October is Adopt-A-Dog month. Shelters everywhere are encouraging potential owners to adopt dogs into loving homes - which is wonderful because there are many dogs in need of adoption!
Indeed, one of the questions parents ask me most frequently - at least several times a month - is: "Dr. Susan, we're thinking of getting a dog. Would it be good for our kids?"
And from kids I hear: "Mom, please can we get a dog? I promise I'll do everything... You won't have to do anything! I promise... Pleeasse!!!
Adopt-a-Dog month really gets me thinking about this conversation because I find that often parents believe bringing a pet into their home will miraculously make their child more responsible - especially if said child begs very persuasively. But this simply isn't the case. It is a big decision, to be made carefully and with forethought. You have a responsibility to your family and to the pet you might adopt.
To make sure you arrive at the right decision, follow these seven tips. Doing so will ensure that you are adopting a pet for the right reasons. If, by the end of this article, you're not quite sure your family is ready, wait another year or so, then reread the article and try again.
1. A child's promise to do 'everything' should not be taken as gospel. Most kids - even teens - don't understand the responsibility involved (remember when you thought you knew what parenting would be like?). Many don't even have the time to do it all. You must expect that you - the adult - will need to do most of the work. If you are not prepared for this, don't get a pet.
2. It's okay to get a dog, in part, to teach your child responsibility, but it's not okay to give all the responsibility to your child. Your child should start out with a small job (feeding or walking the dog once a day) and go from there.
3. The rules for teens are different. If yours doesn't want a pet, but you get one anyway, you can't force pet responsibilities on him. With luck, your teen will grow to feel affection for the dog and want to take care of it. However, don't count on this or become upset if it doesn't happen. Teens are sometimes self-centered. Besides, this is not a fair fight since you wanted the pet, not him.
4. Test out owning a dog by dog-sitting for a week. This will help your family see whether it is ready for the commitment.
5. Consider your other responsibilities right now. If you're getting divorced, moving, looking for a new job, or dealing with any other major issue, this may not be the right time for another big responsibility.
6. If your child is terrified of dogs, don't get one expecting the fear to vanish. If she's not afraid of puppies, start there; her fear of big dogs may dissipate as her puppy grows up.
7. Consider the financial responsibility of owning a dog: food, shots, grooming, possible vet bills for illness.
DR. SUSAN BARTELL's latest book is Dr. Susan's Fit and Fun Family Action Plan. Learn more about her at www.drsusanbartell.com.