What kids learn from having a dog

Just over a year ago we adopted a rescue puppy, Clyde, and in that time he has converted us into a bunch of devoted Dog People. The kids had been begging for us to become a Dog Family for years, but as someone who had never had a dog growing up, I took some convincing. After all, I’d heard the rumours – Dogs are lots of work. They stink, they shed hair, they chew everything, they pee and poop everywhere, they eat you out of house and home. Having a puppy is the same amount of work as having a newborn, having a dog is like having another kid.

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I was extremely reluctant to sign up for extra work – I already had my hands full with three human children, thank you very much. Who needs the extra work of picking up puppy poop and bathing a dog when it’s all you can do to keep your boys regularly showering and your toilet floor a urine-free zone, am I right? Having a dog sounded like too much work.

But in the middle of a family crisis, we adopted Clyde. Following a strange gut-feeling, I followed my intuition that a puppy was just what the kids needed to help them get through a tough time. It seemed counter-intuitive, and plenty of people thought I really had finally gone crazy taking on extra work in the middle of our situation, but I turned out to be right on the money with this one. Clyde was just what the kids needed. And actually, he was also just what I needed.

It's hard to resist those soulful puppy-dog eyes...

I have done a 180 degree turnaround from being anti-dog to being so pro-dog that I’m now convinced everyone should have one in the family if at all possible. (Note – there are lots of practical reasons why families can’t have a dog – for example, allergies or their rental doesn’t allow pets. But if you can have a dog but were a dog-phobe like me, that’s what I’m meaning).

Dogs are wonderful not just for their loving, loyal natures, their heart-mending doggy kisses, and their cuddles that actually bring your heart rate down and reduce anxiety. Oh no. Having a dog in the family teaches your kids things; it prepares them for life in a way that nothing else can. Here’s what I’ve discovered my kids are learning by being Puppy Parents.

Caring for a dog teaches kids to be responsible - even when they don't feel like it

It teaches kids responsibility

Dogs are not like cats. We love our cat but she is extremely independent and requires little from us beyond putting out some daily kibble. It doesn’t take much effort to care for our cat, but our dog is different story. Every day, Clyde needs to not only be fed and watered, but exercised, played with and trained. He needs to be let out to pee and poop (sometimes in the middle of the night). His mess needs to be cleaned up. It doesn’t matter if we feel like doing it or not, the dog needs to be cared for, just like a child does.

Caring for a puppy really is like having another child in the family, except that in this case, the kids get to be the parents. When I agreed to get a puppy, the kids promised (in front of witnesses) that they would be the ones to care for the puppy. They are his parents. (I am like the grandma, apparently). Remember those newborn sleep-deprived days of early parenting? What can prepare you better for the insistent cry of a hungry dependent child, than the insistent whine of a hungry dependent puppy?

Even when you don’t feel like it the puppy must be fed. He must be played with, he must be walked.
The kids are learning how to take care of their responsibilities, even when they don’t feel like it. It’s a learning curve, but they are learning.

What kids learn from Having a Dog

It teaches kids selflessness

Kids are naturally self-centred. They need to be coached towards caring for others and putting others ahead of themselves (some kids more than others!) Having a puppy requires kids to put someone else’s needs ahead of their own – someone furry who depends on you, someone helpless, who you really, really love.

Siblings may bicker and argue and act selfishly towards each other at times, but those same self-centred kids think twice about neglecting their adoring puppy. Selflessness can be learned and puppies are the most wonderful teachers.

Having a puppy brings so much love and laughter into the home

It teaches kids about unconditional love

One of the most amazing revelations I had as a new parent was discovering what it’s like to love someone unconditionally. It was a massive light bulb moment to realise how you can love someone to the moon and back and yet still be severely annoyed and displeased with them at the same time. My love was not dented one little bit by my child’s naughtiness or sleeplessness or thoughtlessness. Then I was able to understand God’s love towards me for the first time (and my parents’ love for me too).

Well, guess what? Having a puppy gives kids insights into that very same truth. So many times Clyde has done something naughty and been scolded by one of the kids, only for them to hug him round the neck a minute later exclaiming, “Oh, but I still love you, Clyde, you gorgeous boy!”

A couple of times they’ve turned to me and asked, “Mum, so is this how you feel about us, then?” Yes, my darling kid, absolutely 100 percent. Having Clyde to love, is teaching my kids about unconditional love. About the kind of love their parents have for them – how we may be cross when they do dumb stuff but it doesn’t diminish our love one bit.

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