Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Finding the prime time to bring a child and dog together
In my last two columns, I've been addressing a reader who wrote to ask my feelings about whether the couple should adopt a dog before their first baby is due or after the baby arrives.
Although the reader didn't detail why they particularly want a dog at this time, reading between the lines - and after many years of talking with dog owners and prospective owners with families - I'm guessing that at least one of the goals for this young family is for their child to grow up with a dog to play with and love.
I well remember a dog food commercial you might call "Casey's Life." (I remember the commercial, but not the brand of food it was promoting). The commercial opened with a young boy playing with his adorable Irish setter puppy, Casey. Scene two was a teenage boy cavorting with the now full-grown Casey. Then finally, the grown man called to Casey, his beautiful, old white-faced setter who slowly made it up the stairs to him. Even now I get choked up thinking about this commercial. It certainly tugged at our heart strings.
What dog-loving family would not want their child to experience such a devoted, close relationship for the all the years the boy and dog spent together?
I had such a relationship with my neighbor's dog (also an Irish setter) from the time I was 9, when they moved in next door to us. My family didn't have a dog at that time, and I visited Shannon on a nearly daily basis to take her for a walk, play with her and love her.
The reader mentioned that the couple is is considering adopting a mature dog around 2 years old. Let's say they luck out - they find the perfect 2-year-old dog with no behavior issues that fits in perfectly with their life and lifestyle and is wonderful with the baby (always under supervision). For the first few years, no matter how perfect the dog is, the baby should not be playing alone with the dog.
By the time a child is old enough to learn what appropriate play with a dog involves and to follow rules such as not teasing the dog and not bothering the dog when it's sleeping or eating, the dog is going to be about 7 or 8 years old. As sad as it seems, the average 8-year-old dog is not going to be active enough for the average 7- or 8-year-old child.
Acknowledging that there are exceptions, generally speaking, the prime child-dog interactive years start when a child is around 6 or 7. A younger child won't be taking the dog for walks without an adult, and while a younger child can play appropriately with the dog, again, it should always be with adult supervision.
So getting a dog when a child is 6 or 7 gives the two plenty of years together to form that "Casey" kind of relationship that most families envision between their child and a dog.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. If you would like a topic addressed in this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to her c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website, alldogsgym.com.