Carolyn Hax: A dog is a pet, not a way to practice parenting

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 25

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

You’ve said before that the way people treat their dogs is a good indicator of the way they will treat their future children.

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.


(Nick Galifianakis/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

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 vs. Kids

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

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, I’m going to sound snotty but I don’t mean to: 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 (eviction, risk of harm to the child); I mean a dedicated search for a new home.

Again — bring a dog aboard for its own sake, after thinking through everything from suitability of the breed (even mutts can show breed traits) to exercise and grooming needs to skill of the owners, etc. I’d advise children first, and then adding a pet once the home scene is stable and there’s energy left for more.

Re: Dogs and Kids:

There can be a lot of good lessons in raising a dog before you have kids. My boyfriend and I learned very quickly where we fall out vis-a-vis our roles — he’s the play parent, I’m the comfort parent — and we discovered we communicate very well about our dog’s care. I also know what annoys me. I feel like I have a better idea of what I’m facing, good and bad.

Anonymous

Well argued, thanks.

But after all this discovery, couples still have a dog, which wants to be loved as one, and not merely appreciated for its educational value.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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