my son wants a dog
February 8, 2018 2:59 AM   Subscribe

My son, 9 years old, would very much like a dog. At his school, they occasionally have visits by dogs (they visit with their handler and are trained to visit schools), and some of his class mates have dogs and so does his favourite teacher.

neither my husband nor I are dog people, never owned dogs and did not grow up around dogs or even particularly like dogs (but also nothing against it - we just want to make sure abotu the timing). I have had cats for many many years and growing up my family had numerous cats. Currently I do not have cats, and no plan to get some as I found it rather traumatic when my last cat died.

So, the issue is: from what age can a child reasonable take care of a dog (be responsible to feed and groom and most importantly walk him? This is in a very urban environment, not in the country.

We live in a large European city (Vienna, famous for having more dogs than children) and have no yard or garden, we live in an apartment. In the area we live there are many dogs, so walking the dog in the street and taking the dog to the dog park would wihtout doubt lead to many meetings with other dogs and their owners. The next official dog zone (think "poop park" crossed with playground) is about 10 minutes walk from where we live. Dogs are also permitted to poop on side walks, but you must immediately scoop it up and bag it and bin it or risk a fine (and besides it is gross).
Law says they must be on a leash except when inside the dog park, and in addition wear a muzzle in public transport. In reality this is often ignored, and quite frequently you can see agitated dog owners and dogs in various stages of excitment encountering each other sans leash.

Legally, we, the parents would be the dog owners, we would pay the mandatory dog tax to the city, send the boy and the dog to dog school, arrange vet visits, vaccinations, cover vet bills, buy food, etc. We both work full time, and our son is in school Mo-Fr until 4:30pm. The dog would be alone for about 8 hours per day Mo-Fr. Maybe that is cruel? Or are there dogs who can cope with that?

What we would like our son to be responsible for is the daily walks, the feeding, the grooming etc.
I feel that with 9 he is too young for that, given the urban environment of other dogs who may or may not be on a leash and may be with a weird person who is not able to control their own dog ( a frequent sight).

So dog experts of ask: from what age can a child have his "own" dog? I would like to give our son some perspective, not just: when you are older. He is now 9 years old and average in his maturity, above average academically, and a bit below average in phyiscal strength (so daily dog walks could be good).

We also know zero on types or breeds of dogs, and whether it is better to get an adult dog or a puppy, male or female etc. I think we would go the local shelter (this is where I got my cats from), or alternatively ask the vet I used to take my cats to to connect us help us find a dog (he offers this). And then take some time off to give the dog and us a chance to get to know each other.
But I don't see that as the immediate issue, the question for me right now is when is he old enough to responsibly care for a dog, and walk him several times daily in an urban environment. Ideally he would do the daily stuff and we are there to support. So I think he would need to be at least 13 or 14? Or older?
posted by 15L06 to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I think the age a child is able to be responsible for a dog varies so much that there’s no good way to answer your question. Some nine year olds are responsible enough, some 15 year olds definitely aren’t. Is your son able to walk to the park himself now? Is he generally good at following through on commitments? If it was crappy weather and he was tired but the dog needed to go out, do you think he’d just do it or whine and try and get someone else to do it for him?

I think you’ll be able to mitigate some of your concerns about other off-leash dogs by getting the right dog. I would definitely get an adult - puppies are a lot of work and it can be hard to predict their personalities. You’ll want a super chill dog if you can - one that won’t pull at the lead or get freaked out or agressive if an off-leash dog comes running up. I’d hope that the off-leash dogs aren’t agressive, even if they’re not under control!

Eight hours alone per day will be okay for some adult dogs, especially if they get a good walk right before and after - though definitely not for any puppies. That’s something you’ll want to be super up front with when finding a dog. You can also hire a dog walker to come halfway through the day if needed - many/most adult dogs would be fine with two four-hour stretches alone.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:45 AM on February 8, 2018 [4 favorites]


I love dogs. LOVE them. However I still don’t have one of my own because I’m actually rather ambivalent about dog ownership. Dogs really take over your life in a way. Dog hair gets all over (or you start to clean much more frequently), things get broken or slobbered on, you can’t plan an easy weekend away without figuring out if the dog can come or if someone can watch them. When you want to meet a friend after work you can’t because you have to rush home to let the dog out.

