A year after my now-husband Chris and I started dating, we decided it would be a great idea to adopt a dog together. Never mind that we were in our early 20s, technically hadn’t been together all that long and that our parents thought it was a terrible idea — we really wanted a dog.
So, a week after deciding we would get a dog, we found Eddie, a Labrador-pointer mix puppy. He was a character. He loved raiding garbage cans, running around our tiny apartment and generally causing chaos wherever he went. But despite his quirks, Eddie quickly became our family. When we left our home of Washington, D.C., to move to New York City, Eddie came with us. Ditto when we decided to try out a quieter life at coastal beach town.
Chris and I got married four years after we adopted Eddie, and we had our oldest son four years after that. Eddie was thrilled to have a new companion, and he loved watching our son grow. The love-fest was mutual: Our son’s first word was “Eddie” and he insisted that Eddie sleep in his room at bedtime. But by the time we had another son, Eddie was slowing down. He still loved playing with the kids, but he spent a lot of his time sleeping.
Eventually, he developed a slew of serious health issues and we had to put him down. That was nearly two years ago, but it still feels like yesterday.
Chris and I both grew up with dogs and want that for our children too. Since we lost Eddie, we’ve had another baby and that was a good excuse for putting off the new dog talk for a while. But our sons regularly ask about getting another dog, and it feels like we’re ready to at least start thinking about expanding our family again.
The trouble is, we haven’t gone through the dog-picking routine in a long time. When we got Eddie, Chris and I just had ourselves to think about. Now, we have to factor in the needs and opinions of three more pint-size people.
How do you adopt a dog with kids?
For starters, it’s important to make sure your kids aren’t allergic to certain kinds of pets you’re considering, Gina Posner, MD, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I’ve had families that adopt a pet, only to find out that their kids have massive allergies and they have to find a new home for the pet,” she says. That’s one of the reasons why Posner recommends exposing your child to the type of animal you’re interested in before you actually adopt one. “It’s also a good idea to expose them to make sure your child isn’t afraid of that kind of animal,” she says.
If this will be your family’s first dog, it’s important to talk to your children about pets in general, M. Erin Henry, VMD, a veterinarian with the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Then talk about the different kinds of pets you are considering and see if they have any strong feelings about any one in particular,” she says. You may learn that your child has a big affinity for a certain type of animal or really doesn’t want another kind. “If you have friends that have kid-friendly pets, see how your child interacts with them,” Henry says.
If your children are a little older, it’s a good idea to get books from your local library about the kind of dog you’re considering, what it means to take care of them and how well they live in a home, Meghan Herron, DVM, DAVCB, an associate professor of veterinary clinical sciences at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
And, if you’re interested in adopting an adult cat or dog from a shelter, it’s important to find an animal that’s currently living with a child in a foster home. “This will give you the most information on how a pet will live with your children,” Herron says. If you’re planning to get a puppy or kitten, though, it’s “typically not a problem” to bring them home to meet the kids without them previously being in a family-friendly background, according to Herron.
In general, it’s important for you to meet any potential dog or cat before you have them meet your child.
“This allows you to get a feel for the animal’s personality, talk one-on-one with staff, volunteers, or the foster family, and determine whether you think the animal might be happy in your home without the pressure of an excited child to distract you,” says Henry.
Once you’re ready for your child to meet the pet, make sure you coach them on animal behavior in advance. “Instruct your kid to let the animal come to them and not the other way around,” she says. Treats are also a great way to encourage interaction between the two, but Henry notes that a treat doesn’t have to be directly from your child’s hand. “Consider having them toss a yummy treat to the animal to encourage them to associate your child with good things,” she says.
You’ll also want to pay close attention to the animal’s body language during this meeting.
“Any potential pet should exhibit comfortable body language when interacting with your children,” Henry says. In cats, this might look like a cat that approaches with their tail up, purring, blinking their eyes and rubbing gently against your child or you. “Avoid cats exhibiting signs such as pupils the size of saucers, ears that are anything other than completely erect or an arched back, a tail that is tightly wrapped around their body, or one that begins flicking its tail back and forth upon noticing and interacting with your child,” Henry says.
Comfortable dogs will have a soft gaze and a loosely wagging tail, Henry says. “Avoid dogs who approach your child with the hair on their back sticking up and their tail held very high and still, or those that are constantly yawning, scratching or shaking like they are wet following an interaction with your child,” she says. “All of these signs indicate a degree of stress, anxiety and discomfort while interacting with your child.”
Once you actually bring a pet home, remember that they can be easily intimated. “Keep the pet’s world small at first by only introducing them to part of the house,” Herron advises, noting that you can set up safe “pets only” areas like a crate or cat tree where your pet can retreat and know they can take a break from the kids. And, in general, “model good behavior for your children as they will imitate you,” Herron says.
As for my family, we’re taking this process very slowly. We’ve talked with our sons about getting a dog again and what kind they’d want. We’ve also asked them for name suggestions for fun (“Stinky Pants” is currently the winning name — we’ll work on that). We’re also trying to bring them around different types of dogs to see which kinds they are and aren’t OK with. Hopefully one day soon we’ll have another wagging tail around the house — it’ll just take a little more thought this time around.