My children are begging for a dog. They promise they'll do all the work, but given the power struggles we have around chores, I don't think they can be counted on. I feel bad depriving my children of a family pet, but I want to be realistic. My husband and I both work full-time. Can you talk about the pros and cons of having a dog?
A dog can bring great joy to a family, becoming a beloved and lifelong friend. Many would say that the benefits far outweigh the costs. But they do require a great deal of time and attention. Here are some of the pros and cons to consider before you decide on what easily could be a ten to fifteen year commitment.
On the plus side:
• The lessons animals offer us are invaluable. Dogs show us what it is to love and be loved unconditionally. Training a puppy teaches children patience and persistence. And nowhere do we find a better example of faithfulness than in the unwavering loyalty of a cherished canine.
• Children develop a sense of responsibility when they care for a dog, finding satisfaction in Fluffy's exuberant happiness at the simple pleasure of being taken for a walk, or gobbling up a bowl of food that they delivered to a hungry pup. All of this builds self-esteem from the inside out; our children grow when they see that they can make a meaningful contribution to the well-being of others.
• Puppies strengthen bonds across every age; even teens are powerless in the face of The Cute Factor!
• Dogs provide a child with companionship, becoming a cherished friend even when the world seems utterly friendless. When it feels like the world has turned against a child, his dog is there to listen without judgement, protect his secrets and offer pure, uncomplicated affection.
On the challenging side:
• Dog ownership is a major responsibility for the grownups in the house. Your children may initially fight over whose turn it is to sleep with that adorable bundle of fur, but once the newness wears off, you will be stuck with what is in many ways an additional "child" -- one who needs care, training and attention.
• You will need to make arrangements for the dog when you are gone for extended time, whether it's a long work day or travel.
• Dogs can be costly, both financially and emotionally. They make messes, chew furniture and require training and attention.
• A dog can run away, become injured or pass on; for many children, the death of a cherished family pet may be their first exposure to real loss.
A family pet can add immeasurable joy to family life, but before you "bite" into dog ownership, make sure your expectations are based on a realistic understanding of the demands it will place on your life. And please consider a rescue dog; you may be spared some of the training that comes with owning a puppy, while offering a loving home to a wonderful animal.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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