My dog & toddler, why it’s not all cute
I’ve seen a lot of posts lately talking about the benefits of growing up with dogs. And there’s no denying it’s wonderful. Kids who grow up with dogs are less likely to have behavioural problems, allergies and social struggles. Friends with children often ask about the relationship between Mayari and Badger, because they can’t wait to get a dog for their children.
But while dogs are great for kids, I don’t believe young kids are necessarily great for dogs. And having a toddler and a dog is tough on parents too.
I post the wonderful moments between Badger and Mayari because they are wonderful. They are what makes it all worth it. But those are the small snippets in between the struggles. For anyone considering getting a dog with a toddler, I hope this helps. And for those who already have, you aren’t alone if you find it hard.
Of course every dog, situation and child is different. But the thing about both kids and dogs, is Murphy’s law loves to join in. So with the two of them, things that can go wrong all at once, will! I never thought I would be showering wet fox poop off both of them at once, but it happened!
Badger’s a worried dog in general but I had time to adjust him to the process. Luckily baby’s don’t move too much so management is easier and there’s time to help dogs adjust. I’ve always kept him pretty protected around young children and kept things positive, kept him away if I didn’t feel comfortable the parent would guide their child to be respectful.
In times where I have the time and energy, I can now create really nice interactions between the two of them. This is so great to help the bond. Mayari is keen to learn and loves to train Badger. Every month gets easier and now Badger is having more freedom to be around rather than overly enriched behind his safe barrier.
Where we struggle is working with a developing brain. Mayari still hasn’t developed full empathy and so she can’t fully understand why it would be wrong to take out her emotions on Badger. Or that he sometimes needs me more or that I need to do something for him. My send away cue for Badger has proved to be the most useful thing in these situations. Frustration, anger and tantrums happen quickly and Mayari has a tendency to lash out. They are like redirection in a reacting dog, it’s a panicked lash out as emotions take over. By sending Badger away quickly, I can focus on calming the situation rather than worrying about him getting in the firing line.
Managing reactivity with tantrums is probably my biggest struggle. Going out with a toddler is stressful, there’s just no getting away from that. And dogs pick up on stress. When we hit toddler stage, Badgers reactivity came screaming back. I felt more vulnerable as well, I’ve always felt like I needed to protect Badger after he was attacked a few times, now I had to focus on a child as well. I find myself going back to management and running from a lot of situations more often. And I guarantee that when she’s having a tantrum, that’s always when the ‘it’s okay, he’s friendly’ gang show up!
Another challenge for us has been apartment living. Getting Badger out for a toilet break 4 times a day with a toddler takes up most of my day. After the negotiations over which colour socks, not wanting to go, why we can’t take the oven with us, why we can’t go out wearing mummy’s shoes. To not wanting to go back in. It’s then time for Badger to have a wee again. And if she’s sleeping and Badger needs to go out in an emergency, it’s impossible if I’m on my own. So I definitely don’t recommend this situation.
And child friendly places are never going to be dog friendly places. Even the most social dog would struggle at children’s parties and of course playgrounds are not dog friendly. So there’s also an increase in guilt trying to keep all parties happy.
Mayari needs to be constantly guided on how to give space, be gentle, why we don’t squeeze bugs or pull plants. She’s learning every day but it’s an understandable journey. One I’m happy to assist her on. I don’t think humans are naturally kind, but we can learn how to be and develop it over time as we understand emotions. It’s why as adults we have such a responsibility to raise these little humans the best we can. My main focus will always be to protect Badger and that’s an active job. He didn’t ask for this and living with her is still noisy, sometimes scary and has removed some of his attention. So he needs to be supported through that. It’s a good thing to keep in mind if you thinking of getting a dog for a child. Management always needs to be part of the relationship.
I got my first dog at 4 and I can’t imagine life without her from then on. If you are prepared for things to be hard, but so worth it. Then you have the right attitude. I think there is an idea that floats around sometimes that a dog will provide entertainment for the kids and everything will be easier. That’s definitely not the case and those expectations tend to make for a bad ending. So don’t hesitate to hold off until you feel the time is right, because although dogs are great for kids, your mental stability is more important for them and adding a dog into the equation will definitely test that.