With approximately 8 million pet dogs in the UK (source - Pet Food Manufacturers Association pet statistics 2011), there's a fair chance that quite a few of them belong to families with young children. Dogs need time and attention, and so do children - how do we balance out these two needs?
We got our dog from an RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) rescue centre about a year before we had our children. When we first went to the rescue centre we were honest about the fact that we had never owned a dog before, and that we were planning to start a family in the following couple of years. That way they were able to match us to a dog that matched our needs. We also told them that we wanted a dog who would like a lot of outdoor exercise. This particular dog is definitely a good match!
I spent that first year doing a lot of training. She's a clever dog, and I think somebody had made some attempt to train her before (she was a year and a half old, and had been in the rescue centre building up weight and regrowing her hair for six months before we took her), because she was a genuine delight to train - very responsive. I aimed for at least three five-minute lessons with her every day, training her to come on command, sit, pay attention, lie down, wait and so on. She got very protective of me when I was pregnant, so we then had to work on ensuring that she could ignore other dogs too.
Then the children came along - first one and then the other. Our Waggy-tailed-one was as good as gold. As the children have got older she has been very tolerant of their boisterousness, but for her welfare and sanity as well as theirs, there have to be a few ground rules:
- she must go to her bed whenever instructed
- they aren't supposed to go in her bed - it's her space where she can relax without being bothered. Of course, they do go in her bed to give her a cuddle, but not often, and they respect that it's her place.
- if she growls, they must stop whatever they are doing to annoy her, and she must go to her bed
- they mustn't climb on her or pull her in any way - only gentle strokes, cuddles and patting
- she isn't allowed to jump up on anybody
- she isn't fed from the table and isn't allowed to come and clear up from the table until everybody has got down (this is to stop her from begging, and to stop them from feeding her tidbits at table)
- even if there are leftovers, they go into her bowl - she isn't allowed to lick the plates (this is to stop her from raiding plates that have carelessly been left on the floor or within reach)
- she's not to go through gates or doors or up and down stairs until she's been told "okay", so that she doesn't barge wobbly toddlers and knock them flying.
As they've got older they've started to give commands. At this point she gets a bit confused about her position in the pack. To stop any aggression before it starts, we make sure that they feed her, teach them commands, and let them hold the lead when its safe, so that she quickly understands that they come above her in the pack.
Walking the dog can sometimes be a challenge. Usually Hubby will get up early in the morning and take her before work. The children love to come for a walk with her, but rain, wind, snow or ice mean that isn't always fun! What I tend to do is take her for a jog in the evening, but about three times a week, when either Hubby or I are out Scouting in the evening, then the dog can't have an evening walk, so we go during the afternoon. Sometimes these walks are just that - a walk - but I try to make them a bit more fun, so C might come on his bike, or we might walk to the playpark, or go and play in the woods. Sometimes C gets to decide where we're going, and the walk might include time to build pixie houses, climb trees or paddle in the stream - whatever it takes to ensure that walking the dog doesn't become a chore, but remains fun.
So far, so good. Now that we've got past the busiest time with the children, we are going to get started on training again - a bit of "Back to basics" but also some dog agility or similar. She's a Collie Cross, so needs plenty of brain stimulation as well as exercise. We're also thinking about getting a cat!