I don’t think it would be fair to have a 9 year old be responsible for it all. Also my understanding from when I was in Vienna is that dogs are extremely well mannered there and don’t bark. This means dog training that either you have to do or teach your child to do. Even if your kids was able to do it all on their own it doesn’t sound like you would be happy to have a dog in your life.

Maybe see if there’s a friend’s dog that you could take care of for a week and at least see how that goes?
posted by raccoon409 at 4:14 AM on February 8, 2018 [6 favorites]


In education, they talk about the 'zone of proximal development'. Teacher's try to identify it in their students so they can teach them at a level that is challenging yet within reach. Is your son at the stage where he can rise to the challenge of putting another being's needs before his own?

I grew up with small animals, cats and guinea pigs, but I always really wanted a horse. I started to scrounge riding lessons when I was around nine and I remember how an instructor stressed that the horse's well-being after a ride always came before my own. They had to be watered, hosed, rubbed, brushed, bedded and fed before I did anything for myself, except a slurp from a hose. I took her words to heart because I loved horses and wanted the best for them. Does your son love dogs that much?
posted by Thella at 4:14 AM on February 8, 2018 [4 favorites]


Also you mention that he is little lower in physical strength. If he is taking the dog on walks on his own he needs to be strong enough to control the dog of it sees a squirrel, Duck, or lunges at another dog.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:16 AM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


from what age can a child reasonable take care of a dog (be responsible to feed and groom and most importantly walk him?

You mean, so that you can reasonably bet that you won't end up doing all that, or spend as much time hectoring him to do it as it would take to do it yourself? When he's an adult who lives somewhere else. You should expect that you will be the primary caretaker of any dog that you bring into your house, even if it's nominally your son's.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:38 AM on February 8, 2018 [48 favorites]


When a dog comes into a home it’s everyone’s. Because the dog needs to be walked early in the morning every single day, right after school/work every single day, before bed every single day, whether someone has a party or a twisted ankle. Especially with no yard.

However I’d say your son has to be of an age where he remembers his chores all the time and doesn’t need to be reminded to brush his teeth or start a load of laundry. Personally (and I grew up with dogs, trained guide dog puppies, and had a dog as an adult) I wouldn’t get my son a dog unless I wanted one. Because no child really understands that he’s promising to limit his school choices to where he can afford a place with a dog, and might end up tending a sick dog during PhD defence or whatever. If you don’t want a dog, I would let him borrow dogs (people will adore you if you let their dogs stay with you while they go on vacation) and allow him to dream until he has his own home.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:47 AM on February 8, 2018 [13 favorites]


Keep in mind, if you get your son a dog when he’s in his teens and he moves out or goes to university or whatever, then you’ve got a dog.
posted by OrangeVelour at 5:08 AM on February 8, 2018 [20 favorites]


Speaking as a former kid who "had" dogs, yes, much of the responsibility will fall to you. It's inescapable. And I did my best, but you don't want to end up making your child decide between friends and the dog, or sports and the dog, or, or... A common way around this dilemma here in the midwestern US for for the kid to volunteer at the local animal shelter. They get plenty of dog interaction, but they don't bring it home with them. And the poor shelter dogs get the attention and exercise they need. It's a win-win!
posted by dbx at 6:56 AM on February 8, 2018 [10 favorites]


There is no age at which a dog will not be the responsibility of everyone who lives with it. If you don't want a dog, you really should not get a dog.

I say this as a person who loves dogs.
posted by winna at 6:57 AM on February 8, 2018 [10 favorites]


I was very responsible as a kid (second oldest with five younger siblings, had part-time jobs including babysitting by grade 7), and we always had a dog in the house (my mom was home full-time so the dog was never alone). I started really loving walking the dog when I was around 12-13, I would say that's the earliest to expect them to do most of the daily work. However I doubt I was doing most of the work, I did most of the walks but not so much the daily feeding or consistent grooming or anything like that.

