should we get a dog? My head says no, but…

Somebody please stop me.

I’m thinking of getting my kids a dog.

I mean, out of all the mothers I swore I’d never be, dog owner was probably right up there– forging the final link in my chain to eternal enforced domesticity.

Living in New York City makes it even worse: you can’t just open the back door and send your dog out to fertilize the lawn. You have to walk the dog until it poops, pick it up, throw it out, repeat in six hours. (Or however long dogs go between poops. How should I know. Have you sensed I’m not really a dog person?)

Not to mention that that we live in an apartment that already seems crowded enough without a shedding, slobbering beast  to lay all over the couch and clear rooms with its gas.

On the other hand, this.

And this.

We babysat these two doggy siblings for about twenty minutes at the beach while their owners took a walk.

My kids flipped. My kids said “Look Mom! I taught him a trick!” My kids are still talking about it.

Today, the New York Times published an article by Dr. Perri Klass: Can Fido and Whiskers Enrich Children’s Lives?  I would say that Dr. Klass comes down on the rather vehement side of yes. Per Dr. Klass’s research, the benefits include:

  • teaching children skills they can use in social interactions with humans.
  • giving children who have difficulty with human bonds the opportunity to form such a bond with an animal
  • calming children in stressful situations
  • giving children incentive to exercise and be outside
  • protecting children from allergies to animals, if they are exposed to pets in the home early in life
  • providing unconditional love  (“at least, if you have a treat in your hand”)
  • giving children a “much more inclusive sense of self”

I will definitely be hiding today’s Times from my children, who need no further ammunition. But Klass and her experts have almost totally convinced me: for all three of my children, especially for the one who suffers from anxiety, a dog would probably be a wonderful thing.

Although it’s not lost on me that no one’s asking whether Fido and Whiskers would enrich mothers’ lives. Probably because the answer to that one is too obvious. I just know, by week two, I’ll be doing the feeding and the brushing and the walking and the teeth brushing and the petting. And the loving. Okay, yes. I’ll probably be doing some loving, too.

Do you own pets? Did you do it for your kids?  In your experience, has it been worth all the hassles?


{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Ohio_gator April 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm

I was the one who begged my husband to finally let us get a dog. The kids, then 10, 6 and 4 didn’t really care one way or the other. We always had dogs growing up and I felt that our house was not complete without one. Fast forward 2 years later and I am now stuck with a dog that seems to have some bladder issue and has peed over every square inch of my house. He has gotten MUCH better but still has occasional accidents. That being said, he is a wonderful companion that the kids really do love. I feel safer with him around and know he will always look out for us. If I had it to do over again, sadly, I must say I wouldn’t. We no longer have the freedom to go away for a night without getting someone to let the dog out. It’s become quite the hassle. I adore our pet, but I don’t feel as if it’s been a life changing positive experience. Hopefully you will have better luck in your experience!


Shannon W April 10, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I had a dog in an apartment in my 20’s (before I had kids) but have had a fenced yard since.  I get the impression from your blog that you are frequently the only adult in your home with your kids.  If this is the case, I would advise waiting until 1) the boys are old enough to take the dog outside (and clean up after) unassisted and/ or 2) Maggie is old enought to be left unattended inside for at least 10-15 min.  With logistics of taking a dog outo n a leash EVERY TIME (which is a minimum of 3 times a day), IMO it would be too much to handle, otherwsise. I have heard stories of people litterbox training small dogs to live in apartments, however..


Leigh Ann April 10, 2012 at 8:15 pm

We had our dog before we had our kids, but I think we’ll always have one. It would feel weird not having one. That being said, the poor guy took a hit on the totem pole of importance when we brought home our twins, and even more so when we had #3. Don’t even ask me about the cats.


maggie68d April 10, 2012 at 8:29 pm

I have the luxury of opening back door to let both of mine fertilize the lawn several times a day. As puppies they’re out several times a day.  I love knowing they’re both there, love the exicited dances they do when I come home; from either from getting paper in driveway or China it’s the same and it’s hard to beat.  But I agree with Ohio_gator, I enjoy my freedom, and you lose some of that. If i’m honest (and plese dont tell) but I might not do this again the 2nd time around.


Liz Slater April 10, 2012 at 8:35 pm

My husband and I both grew up with dogs, and want to get a puppy when the kids get a little older for all the reasons stated in the article. Right now the plan is to wait til my youngest turns 5 (2 years from now). Then he’ll be in kindergarten and I’ll have more time to deal with training/housebreaking a puppy.


Kim at Let Me Start By Saying April 10, 2012 at 8:46 pm

I can’t even IMAGINE it.
Both my kids love the idea of a dog & my husband wants a dog. But guess who would end up taking care of it? HmmmmmMMMM???
I feel so behind on every normal thing, that I’d quite likely go over the edge if I had another creature that made messes and whose poop I had to deal with.  Unless the dog arrived with no fur, no need to poop, could wash dishes and never barked?  I think I’ll pass for now.
You’re a brave woman for even considering it. I bow to you, Oh Great One.


