Can I have a dog?

Sep 5, 2009 at 3:00 p.m. ET

"Oh can we have a puppy? Please oh please, we'll take care of him and everything!!" Does this sound familiar? Most kids ask their parents for a pet (or two) soon or later. Before you decide, read this article on evaluating your child's readiness to care for a pet and helping them care for their precious animal.

Little Boy and Dog


"Can I have a dog?" Sooner or later, every parent is confronted by these five little words. You may find yourself tempted to give a quick "yes" or "no" answer without really considering all the angles. You owe it to yourself, to your child, and most importantly, to the dog, to carefully think through your options before making your decision. Here are a few things to ask yourself:

  • Do your kids understand that a living creature is more than just a toy?
  • Do they know that it will hurt the puppy if they pull its tail?
  • Does your child have a sense of responsibility?
  • Is he or she old (or big) enough to help with grooming, feeding, walking, and bathing the dog?
  • Do they understand that they should never tease an animal?

You know your children's abilities. You also know how much time you will be able to devote to caring for a dog. Will you have the time and patience to help with the dog yourself if the kids fall down on the job?

Selecting a breed

If you've decided that your kids (and you!) are ready for a dog, you can use the Internet to look up information on the breeds that appeal to your family. Simply type the name of your favorite breeds into the search engine and visit the sites listed. You might also drop in on local breeders, vets, or animal shelters to get hands-on introductions to the dogs.

Call around to see what dogs are available. Here are some important points to consider before making your final decision on a dog breed:

  • What sort of living environment will you be able to provide?
  • Do you live in the country or in an area where the dog will have a yard to play in?
  • Do you live in an apartment with limited space?
  • How old are your children? Will they need a big, rough and tumble sort of dog? Or would they be happier with a smaller, more sedate animal?

Living space is one of the most important factors to consider when selecting a dog. If you are an apartment dweller, can you reasonably expect to provide the dog with enough 'out' time every day? Can your child understand the necessity of walking the dog every day, no matter what the weather? And remember, it's not fair to expect an active animal like a dog to spend all its time in an apartment with no room to romp and play. Plan on regular outdoor sessions. Keep in mind that some of the smaller breeds are more suited to apartment living than the large dogs.

If your dog will have access to a yard, make sure to keep the animal on a leash or a chain when it's outside, or that the yard is fenced in. It would be a tragedy for your child's dog to rush out into traffic and be hit by a car! Use appropriate precautions and your kids and their canine companion will be able to safely enjoy romping outside.

Doggly chores

Grooming: Will your child be able to help groom a dog? There are short haired dogs that don't require much brushing. Going over them with a slicker comb keeps their coat shiny. They will need to be bathed on a regular basis and treated for fleas. Kids can help with bath time.

Long haired dogs need to be groomed often in order to prevent mats from forming and tangling in their hair. Teach your child the proper way to brush the dog's coat: Use gentle, firm strokes in the direction the hair grows. Never brush against the 'grain'. Don't tug or pull. Use a vet-approved cream rinse after bathing the dog -- it really helps cut down on tangles!

Feeding and Watering: To make it simpler for small hands, keep a supply of food in an airtight, plastic gallon jug -- your child can easily pour the food into the bowl. Or try keeping a handy scoop or plastic bowl in the dog food bag. It's fun for kids to dip out the food and give it to the dog! Teach them how to clean the dog's dishes, and to fill the water bowl with clean, cool water every day.

Bedding: Your dog will be thrilled with a comfortable, animal-safe pillow to sleep on. If you don't have a doggy pillow, an old blanket or a few old towels will do just fine. Keep the bedding clean, and treat the dog's sleeping area for fleas. Puppies will appreciate a stuffed animal or dirty sock to sleep with!

Dogs enrich our lives and provide us with many hours of companionship and love. Before you take the plunge and say "yes" (or "no") to your child, thoughtfully weigh all your options. Choose your pet carefully. And remember -- given the right environment and care, your dog will be a treasured part of your family for many years to come!