I’m going to be honest and admit that at times, I have been a terrible pet owner. Other times, I have managed to balance it all with grace; still others, I’ve yelled and sworn up and down I was getting rid of our dog. I was a horrendous house trainer. My patience often slipped too far. And during the two years I was pregnant, the last thing I wanted was one more warm body invading my space and begging for my attention.
But, I’m so glad that we stuck it out. We kept trying, kept learning, and while we still have areas to improve, we have come so far. Our dog has shared a lot of poop with us, but the reality of my kids growing up with a fur baby is so much bigger than extra messes and extra work.
Loki, our aptly named mischievous rascal, has grown and stretched our family for the better. There are many reasons I am happy to find a dog bone lost underneath the couch or his dirty polar bear lying among my children’s toys. There are many reasons I will keep picking up dog poop out of the backyard, and continue vacuuming dog hair out of the living room. But, if I could confine those reasons to just five things, here is what they would be.
1. Having a dog makes my kids braver and more adaptable.
They are accustomed to a burly torso barreling through the house and their toys. Barking isn’t something that causes tears (unless woken from a deep nap). When we go on walks and a neighbor’s dog barks, my 1-year-old daughter doesn’t jump in fright. Her little baby voice barks a greeting back, and I have to grab her hand and lead her on before she attempts to close the distance. My children are used to a wagging tail sporadically hitting their faces. They are familiar with a set of chocolate paws jumping around them as he steals their bubbles out of the air. Having a dog has helped my toddlers discover some of the differences in our world and how to respond to them without fear.
2. Growing up with a dog teaches them boundaries
From the time their 5-month-old hands started reaching for his face, my children have been shown how to appropriately pet a dog. They are learning how to read animal behavior and warnings. My husband and I are making sure they know when our dog has a bone they are not allowed to touch it. When Loki utters a low growl, they are re-directed and told to leave him alone.
My toddlers are learning, as we have also taught our dog, that there is a division of toys. Some of the balls and stuffed animals are for them, and some are for Loki. In between all of the snuggles and slobbery kisses, my children are learning how to be respectful and how to share.
3. Having a dog offers my children a built-in playmate and unconditional friend
Loki’s long snout loves to wiggle into the crevices between their necks and cheeks in order to lick all the unreachable baby folds, and his tickles produce some of the loudest and best fits of laughter. My daughter says, “Mom, Da (dad), and Duh (dog),” consistently, and she is never more content than when hugging our dog’s bulky head. When the Tasmanian devil gets ahold of my son’s feet, he loves having a furry partner to race with around the couches. And if our dog accidentally knocks one of them over, they learn how to hug, forgive, and begin again.
4. Growing up with a dog encourages activity and outside play
It is easy to get caught up in household chores, Netflix, or the sheer exhaustion of parenting. It is easy for me to want to have one minute of laziness. Often, that moment would stretch much longer if not for our dog.
When our dog is a bundle of too much energy and I let him outside to go potty, my son often asks to go outside, too, and I’m reminded that my boy has just as much pent-up energy waiting to be spent. After a long day of to-do lists and not enough play, sometimes my dog is the one that pushes me to go that extra mile, strap the kids in the stroller, grab the leash, and enjoy the cool evening air. While I wish was better at going on walks consistently, I know half of our adventures would not have happened if not for our dog.
5. Having a dog provides emotional comfort and protection
When our daughter is grumpy and mad at me or my husband for whatever reason, sometimes our dog is the only one that can pull her out of her mood. When I am unable or unwilling to provide the extra attention my children want, often times our lumbering Labrador fills the gap.
His booming bark at a sudden noise also reminds me to be aware of my surroundings, even at home. When our first neighborhood went through a round of break-ins, no one messed with our house.
Having a dog does mean additional germs, vet visits, and reasons to vacuum. It means one more set of eyes watching my food or waiting for me to come out of the bathroom. It means more work and extra poop. It means spending extra money on neutering, vaccines, and food. It means absolutely needing a backyard anywhere we move.
But, it also means a little girl’s high-pitched squealing laughter.
It means a heart stretched fuller every time my son exclaims “Gooboy,” while grabbing a fistful of chocolate fur.