Parenting Perspective: Managing the Family Dog

April 2, 2010 9:39:14 AM PDT
I remember when I was pregnant with Luke, talking during a commercial break with Rick Williams about my dogs. He told me: "before you have children, your pets are your kids. Once you have kids, everything changes and your pets become just pets."

I didn't believe it until I was driving home with the hospital with Greg and three-day-old Luke in the car seat. My two lovely lab mixes, Kiwi and Maddy, were running around in the front yard. I remember, in a surge of panic thinking, "maybe we should give the dogs away." That was my strong maternal instinct talking.

Once we brought Luke inside, both dogs had a good sniff and Maddy was suddenly Luke's protector. The first week our little bundle of joy was home, Maddy wouldn't even let Kiwi in the same room as Luke.

The only trouble we ever had is when Maddy snapped at Luke when he was testing his newly acquired skill of crawling by trying to climb over Maddy from head to tail. Luke wasn't hurt, but scared enough not to try it again and Maddy was scolded so much, she never growled or snapped at him again.

Once children start eating table food, they are a dog's best friend. We didn't know how much food ended up on the floor at mealtime until we went out to a restaurant with Luke (and no dogs to clean up the mess!)

Pets add so much joy to family life. They demonstrate unconditional love and help teach responsibility. Luke and Emma love to help feed and walk our dogs and playing fetch is always fun. But an incident last week reminded me that dogs ARE animals, and you have to be careful with your children around animals.

I came home one night and Luke met me at the door, announcing that a friend's dog bit him on the nose. His nose looked fine, and he didn't seem upset. My husband, Greg then explained that Luke and Emma were playing with friends in their yard. Luke was running around and wrestling with their 4-year-old son when their friendly, but somewhat highly-strung, boxer misunderstood the playful wrestling as fighting and stepped in: jumping up, pawing and essentially putting his entire mouth over Luke's face.

Fortunately, Greg, and our friend's au pair, stepped in and pulled the dog off Luke. His skin wasn't broken and within moments Luke stopped crying and resumed playing. No one was hurt, our friends were mortified, and it taught us all a valuable lesson: be careful when children are roughhousing around pets.

Young children can be loud, fast, and display actions that animals could interpret as aggression. Our two labs are great around our children, but we've found with other children, Kiwi and Maddy can be unpredictable (Kiwi once jumped up trying to nip a boy.) As much as you may trust your pets around you and your children, during play dates, it's best to keep your dog away. That's for the youngsters' protection as well as your pet's. What your dog may think is just a playful jump and nip can be seen, by others, as viciousness. All of sudden your lap dog has been labeled "vicious", and that could create all kinds of discord in your neighborhood (as well as threaten your dog's existence if it happens again.)

Because after you have children, your pets may just be "pets," but they are also part of your family.