Mo Ish April 10, 2012 at 9:03 pm

I never imagined I would have a dog but the kids (8 & 5) really wanted one. I pointed out we had a beta fish to which my son responded, “I can’t pet a fish!”  Both my husband and I had pets growing up and I didn’t want to deny my kids that experience so I began to search for a rescue. We hit the jackpot! We adopted Harper on January 7th and our lives have been enriched so much with her arrival. Of course I do all the work and Harper loves me the most and on some days I think I might love her the most too!  Having a dog is like going back to the days when the kids were younger because your workload is going to increase again.  Luckily, our dog is very well behaved, very tolerant of the kids, and loves to be with people.  I have absolutely no regrets in our decision to add to our family.


The Mommy Psychologist April 10, 2012 at 11:48 pm

We are going to be getting a new dog very soon. And yes, it is only for my son. But I figured if I gave him a puppy, he would quit asking for a baby:)


The Tired Mother April 11, 2012 at 1:51 am

We just got a puppy two weeks ago, and he is an amazing member of the family already.  Housebreaking has been a dismal failure, and he has to be walked EVERY TWO HOURS, but at least he has started sleeping through the night the last few nights.  BUT:  absolutely NOTHING is cuter than a kid and their dog.  My Turbo Baby has made so many changes in the two weeks since we’ve had the dog that she’s barely recognizable as the same kid.  I never thought a four year old could be so responsible, and try so hard.  And since I can’t leave her alone for a second, she comes with me on all the daytime walks…and is EXHAUSTED.  I’m talking NAPS have occurred, and bedtime has not been an issue for WEEKS.  I’m down 5 pounds this week, because I’ve had to walk him until my knees have wanted to fall off…and then walked him again two hours later.  Add to the fact that the puppy will Hoover up food thrown on the floor by the baby, and it is a WIN, I’m telling you.  Just be sure to get a SpotBot, or you will be tearing out your hair until you get the whole housebreaking thing under control.

Totally do your research on breeds, too.  It really is a huge commitment that shouldn’t be done on a whim.  I get a lot of comments because I have four kids and a puppy….But since I’m already doing disaster management with two little wrecking balls, what is one more?


Experienced Bad Mom April 11, 2012 at 12:38 pm

We love us our kitty cat! He’s got a great personality, likes to sit on our lap, is really tolerant of the kids and their affection, and can be left alone for the weekend with some food and a litter box. He is much better and easier than a dog.

Meanwhile, the goldfish drives me nuts. I’m the one changing the water 2X week, stirring gravel and trying to get the water just right, all in an attempt to keep the little bastard alive (we’ve gone through 5 fish in a year). When the latest one turns upside down, I’m done.

P.S. I’m going to go all Bob Barker, too, and suggest whatever pet you get, you get from a shelter. Shelter animals KNOW you saved them and will you love forever.


Kathy at kissing the frog April 11, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Oh, the dog debate!  It has been raging in our house for a year.  Last summer Hubby wanted to bring one home, but we brought a baby brother home instead.  Now talk of a dog has fired up again, especially since my niece’s dog visited and the boys played all day with it.  I understand the love and companionship thing and even the responsibility thing (I too have a child with anxiety as well as ADHD and he wants a dog the most), but all that only works if Mommy is not the sole caretaker of the dog.  And I fear getting a dog for me will be like bringing home another baby this summer.  I agree with Kim above – I would totally get a hairless, non-barking, non-pooping dog any day.  Or a regular one as soon as all my boys are out of diapers and can clean up after themselves.  And since I still have to clean up after Hubby, I don’t see that happening EVER!


Noho Mom April 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm

I grew up with dogs and my mother has become one of those people who is more tuned into her pets than her relatives.  My advice? Don’t do it.  You don’t have the space and the dog will not be happy cooped up all day, and unhappy dogs equal torn furniture, scratched doors, and dog messes everywhere.  Don’t want it cooped up all day? Who’s going to walk it when they are in school?

There are many dogs in shelters that need care and walkers.  Not too early to think about volunteer activities for your older kids – volunteering at rescue animal shelters.  They’ll get the full idea of what it takes to care for an animal, and possibly get lots of cuddles in return.  Just a thought.


Marie April 12, 2012 at 5:33 am

I grew up with pets, and it definitely enriched my childhood.  I loved having pets, and do think I received all the benefits listed by Dr. Klass.  I can’t imagine not having a pet, as they bring so much joy.

We currently have a cat, as I knew she would be lower maintenance than a dog.  My kids, 4 years old and 20 months, really enjoy having our cat around.  

There is no doubt that pets are a lot of work, but I don’t mind the work because the reward is so great.


