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A dog is for life, not just for Christmas
The famous slogan of today’s title was created in 1978 by Clarissa Baldwin, then-Chief Executive of Dogs Trust, the largest dog welfare charity in the United Kingdom, but these words remain just as relevant today.
Every year hundreds of thousands of children plead for the latest fad or top toy on the market, only to discard them a few weeks after Christmas when the novelty wears off.
Unfortunately, the same tends to happen with dogs, but the consequences of treating dogs as gifts or toys can be horrific and include neglect, abuse, abandonment, relinquishment to shelters, and euthanasia (putting to death).
This article is not intended to discourage, rather to increase awareness that the decision to add a dog to the family is a big one.
The right dog at the right time can add a great deal to a child’s life. Memories from many happy years with the dog carry the meaning of a child’s relationship with a dog far beyond that snapshot on a holiday morning.
First, never assume that as a parent you are getting a dog “for the kids”: you are really getting a dog for yourself!
Regardless of the age of children, parents are the ones who end up caring for, and providing the dog’s needs.
The best way to teach your children how to be responsible pet caregivers is to be one yourself. Bear in mind that dogs will live for 12 – 15 years and as children grow up and leave home the dog will likely be left behind with you.
However, taking care of the dog should be shared by all family members—children can, and should, be assigned tasks appropriate to their ages and abilities, such as supervised feeding, washing bowls and cleaning up after the dog, exercise (walking the dog), obedience training, and supervised play.
Consider the ages and activity levels of the children at home: puppies are a lot of work and acquiring a puppy at the same time as a baby may seem like you’ve given birth to twins!
Babies and young children must never left be unsupervised with any dog, and even older children may from time to time do silly things that hurt or frighten the dog, resulting in a bite.
It is recommended that children younger than 14 years old be supervised when interacting with a dog.
Ironically, small dogs such as toy-dogs and mini-breeds are not considered suitable for toddlers and young children since these tiny dogs are too fragile to handle the rough handling of children not yet knowing how to be gentle enough.
After the mental development of empathy at age 5 to 7 years, children have increased ability to treat dogs properly. Families with very young children should look for a dog no smaller than 25-30 lbs, a sturdier companion who will not feel vulnerable enough to bite.
Larger breed dogs are less likely to be accidentally stepped on or tripped over and those such as Retrievers and Mastiffs are generally more easy-going when inadvertently hurt.
These breeds may be appropriate if the home has active older children who will provide sufficient exercise for these high-energy dogs.
Dogs don’t come cheap! You may start by paying thousands of dollars just to get the dog, and you also need to factor in the cost of food, bowls, toys, bedding, veterinary bills, parasite treatments, obedience training, and all the other little expenses which will add up over the years.
Dogs can be destructive if not adequately exercised, properly trained, and sufficiently enriched; so you may have to deal with problems like dug-up gardens, chewed-up slippers, ripped mudguards from your car, excessive barking, and general wreckage of your house!
Finally, dogs need your time.
A dog who is shut in a kennel, tied up all the time, or left alone for long periods in the yard is a dog who will become depressed, noisy, and may develop aggressive tendencies.
These are a few factors to consider before you commit to getting a dog. You will want to gain all the benefits of sharing your love and home with this animal, but in return you must ensure his life is a happy one.
Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2013. For further information, contact 689-8113 or bestpetsbehave@ hotmail.com
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