If you and your husband actually sort of like the idea of a dog for the family I would get an already trained dog that is out of the puppy stage which is the most demanding. Puppies are adorable but so much work. I would try to find a small-medium-sized mutt that your son will be able to control, they make harnesses that don't hurt the dog and provide a lot more control than a leash around the neck. I had a not-well trained or socialized shepherd mix that we rescued and not many problems with her (only once did I lose control of the leash and got a skinned knee, a large dog came out of nowhere and scared her so she pulled and I wasn't ready) but I tended to avoid other dogs and we lived near a large forested park so it was possible, it sounds like that's not going to be possible where you are so what is critical is finding a dog that is leash-trained and not afraid of other people and dogs.

There are breeds that will be ok being alone during the day (those that sleep a lot or don't need a lot of exercise) but you might want to factor in the cost of having someone walk the dog at lunchtime during the week, it's not fair to leave a dog at home alone all day.

If there is a nearby dog shelter I'd encourage your son to visit there and eventually volunteer there.
posted by lafemma at 6:59 AM on February 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


North American perspectives may be limited, but unless the whole family is endorsing a dog with some enthusiasm, this will not be a good idea, because it isn't going to be the nine year old who cleans up the accidents and sits up all night if the dog gets sick and takes it to puppy class and remembers to bring it for shots every year. Dogs affect the whole family. There is no way to sanely, healthily own a dog otherwise.

I would be wary about letting a nine year old walk a dog solo in an area with a ton of dogs. I don't know how Viennese dogs are trained, but here, dog/dog aggression is not uncommon, and I wonder if a child of that age will understand how to recognize and avoid dangerous situations, never mind getting out of them when they've gotten into one. I would be more inclined to believe my child wants a dog if my child researched it and demonstrated an understanding of dog training/needs/behaviour/body language. (When I wanted a pet snake as a kid, I put together presentations. I still have the binder, complete with speech. It worked.)

And if the inevitable happens and a dog happens to come home anyway, be aware that post-partum puppy depression is a very real thing. Many dog owners report going through the puppy blues (even with adult dogs) after adoption; it's the natural consequence of taking on a responsibility, I suspect. It goes away after a while.
posted by Nyx at 7:12 AM on February 8, 2018 [3 favorites]


Another factor: a typical dog lifespan is 12-15 years (my dog lived to be 17). When your son leaves home, odds are... you will have a dog.

Decide how you feel about this before you get a dog, and especially before you get a puppy.
posted by Kriesa at 7:28 AM on February 8, 2018 [2 favorites]


Only you know your own kid and if they will be more or less responsible.

Type of dog is important.

Dog sitters that come in halfway through the day are great.

Good time to get a puppy / dog is summer break. Also, rescue, don't buy.

I have 3 dogs and a cat. All the boys wanted a dog. And one boy wanted a cat. Demonstrated before getting them that they would be responsible and even pay for things.

I'll repeat - *I* have 3 dogs and a cat.

Buy, hey - I think they're great.
posted by rich at 7:29 AM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm not a dog person. I've never owned a dog but I've spend few-day trips either visiting in a dog household, or dogsitting, or having a friend-with-dog come stay with me. I like dogs okay, but in the way I like that guy at work who does stand-up comedy as a hobby - fun for a little while but really grating over time. A dog is just *there*, in my space, breathing loudly, primary joy to hang around in the room being extroverted and wanting my attention. Sometimes they're very sweet and snuggle up against me in front of the TV. But if the dog and the cat are both napping on their pet-beds, and I walk through the room, the cat might lift his head to see me walk past, but the dog will get up and start following me. Not even my dog. This is how I know that I'm not a dog person, they can irritate me just by existing. If this is the level of "not a dog person" that you're at, don't get a dog. If you actually meant less by it, and the idea of a warm loving companion who wants to spend all their time with you is actually a nice idea, then yes, go ahead.

Even if your son were infinitely responsible and actually did all the caretaking tasks you're hoping, the dog may or may not be aware that it is your son's dog, the dog may decide it likes you or your husband better. Not only could that be instrusive for you, but your son's dedication to caretaking could start to slip if the dog doesn't seem to reciprocate his love.

