Written by Michael Hingson, speaker/ author of Running with Roselle and NY Times bestseller, Thunder Dog michaelhingson.com
Do you have a child asking for a Dog? Do you have valid reasons why it is not possible right now? You will enjoy this post written my Author Michael Hingson.
“Mommy, would you buy me a puppy?” “Dad, why can’t we have a dog?” These questions are asked one time or another by children to almost every parent. More often than not, the answer is “No,” or “You aren’t old enough,” or “We can’t afford one.” The negative answers are as varied as our imaginations are boundless. I think, however, the real answer often stems from a fear about the responsibility of having a pet or it comes from a lack of education about the incredible joy, value and education a dog can bring to a family, especially children. Let’s first look at some facts about dog ownership:
1. A dog is a lot of responsibility and it can require a fair amount of work for family members.
2. Often training is involved, but much of the time humans need more training than dogs.
3. There are costs associated with owning a dog.
4. A pet dog is not for everyone although a dog will enrich more lives than most of us imagine.
5. Owning a dog is best described as making a lifestyle choice.
Having owned and used guide dogs for nearly fifty years I have come to know the significant part they
have played in my life. I have seen wonderful and focused guide dog users, and I have seen those
people who never should have gotten a guide dog at all because they did not learn how to establish a
relationship with their dog. I have seen good pet owners and I have seen poor ones. Again, the key is
to establish a good strong interdependent relationship. Most important of all I have seen the positive
effect a dog has on children who have had the proper exposure to a dog whether it be from the good
casual encounter with a dog such as mine or a good experience which stems from having a good pet
owning experience within their own family. Let’s look at the five points I raised above and see how a dog might be right for you and your family.
Dogs require a lot of work
If you are going to own a dog, you must make your home a real
home for the dog as well. Any dog needs its space and it will have its favorite toys and bed, or it should have them. Dogs like to know what belongs to them and they also like to know the rules of the house.
Dogs are pack animals. They will learn to look to humans for direction if we lay the ground rules for
the relationship from the beginning and are consistent. As the pack leaders humans must also be the
team builders, the leaders. Whether an assistance dog or a pet, the dog will take direction from us
if we are open to learning how to give clear direction and if we learn how to establish effective two-
way communications with the dog. If you have children they MUST be an integral part of this process.
Many guide dog schools allow children as young as nine years of age to sign on as puppy raisers for their future guide dogs. The children learn to accept this responsibility and take their job seriously. I have seen very young children be good pet owners and work well with their dogs. The dog, for its part, learns to obey the child just as it does the parent.
Good trainers will emphasize that training is at least as much for pet owners as it is for the dogs. Pet ownership is an adventure for children who are given the proper expectations by their parents. They get quite excited as they see their pet dog grow and learn because, in fact, they are growing and learning themselves. While we may want our dogs to learn to do tricks, obey our commands, and assist us in performing tasks, again, we must learn how to communicate with them and we must learn what will motivate dogs to positively respond to our wishes. As children learn how to communicate and train their dogs they are rewarded by the positive responses of their pets.
It all begins with parents learning the ropes and then passing this knowledge on to their younger pet handlers. I urge potential and existing dog owners to learn about clicker training and food rewards. One book I recommend is “Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs” by Karen Pryor. Visit Karen’s website at http://www.karenpryor.com.
Cost of a Dog
The rewards far outweigh the costs. Unless a dog has serious medical issues, feeding a dog should not cost more than $50 a month. Well, it won’t unless you choose specialty or very expensive food. Most dogs do not require expensive specialties. There are many good dog foods on the market, which are created with all the nutrients and ingredients they need. I use a high-end dry food or kibble. It costs me about $30 a month to feed my guide dog, Africa. Feeding a pet is a significant responsibility, which children can learn to handle. Of course, kids will forget or sometimes want to do something else when they should be paying attention to the dog’s feeding schedule. Emphasizing that food time is important to children as well as to the dog will help. “When you get hungry you want to eat, right? Well, it is the same for your dog except he or she can’t raid the cookie jar like you can. Your dog depends on you to give it dinner.” Use positive methods to teach your children and you will quickly see how they catch on. You will also get a happier and more involved dog.
Vet bills can mount up when there are serious illnesses. However, devoted and engaged dog owners
will say that they will do whatever it takes to keep their fur-covered friends healthy, especially since the dogs are part of the family. Even when a dog becomes ill involving your children is important. Always
be honest with them about what is going on with the family dog. Children often observe more than we
think and they understand more quickly than adults what is going on in times of illness. Always let your children be curious and do your best to satisfy their curiosity.
Is a Dog right for you?
There are people who will never have a dog in their life for one reason or another. I will not judge the merits of such people’s viewpoint. Instead let me say that people who choose to adopt the dog owner lifestyle and let animals enter their lives often say that deciding to have a pet dog was one of the best decisions they ever made. Not only do dogs love unconditionally, but they teach us responsibility. I have talked with many guide dog puppy raising families who tell me that having a guide dog puppy in training, even if only for a year, taught their children responsibility, how to love better—beyond themselves, and said the dog brought the whole family together in ways nothing else ever could. I have talked with adults who have been involved in raising guide dog puppies all their lives. Many of these adults continue the puppy raising family tradition and love it. They also have other pets that are obedient and engaged.
It’s a lifestyle choice
These adults also say how much they learned about life, commitment and responsibility from their
puppy raising experiences. I call owning a dog a “lifestyle choice” because that is exactly what it is. Owning a dog will mean taking on new obligations and responsibilities. It will require learning to communicate with a creature that does not think, act, or operate the way you do. If you and your children learn, as the dog owners, how to approach ownership correctly you will most likely find that all of you take teamwork to a whole new and higher level within your family unit. The upside to taking on these responsibilities is that you will make a friend in your dog who will love you like no one else. The whole family will have a new colleague. One who will open new doors of friendship and conversations with humans around you; providing positive opportunities you may not have ever experienced before. The entire family will have fun. And most important, I think the entire family will find that, no matter what, the family stress level will go down because when any of you begins feeling like the world is spinning out of control suddenly a cold wet nose will push an arm, a warm head will land in an lap, and your dog will look and say with its eyes and tail that “Everything is ok because I am here and I think you are wonderful.” What can be better than that?
I invite you to visit my web site to learn more about my life with my guide dogs. On the site I have placed articles I have written about my training experiences with Africa. You can also read about my story of escaping from the World Trade Center with my guide dog, Roselle. You can even purchase books that others and I have written about my experiences. You can purchase an artist’s portrait of Roselle painted by the world’s foremost animal artist, Ron Burns, to help support “Roselle’s Dream Foundation” which was formed to help blind students offset the expenses of purchasing specialized technology.
If you have questions about dog ownership and training, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go find the right dog for you and your family. You will be glad you did.