they may enjoy the interaction with a new furry friend. Teenagers can be excellent help, but if they spend a lot of time out of the home for their own activities, they may not have time to take care of a dog. School-aged children are often ones to beg for an animal, and there are many ways they can get involved in the dog's care, so long as they are aware that a pet is not a toy, and mustn't be treated as one.
Young children may be able to help out by feeding the dog daily, while teenagers may be well-suited to help the puppy expend energy on a walk or playing in the backyard. Children of all ages can help facilitate potty training by coming with you to take your puppy outside.
A good test to see if your child is ready for a new dog is to give her a little test. In addition to having her write down her reasons for getting one and how she can help, give her a few similar chores for her to follow for a couple of weeks to see how well she takes to the responsibilities. This can include water plants around the home (like giving the dog water) or picking up her own toys (picking up poop after the dog does his business, or his toys). If she responds well to these new tasks, it might be a sign that she is willing to take on the chores associated with caring for a dog.
Lastly, it is important to consider adopting an older dog, and not just looking for a puppy. While little kids will absolutely fall in love with puppies, they will also get super excited about any new dog in the home. Just like your kid is growing and learning about the world around her, puppies are going through a similar stage of life and require additional care that you'll need to be prepared to deal with as the parent of BOTH the kiddos (human and puppy) in your house.
Telling Your Child You Can't Adopt a Pet
Even if you love animals, you might determine that your child isn't quite ready for pet ownership. There are many reasons why the timing isn't right, so be honest with your child about what influenced your decision. For example, if your teenager cannot keep her room clean, she might not participate in the daily chores of dog ownership. Explain this, and then give your teen the opportunity to work toward improving responsible behaviors. If your child shows an honest effort, you may change your mind.
Lifestyle circumstances may also play a role in why it's not time to get a pet. If you don't have enough space in your home for a dog to live comfortably, or your family spends too much time out of the house for work, school, and other activities, it may simply just be the wrong time to adopt. Being honest with your child about this allows her to understand your reasoning instead of assuming that you don't want an animal.
Choosing to adopt is a big choice, so be honest with your child about your reasons why the family is ready or not ready to welcome a new furry friend.
Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.