So in short, it's complicated.
posted by aimedwander at 7:34 AM on February 8, 2018 [3 favorites]


Do you have guide dogs in Vienna? I knew a high schooler whose family took on guide dog puppies through a program. When the high schooler graduated and moved out, the family wasn't stuck with a dog.

See also: fostering.
posted by aniola at 7:43 AM on February 8, 2018 [3 favorites]


1. Do not get a puppy.
2. No really, don't get a puppy.
3. Maybe do not get a dog at all

I'm a dog person. I love dogs. I have had three dogs (all big 'uns) and also volunteered at the animal shelter as a dog handler. I've trained dogs and competed with dogs. Dogs dogs dogs. But right now I have no dogs and I am not sad about that because dogs are a ton of work and I already have a ton of work in the form of a child and a house and a job. Fortunately, my son isn't really an animal person so he hasn't ever asked us for a dog, but my answer would be "no" until he's at least a teenager. There are definitely very very special kids out there who at the age of nine are so mature, so focused, and so devoted to and obsessed with dogs that they would be able to mostly kind of care for a dog in an urban environment by themselves, but my assumption is that your average 9-year-old is not up to this task.

Urban dogs need:
2-4 walks a day (at least one long one), every day, in all weather, no exceptions, yes even when you have a cold and even when it's pouring rain.
Annual veterinary appointments for check-ups and vaccinations
Training (and everyone does need to participate in this so everyone knows how to interact with the dog and get the dog behaving)
Veterinary appointments for things like "the dog ate something scary that it shouldn't have" or "the dog stepped on something sharp on the sidewalk and is now limping". Dogs don't have awesome self-preservation instincts, they do dumb stuff that gets them vet visits.

My kid is only 5 but my thinking on this topic has always been to not go from zero-to-dog but to start with fish, or a hamster, or a pair of rats, or a lizard. Something that lives in its own space, doesn't need walks, and doesn't live for 12-15 years but can give a kid the experience of feeding, cleaning up after and caring for a pet. Then if they do a good job with that, you can think about getting them something that requires more responsibility. Work up to it. Dogs are like PhD-level pet caretaking.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:21 AM on February 8, 2018 [4 favorites]


Soren makes an excellent point, especially about the walks.

If you don't do those walks, you will have a problem dog that destroys things and never settles and is obnoxious and probably has messes in the house. If you DO those walks, you may still have all those things - don't doing them just guarantees it. Dogs are living beings and they are complicated.
posted by winna at 10:11 AM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


Dogs make messes, no matter how well they are trained. Accidents happen. I do not think you should get a dog, especially not a puppy. So demanding. It's like having another kid, one that will never grow up, ever. You cannot go on vacation without worrying about the dog: board it or have someone babysit it? Vet bills can be OUTRAGEOUS. You cannot do anything when you are a dog owner, unless you can take it with you or board it. I don't like the responsibilities of pet ownership and I love dogs and I'm a middle-aged person with two dogs, and have had dogs my whole life. Lots and lots and lots of work. You will be the one taking care of the dog. Fostering or pet-sitting is probably a better option, and you can suss out how responsible your kid will be.
posted by cass at 2:21 PM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


9 is way too young to assume primary dog responsibilities. Way too young. I'm 31 and grew up with dogs and there are still times when my husband and I cannot handle the shared responsibility and frankly do not do a good job.
posted by pintapicasso at 5:11 AM on February 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


thank you all for the toughtful replies. Lots of food for thought and further discussion in the family!
Please don't worry, we are certainly not going to get a dog right now. My reason for this ask is my husband and I know nothing about what it means to have a dog and so it is good to have this feedback.
And I had to smile when I read the comment how supposedly dogs in Vienna don't bark... actually barking dogs are everywhere (eg in front of shops, usually 3 to 4 are tied up barking at each other, and at passers-by, and howling and whining for the owner inside. And as for being well trained, I met enough dogs off leash who just would not follow their owners commands to fill a book with the stories.
One of the reasons I personally am so against having a dog is that I simply worry whether any dog can be happy in this densley polulated urban area full of other dogs. One sees so many dogs here who to me just look unhappy.
posted by 15L06 at 1:04 AM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


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