Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Every Kid Needs a Dog

I don't expect this kind of crossover will happen often, but I wrote this blog post for another blog I contribute to, Baby Things I Want, and I figured hey, this is some good, constructive parenting advice. :) So I'm posting it here too.

I highly highly highly recommend you get your kids a dog. I think every child should grow up with a dog. I only had one till I was about two years old. I don't really remember her but I see in photographs and old home movies how happy I was to have her around.

We got Coby about a year and a half before Eliana was born. He's a mixed breed. Part German Shepherd, part kitten, we always say. We're not sure he realizes he's a dog. If I sit on the floor he tries to curl up in my lap. He has no idea he weighs almost as much as I do. He'd sleep all day in a patch of sunlight by the window if you'd let him.

Before I had kids, a baby was visiting at our house one day. The baby was napping on my bed, and when he started to cry, Coby charged at me and started barking (Coby NEVER barks) as if to say "The baby's crying! Do something!"

Coby is the gentlest creature. He lets the kids climb all over him and use him as a pillow or a couch. One rainy day we covered him with stickers, and call me evil, but once we even polished his nails (blue, of course. After all, he is a boy). We love to dress him up in costumes too. Sometimes for Purim but sometimes just for the heck of it. And you've gotta see this video of Eliana, age 9 months, trying to pull his ear off.

Dogs are great for kids. Growing up with a dog (or other furry pet) helps boosts your child's immune system and therefore s/he is less likely to develop allergies. It's also so important for kids to not be afraid of dogs. I feel bad for kids who are afraid of dogs - they miss out on so much. I feel worse for the kids whose parents perpetuated their own fear of dogs onto them. We had very sweet neighbors when my kids were younger, and they never let their kids come over once to play because they were terrified of dogs. I tried to explain to them that Coby's really more like a cat, but that was a no-go - they were also afraid of cats!

Coby has actually cured more kids than I can count (and a few parents) of their fear of dogs. Just about two weeks ago a little boy came over to play. He was hiding behind his mother's legs when they walked in, but two hours later he was sitting on the floor, stroking Coby lovingly and complaining that he didn't want to go home.

Coby is a great babysitter. He keeps the kids busy and distracts them so grownups can get things done. And all he charges is a belly rub! We bring him to synagogue every week and tie him up outside. The parents thank us because their kids sit outside with Coby and they are free to sit in the sanctuary and pray (or socialize).

Studies show that kids learn empathy and compassion from having a dog, although mine have mostly learned how to protect their food. Anytime Eliana eats anything she asks "Does Coby like (fill in the blank)?" "Does Coby like macaroni and cheese?" "Does Coby like potato chips?" "Does Coby like green beans?" Kids also get used to a healthy lifestyle by participating in daily walks when they have a dog. Rain or shine, Coby has to be walked. There's no sitting around on our bums all day.

As my kids get older, they will also learn their share of responsibility from taking care of Coby. They already love to fill his food and water bowls and help me hold the leash when we walk him. And they know that when we go away we have to think ahead and find accommodations for Coby. Having a dog prepares kids for going out into the real world and fulfilling their obligations. It can also teach them lessons in cause and effect: Yesterday when we were out, Coby ate a whole bag of sugar off the counter. When we woke up this morning, there was vomit all over the floor. Ask my kids and they will tell you that too much sugar makes you throw up!

It's important to do your research before you get a dog. Rescue one from an animal shelter rather than buying a puppy mill puppy from a pet store. Purebreds are pretty, but mutts are actually smarter and much healthier because they don't have genetic diseases from all that inbreeding. Puppies are cute but they're a lot of work. Coby was 9 months old when we got him and he was fully trained (not to have accidents in the house. He doesn't do much other than that.) I like big dogs because they don't yap incessantly like some small dogs do. (There are plenty of big dogs that bark, but a deep bark is nowhere near as annoying as incessant yapping.) Big dogs have bigger bladders, too, which means you have to walk them less frequently. Some breeds are better than others with children. Coby is a Shepherd in the truest sense of the word; my children are his sheep.

A couple of last words of advice: Know what you're getting into before you take your dog home. There's nothing sadder for a child or for a dog than giving up after a couple of weeks and taking your puppy back to the pound.

And please get your dog spayed or neutered. Not only to help control the pet population. If your dog is not neutered by the time he hits puberty (around age one), chances are he'll start being aggressive with other animals. You can prevent this by neutering him when he's young, but if you wait, nothing can be done. We learned this the hard way. (What can I say? No dog is perfect. Not even Coby the Wonderdog.)


  1. Really great article. As soon as we move into a house (hopefully in a year/year and a half!) my dog - that is currently living with my parents - is going to live with us. She's no Coby though. She prefers to be left alone, but she tolerates Asher. I think she and Asher have an understanding because he never tries to "over-pet" her like he does with my parents' other dogs and in return Baby allows him to eat his food in peace.

    It makes me sad too to see children (and parents) who are afraid of dogs. I want to put a sign on the front door of our future house that says "Fear God, not dog." :-P

  2. Love this post! As soon as we move into a house -- in about a year/year and a half - my dog (who has been living at my parents' place) will be moving in with us. Baby is no Coby though. She prefers to be left alone, so she may not be the dog that teaches kids not to be afraid of dogs type. However, her and Asher do seem to have an understanding. He doesn't over pet her like he does with my parents' other 3 dogs and she allows him to eat his food in peace.

    It makes me sad too to see children (and parents) who are afraid of dogs. When we do get a house I want to put up a sign that says "Fear God, not dog." :-P

  3. Love it!
    You can probably find one of those on the internet, but if not I'll gladly make you one as a housewarming present. :)
    Is Baby the one that looks like she could be Coby's sister?

  4. I also like this. Have to say though that my oldest was a terrified of dogs kid. She didn't start out that way but was knocked over around that age of 2 by a neighbor's dog. She was terrified till about 9 or so. Then my brother got a dog and she slowly got use to him. Well now you know the rest of the story. We now have a 1 yr old beagle named Lexi. She is pretty great and we love having her.

  5. I don't think it so unhealthy for young children to be scared of dogs. All my kids so far are scared of dogs (and cats) when they are about 2-3 years old but they grow out of it.... I have a friend whose toddler daughter was so fearless that she pet a stray cat and got scratched. So maybe there's good reason that toddlers, who are so curious, are scared of animals. Then again, I also have a (cat-lover) husband who did the same thing:) Unlike my friend's daughter, I don't think HE learned his lesson...

  6. Great post - I love how Coby just lies there complacently while Eliana joyfully pulls at his ear.

  7. I can not believe you put poor Colby in that outfit. I too believe that children should grow up with at least an animal but want to wait till they can fully partake in its care - ie. take it for walks!

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  9. Just saw that both of my replies came through... does this mean I can stop replying with my Google account?
    And no, Chops is Coby's "sister". Baby is the really scruffy faced one.

  10. Gina - If you wait till Michael can take a dog for walks you'll be waiting a long time. When Coby sees a cat he knocks me over. I wouldn't let a kid under like 15 walk him.

    Jess - Yeah, the comments were all sitting there, I just wasn't notified of them. I found them eventually.

    Love the "Fear god, not dog" sign. Yesterday Eliana asked me about a "Danger, biting dog" sign. I asked her if we should get a "Danger, licking dog" sign.

    Tamar - I don't think kids need to be inherently afraid of dogs. You just have to teach them respect and proper behavior. I.e. don't go up to or pet a stray dog, always ask an owner before you pet their dog, keep your hand closed when you extend it to a dog you don't know, etc. I don't think the fear part is necessary if they know proper protocol and the fact that not all dogs are good/safe to approach.