Carolyn Hax: Don't use pets to prepare for kids

The Washington PostJune 26, 2014 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: What do you think about getting a dog as a "test run" for having children? Some family members got a dog of a breed that sometimes has medical issues, and my relatives have put a lot of time and money toward his health. Now that they have a child, their patience and budget are wearing thin.

Pooch is a good dog, but has become increasingly needy as attention has been redirected to Kiddo. Is it common for the dog to end up on the back burner after the children arrive? Do most dogs react this way? Is the dog-as-test-child practice unwise?


Dogs as test-children are a terrible idea. You get a dog because you want and can care for it.

And you shop carefully for a dog with health and other needs in mind. Some dogs that are popular or particularly cute can be terrible choices for inexperienced dog-handlers, for budgets, for homes with small children, etc. Getting a working dog, say, and expecting it to act like a pet can be cruel.

As for whether most dogs get needy, people can avoid these problems by paying attention to the dog. Yes, the baby will suck up a lot of time, but families routinely marshal the resources for subsequent children or other responsibilities, and pets deserve no less. Assuming responsibility for a living thing means you pledge to meet its needs for its lifetime.

That means enough daily walks, whether by juggling leash and stroller, hiring a dog-walker, or cooperating with other pet owners to provide dogs with needed socialization. If the dog is not satisfied with a reasonable minimum for its age and breed, then it probably needs better obedience training. A dog will accept a demotion if handled properly.

If Baby or Dog has unusual needs, then the humane thing might be a new home for the dog. Not a shelter dump, mind you, except as an absolute last resort; I mean a dedicated search for a new home.

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