Jgoodale April 14, 2012 at 2:29 pm

don’t do it!  You have three children!  this will be the fourth. 
We have a cat — and its a lot.  A dog…don’t do it. 


kect April 15, 2012 at 12:48 am

Noooooo! Don’t do it! I love (loved?) our dog and she was our first baby. Now the poor thing does not get nearly enough love, attention, or walks. The novelty will wear out FAST with your kids and even if it doesn’t the older your kids get the more time they spend out of the house with school, activities,and friends so even if they wanted to help they won’t be able to. We are just so busy with our three little kids and I alternate between resenting the dog for being one more “chore” and feeling incredibly guilty for not being the best dog mommy I can be – like I need one MORE thing to feel guilty about! They are very expensive and time consuming (plus think about about ALL that you have to coordinate every time you leave town and add one MORE thing) and dogs deserve more energy than most moms with young kids that I know have to spare. I say wait until you are an empty nester!


Courtney April 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Of course you should get a dog:) I say this as a mother of two with a big huge dog, who sometimes acts like my third (fourth, if you count my husband) child. He is big and slobbery and sheds and knocks small children over. If I had to think of the actual logistics of getting a dog, I wouldn’t have gotten one. But the love you get in return? Priceless. Get a dog! Get a small one that doesn’t shed and your kids will love you forever;)


Karen April 17, 2012 at 12:30 am

First, let me say that I have always been, and will probably always be, a dog person.
My take on getting one or not:
Research the breeds you are interested in, and/or go to the pound and try to pick out one the right size for your family and your home. Being in the city will be harder for a bigger dog. But having a dog in a city does not necessarily mean boredom and ruined furniture or shoes. You have to have an idea of what the dog’s needs will be in terms of exercise/play and being kept occupied. The smarter the dog, the bigger the potential problems (often). Don’t forget to consider grooming and vet costs.

Decide about a puppy or adopting an older dog. Puppies are like having another baby for about a year. To end up with a well-trained pup, you do have to invest a fair amount of time. For me, that training time (2 puppy classes and a lot of time at home) was worth every minute! Cesar Milan is absolutely worth watching — but he’s more about dog psychology than actual training (sit, stay, etc).

We got our first dog before we had kids. We were stupid dog owners at that time. He was our first baby. As Steinbeck said, “dogs would rather be treated like first class dogs than second-class humans.” We got our current dog (a Goldendoodle) when my sons were 3 and 5. They’re now 8 and 10 and the novelty has *not* worn off. They love her as much as ever — but we (happily) do the vast majority of dog care.

Having a dog while your kids are young is smart, IMHO, as you’re pretty much chained to domesticity anyway for now. I love my dog and hope we still have many years with her. But once the kids are hitting college and she dies, I will be ready to be dog-free (when I’m kid-free) for a few years, as far as vacations and whatnot.

I have no regrets, but we did “mess up” with our first dog as far as doggie-parenting. The second time around, we were much better informed/eduated and have been much better parents. It’s a huge commitment, but like having kids, the unconditional love — the pay-off — is totally worth it.


Karen April 17, 2012 at 12:32 am

oh, and also, my dog frequently goes 12 hours or longer without having to go outside to fertilize.


anemonerose April 18, 2012 at 2:15 am

We had a dog and a cat before we had our daughter, who’s now almost two.  As another person notes above, the pets get A LOT less attention from us now, since our daughter necessarily takes priority, and we feel guilty about that.  The guilt is compounded by the fact that we sometimes feel resentment towards the pets: when the dog barks at the UPS guy and wakes our daughter up from a nap; when the cat jumps on our heads in the middle of the night and wakes us up when we’ve already been up with our child; when we have to clean up puke from either of the pets on top of all the cleaning we already have to do…  Our daughter enjoys the animals, but not nearly enough to balance out how much work they are; she’s quickly grown to take them for granted and is usually fairly disinterested in them.  

Also, keep in mind that you likely won’t get the perfect pet you are imagining.  Our dog, who’s only six, is on more medications than a senior citizen; she has allergies, a thyroid issue, and just developed some sort of fungal infection.  In addition, the dog is nervous and doesn’t like when our child touches her, so she hides from our daughter a lot; she also licks her paws until they bleed if she is left alone for too long.  The cat is obese, has been on a diet for ten years, and is food-obsessed and crabby as heck as a result of his constant hunger; he sometimes just starts yowling at random times in the middle of the night.  It’s nice to picture having the animals they show in the movies, but that’s not what anyone really gets; my pets growing up were less neurotic than those we have now, but they still gave my parents plenty of headaches.

And I say all of this as someone who loves her pets.  We’ve spent lots of time training and grooming them, we take them on vacation with us, and we buy every veterinary treatment and stimulating toy and delicious snack we think they need.  In spite of our love for them, though, my husband and I have already agreed we are done having pets, at least while we have young children, once our current pets die.


Deborah April 19, 2012 at 3:04 pm

 OMG this times 100. This is completely right on point.

As the owner of two cats and a dog (the dog my daughter, okay, and me, HAD to have ), all I can say is DON’T DO IT. RESIST. RESIST. RESIST. You will be much happier for it!


Steve April 20, 2012 at 2:17 am

All I will say is, behold the french bulldog:

They’re small, full of fun, and brave: not too brave:


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