first dog

First Dog: When is the right time to add a dog to your family?

First time dog buyers – when should you do this?

I’ve just been reading about how difficult it is to understand what it’s like to not know something.  Apart from a few years at university (when I had a cat) and then living in shared rented houses (with another cat), I have always had at least one dog in my home.  So understanding the challenge of buying your first dog is an alien concept to me.

This week I have received an enquiry for a puppy, as I do most weeks.  This week’s person said the following:

“I wondered if you had a litters planned or available. We are a family living in London. I have grown up with dogs and we’ve been desperate to get a family dog but we’ve been waiting for our youngest child to be old enough! he’s now 3 so we feel we’re ready! I look forward to hearing from you.”

first dogMy reply was sadly unenthusiastic, as I recommended that she wait a bit longer still.  It is really frustrating living without a dog, I know.  I was lucky enough to be able to take on one of my mum’s, aged 8, when my sons were babies, which was great as I didn’t have a puppy and they grew up with a dog from the start.  We got a puppy when the boys were aged 5 and 3 and it was hard work!  I didn’t give Buzz the time he deserved and he was never that great. He adored the boys, but they completely ignored him and he was nippy with other children.

I have sent pups to homes with children this young, but again, it hasn’t always been that successful.  One was re-homed and one became ill and was put to sleep, which was really traumatic for the family.

When it does work

Despite my misgivings, it does sometimes work fantastically well and the puppy brings joy to the family.  What are the criteria for it being a success?  In my opinion, it works well when:

  • Lots of research is done before getting a puppy
  • A well bred and socialised puppy is chosen
  • The person who is the primary carer of the dog has plenty of time, energy and enthusiasm to work with their puppy
  • Both the adults in the partnership support that time and energy needed and are both consistent with their behaviour towards the dog
  • Children in the household are ‘sensible’.  This means they understand the basic rules for being around their puppy, giving it space and leaving it alone when it is eating, or tired, or just doesn’t wanted to be squeezed or picked up.  See the Children and Dogs page for more details

first dogThe right environment

So it’s not really about the actual ages of the children, so much as their attitude towards the dog and the way that the parents manage this.  My mistake with Buzz was that I didn’t encourage the boys to engage with him.  I should have got them to take his lead when we went for walks, give him a bit of a cuddle or a stroke.  It would have been great if they had fed him from time to time.

That wasn’t how I was brought up – we were taught to mainly ignore the dogs and to leave them alone.  They were just there, part of the furniture.  As a teenager I became responsible for their care, just as I became responsible for the care of my baby sister.

Childhood experience not required

Is it important to have had a dog as a child when getting your first family dog?  Again, it’s hard for me to answer this, because I was always around dogs, they were part of our home.  But as I have just said, that experience was not the same as the experience I have had as an adult owning dogs; far from it.

I think the important things is to be realistic about your childhood experiences and to remember that however much you think you knew your dog, you weren’t its primary carer and were not the one making the difficult decisions.

Managing expectations

I think the main thing to consider when getting your first family dog is to be realistic about it.  It definitely won’t be easy!

Don’t get a dog if:

  • you already have a busy life, with a hectic household, full of comings and goings
  • there are long periods most days with no-one in the house.  You can get a dog walker to come in, but if you have a busy family that is just another thing to manage
  • you can’t agree what kind of dog you want
  • the children basically want something fluffy and cuddly, rather than a biting, chewing, weeing and pooing machine
  • you and your partner sometimes argue about how to manage your children.  If you do this, you will never agree about how to manage your dog
  • money is tight – dogs are expensive!
  • you take lots of foreign holidays

first dogFirst dog, best dog?

Just like a first child, your first dog as an adult will undoubtedly have a very special place in your heart.  And just like with your first child, you will learn from your mistakes.  Is it worth it?  Of course!  Dogs are ALWAYS life enriching experiences – they are the better part of us.

There is plenty of information and advice on this site to help you on your journey, including 10 common mistakes made by new dog owners?

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to CONTACT ME to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.


Please CONTACT ME if you want to know more about me and my dogs?  And feel free to COMMENT if you want to tell me what you think.  If you want to know more, why not FOLLOW ME?  Then you will receive an email when there is a new post.

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