How to Choose a Family Dog: Ensure it's Child Appropriate, Properly Trained; Important Questions; a Child's Open Letter
My First Dog
When I was 6 years old my parents brought home a black labrador puppy from the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) centre in our area. She was beautiful. She grew into a strong, bumptious dog, affectionate and playful. That was the problem.
I don’t blame my parents but as I child I found it impossible to forgive their decision to re-home her. For a long time I couldn’t understand why they did that. Now, of course, I can see that she was too strong for me to take for a walk, too big for the home and garden we had and that she would have been a lot happier on a farm or somewhere with plenty of room for her to let off steam. I’ve no doubt that, if the new owner was a good man, she was just as happy with him, if not more so, than she was with us.
An Important Decision
She was never taken to training classes. I don’t know whether many of those existed then, in the late 50s, but some sort of training is vital for any dogs. I think she was too strong even for my father. Also, he was working so couldn’t take her out during the day and didn’t get home until gone 6 o’clock.
My parents made a bad decision to have her, although their intentions were good. They wanted to give her a kind, comfortable home and give me a cherished present.
This is aimed at those who are thinking about doing the same thing. Please ask yourself the following questions before you act.
Do you have enough Room for this Dog?
If the dog is of average size or more then it will need plenty of room in which to bounce about, plenty of exercise and walks each day. No excuse if the weather’s bad; you have to go out in the rain, snow, blizzard, thunderstorm, heatwave (within reason of course!).
The house itself needs a designated place for the dog’s basket or ‘den’ and don’t forget a tail can swipe away ornaments really easily.
If the dog is really big then consider keeping it in a kennel outside, or in a verandah-type area, as long as the dog can be warm and secure.
Is your garden secure? Do your fences have any holes in them? Can the dog get through the hedge and ransack the neighbours garden or attack their chickens? It’s great fun from the dog’s point of view; something moves, you chase it, right? If it makes a noise then it might be considered as a threat, so you chase it even more of course.
Are you beginning to see the pitfalls? Good.
Is the Dog an Appropriate Breed for Children?
There are breeds of dog which are illegal to own so obviously you avoid those. Any dog can maul or kill a child. It depends on what the dog regards as a threat, it depends on whether or not the child teases the animal. Never, never, leave the dog and child alone together unless the child is old enough to retaliate. The apparently calmest of dogs can turn for any reason - fear, anger, illness... Just be aware at all times.
It’s not always the large dogs who can be a threat; smaller breeds often bark and snap more, so can cause concern.
Does your Child Understand how to deal with/respond to a Dog?
Teach your child that a dog has feelings, emotions. Teach your child to be gentle with animals, to play carefully with them and not to take away or go too near to its food.
Throwing and fetching is great because the child doesn’t have to touch the dog. Stroking a dog has to be done in such a way as to give the dog confidence that he won’t be suddenly smacked, or have it’s nose tweaked or be sat upon. It’s best to stroke a dog just below the chin or on the upper chest. A stroke or pat on the head can be scary or threatening.
Do you have adequate Facilities or Money to train a Dog?
A dog needs to know who’s boss, where he stands in the pecking order (I know, it’s not a chicken, maybe I should say pack order). He needs firm, kind discipline, given in a tone of voice that commands respect but doesn’t yell and instill fear.
Lots of rewards will slowly reinforce good behaviour and then you have a dog you can confidently take anywhere. He won’t pull, she won’t jump up, he won’t bark. Rewards can include doggy sweets, favourite toy to play with and, perhaps the most important, a big fuss and a ‘good boy!’ in a high enthusiastic voice. Your pet will be even more keen to do what you want.
Discipline is Paramount
Have you done enough Research on How to Look After a Dog?
Look up different breeds. Make sure you know what is required for that breed, including whether or not they need combing or brushing more regularly than the average (such as an Afghan Hound). The size of a dog will dictate how much and how often it needs to eat each day.
Which dogs are considered best with children? Choose the dog which best fits all your needs and all your facilities.
Have you Considered what you'd do when you go on Holiday?
Will you take the dog with you?
You need to choose camp sites or hotels which are pet-friendly. You need to make sure your insurance covers this.
You need a ‘chip’ in your dog (usually in its shoulder) if you want to take it abroad. You’ll then need a vet’s certificate several days before you come back to say the dog is fit for travel and has no diseases.
If you don’t take it with you, do your homework regarding local kennels and find one where the dogs have plenty of room, an exercise area which is big enough, and fellow dogs for company. A good one isn’t necessarily the most expensive but it’s not a cheap option for more than two or three days.
Do you have Insurance to cover Vets' Bills?
Vets’ bills can be huge! An unexpected break of a dog’s limb, or an infection, or an accident, can mean your dog might be at the vet’s for a prolonged time. An injection can be expensive. Any treatment is costly; even a consultation. Don’t think, ‘It won’t happen to my dog.’ It might!
Talk to someone you know who has dogs. Ask them lots of questions. Ask them for advice. You’ll probably find out about all sorts of things that you hadn’t even considered. Forewarned is forearmed. Do your homework!
Care & Expense
Consider the Welfare of All - Dog, Child, Parents
Please make sure that you not only think about the welfare of the dog but that you make sure your child is going to have a long and happy relationship with it. Make sure you minimalise the possibility that you’ll change your mind about the dog’s suitability.
Losing a much-loved pet which becomes a companion, a member of the family, can cause long-term damage to a child’s happiness and to a child’s trust.
If you’re not sure, then don’t do it!
Maybe leave it until the child is old enough to have the discussion that a dog must have certain conditions, must behave and must be of the right temperament, size and breed.
Please Think Twice, Think Carefully
Below is an open letter I wrote to my beautiful Trudie, the black labrador of my childhood. I wrote it in my late teens; the memory was still fresh and the anguish still raw. Even now, reading it brings tears to my eyes. I did forgive my parents but it took a long time.
I’m including it in the hope that anyone reading won’t put any child through this. I have not edited it since it was first penned; it's a child's view of what happened.
Please think twice. The old adage ‘a dog is not just for Christmas’ is overused but it’s true, nor is it for birthdays, Easter or any other reason than for the mutual benefit of dog and family. It’s for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer too. Ok, I know it’s not a marriage but the same rules apply.
An Open Letter to a Faithful Friend
Whatever became of you? I was six and you came into our home from the local orphanage. We took pity on you - tiny, bedraggled and pining for a lost mother. You shivered and we wrapped you in a soft blanket and cradled you all the way home. We gave you a basket to sleep in and a special dish for your food.
I was so proud and so protective. You needed someone to look after you and I would give you all the love you wanted. I had no brothers or sisters at home and I wanted someone to play with. This was better than inviting a friend round for the afternoon. This was for keeps.
You were soft, silky and satin-pawed. You flopped about, threw yourself on your bed to sleep after a hard half-hour’s mischief and had twitchy dreams of the rabbits and birds you chased. Did you ever catch any? Probably not. You had no stealth or guile; just a vibrancy of life and an insatiable appetite for knowledge of the small world around us.
I adored you; you were mine. My playmate, my confidante, my friend. We played in the garden. I threw the ball for you to fetch and you dropped it back at my feet, eager for more. How did you know when I was only pretending to throw? I could never trick you. You never refused to play with me. You never got cross with me. I always tired first.
Trust & Training
You trusted me. I spoilt you; you sat on my lap until you grew too big for my small frame. That was the problem, wasn’t it? You grew. So quickly. You couldn’t help it. It wasn’t your fault. When I sat in the armchair your head was on a level with mine as you stood before me, willing me to take you for a walk, nudging me on the knee with your paw, head on one side, bright, intelligent eyes searching my soul. Liquid brown expressions pulling at my heart.
They didn’t tell me about training; you were strong, full of life and exuberance, eager to broaden your horizons. You pulled at the leash and I did not have the strength to restrain you. I ran frantically behind, desperately holding on as you took me for a walk. If only you’d realised what was happening. If only you hadn’t been so energetic, so impulsive; but then you wouldn’t have been my special Trudie, would you?
Do you remember the day you licked clean a whole bowl of custard off the kitchen table? Somehow you realised your mistake and I saw your guilty expression before I saw the bowl. It was too good to resist, wasn’t it? How could you have known it wasn’t for you? You hid under the table, ears down, eyes woeful, tail between your legs, waiting for your fate. A few harsh words came your way but your fate was still to come.
Too Big, too Strong
You were almost fully grown. Your coat was glossy black, your eyes bright with intelligence, your nose wet and into everything, your ears alert and never missing the smallest sound, near or far. You radiated health and a zest for life.
‘I think Trudie is too big for our bungalow,’ they said as gently as they could. No! You were mine; you were my friend. Did you hear them? Did you know what would happen? No, or you would have helped me wouldn’t you? You would’ve behaved better so you could’ve stayed with me, gone everywhere with me, walked and talked and played with me.
‘It’s cruel to keep her here. We ought to find her a new home where she will have plenty of room.’
‘No!’ I couldn’t find the words to tell them what I felt about you. They didn’t understand how much you meant to me. You were beautiful. You were innocent. You were mine. It wasn’t your fault you were so strong and full of life. You were happy and you loved me and oh how I loved you! What fun you were! I didn’t want you to go away.
They came to me when I was tucked up in bed and crying one night. They explained again and asked me to be kind and let you go. ‘No. No.’ Why did they ask if they knew the answer made no difference?
Without warning, one evening the man came. I didn’t like him.
‘This man has a lovely big farm and he’s going to give Trudie a good home.’
‘I don’t want her to go! No, no, no,’ I sobbed.
That’s all I could say for you. ‘No, No, No.’
You had no choice and neither did I. He took you away and I never saw you again. I cried for so many nights. My world was empty. Did you cry too? Did you miss me? I couldn’t say anything to anyone. They had betrayed me. The loveliest thing I had ever wanted had been mine for six months and then suddenly you were snatched away.
How could I Understand?
I didn’t know where you were so I couldn’t come to visit you. I hope you understood. I wanted to; it would have been easier to cope if I could’ve seen you happy somewhere, even if I could not have you back. I didn’t understand.
They promised me a budgie instead. I felt insulted. How could that make up for you? Nothing ever made up for you. I didn’t want a budgie; I wanted you. I spent weeks, maybe months, thinking maybe you’d come back by yourself or that they’d feel sorry for me and bring you back but you never came.
I Hope you were Happy
Was he kind to you? Were you happy? Did you really have a lovely, big farm to play in? I hope so because otherwise that man deserved the worst. I have never forgiven them because they did not understand, because they gave me a treasure then took you away.
I hope you were happy in life and peaceful in death, for that must have happened some years ago now. I wonder if you ever had puppies.
Thank you for the few months of joy you gave me. I can still see your beautiful eyes and feel your wondrous joie de vivre. I see you often in my memories. I still feel the pain. I hope you felt none. I hope you just went on to further adventures with a fond memory for me who loved you.
You taught me many things. Your loss taught me this: my children would never have a pet unless they had it for life. That much I owe you. I hope you forgave me for letting them take you away. Maybe I’ll see you again one day and you can tell me all about it.
With love, Ann.
Have you got, or had, a family dog?
Have you chosen well?
Suitable Dog Breeds for Children
Large Dog Breeds
Small Dog Breeds
© 2014 Ann Carr