Is there an ideal age to get my child a puppy?

February 1, 2023
Lifestyle/Family

Option A) Getting a Puppy When Your Child is an Infant

Having an infant and a puppy is doable, but having realistic expectations, a good plan, and help (ideally) are key.⁠

Caring for a puppy is physical - for the moms who gave birth, the postpartum recovery takes time, and it can be challenging to care for a newborn and a puppy simultaneously. ⁠It can also be hard to bond with a puppy when you have just had a baby. ⁠

 

General Challenges⁠
  • Puppies are jumpy and mouthy and have a lot of energy to burn.
  • They want to chew on everything, including your baby’s toys and items. 
  • ⁠They need to be house-trained, crate-trained, alone time trained and need socialization. 
  • They need obedience training. 

 

If you want your puppy to be well-socialized and well-trained, you need to dedicate TIME and ENERGY. ⁠If you have an adult dog, integrating a puppy is often a process.

Solutions⁠
  • Gates, crates, exercise pens, playpens
  • ⁠If you are unsure what gate to get (there are so many indeed!), go to Dog Meets Baby Amazon Store to check out baby gates and playpens recommended by me, my clients, and my followers.
  • Many food puzzle toys and chews to keep those sharp teeth occupied.
  • Dog walker, puppy daycare, playdates with a neighbor's playful dog, etc.⁠
  • Have your baby in the carrier while you train and play with the puppy.
  • Also, divide and conquer - one parent takes care of the baby while the other trains, walks, or plays with the puppy.⁠

 

If this is your dream, go for it. It will be challenging, but it can be done.⁠

Option B) Getting a Puppy When Your Child is  a Toddler

Toddlers are impulsive, curious explorers. A lot depends on whether you have a 1 or 3-year-old toddler. Your toddler and puppy might be best friends one day, but the first weeks or months together are frequently far from what parents have envisioned.

General Challenges⁠
  • Normal puppy behaviors like mouthing and jumping can be scary. 
  • Some toddlers are so afraid that you may need to keep them separated for weeks or always have your dog on leash. 
  • Similarly to adding a human sibling, some children are jealous of the attention the puppy gets. Big feelings are expected, especially if the toddler is scared of the puppy.

 

Solutions

Management tools such as gates, exercise pens or playpens, or crates are a MUST for the safety of the child and the dog. Puppies are often jumpy and will knock a toddler over. Unlike infants, toddlers move. A LOT. Provide your dog with an escape route and a safe place where the toddler cannot follow.

 

Supervision is key

Both puppy and toddler are interested in what the other has or does, and both need boundaries and training. You need to be 100% present and always supervise when you have them together.

 

Pro tip: Watch this reel to learn how to stop a puppy from jumping on little kids.

Petting

Teaching your toddler to be gentle with your puppy will be a process. If you allow petting, it has to be structured and supervised. To learn more about petting, download my free Toddlers and Dogs Guide. 

Chewing

It is pretty much impossible not to lose toys, even with the best management system. On the other hand, children quickly learn to clean up their toys and not leave them all over the house. A toy rotation system and separate play areas are helpful.

Have rules of interactions and enforce them daily

Here are a few basic rules for families with older toddlers (2.5+ years old) and puppies. If you are interested in a comprehensive list & blank template click here.

  • Let your toddler be involved in the safe aspects of your puppy’s world - they want to help.
  • Model what you would like your toddler to do; it sets them up for success. As toddler parenting expert, Devon Kutzman, said in this reel about modeling, young children learn by watching those around them. 
  • Have toys readily available to redirect your puppy’s attention and mouth.
  • When a child or puppy is overstimulated, avoid having them together.
  • Long sleeves, long pants, shoes on around puppy.
  • Invest in a puppy training course, a class, or a private trainer.

I genuinely believe that you can make every configuration work. ⁠It might not be easy, but it is doable to have an infant, a toddler, and a puppy. ⁠Based on my personal and professional experience, there is a time when it gets EASIER. ⁠This magic age when children are better at following rules, are more coordinated and are somewhat independent. ⁠

Child’s ideal age to introduce the first dog

I asked Caley Kukla, M.Ed., for her opinion, as a behavior specialist and parent coach. Caley is also a mom to two young children and a dog. Here’s what she has to say.

Around age 4, children begin to become more socially aware. We begin to see social, interactive play and a bit more awareness of some “social rules” and potential dangers.  These attributes can be helpful when introducing a dog into the family dynamics because children are more able to understand the importance of giving the dog space, gentle, calm interactions, and basic safety guidelines. Four year-olds also have the ability to follow multi-step directions, so they’re more likely to be willing and able to help with dog-related responsibilities. Caregivers should be noted that there is a wide range of development and each child is different, so observing your child and knowing their temperament is key to determining if this is a good time to introduce a dog.”

Indeed, for us, that magic age was 4.⁠

  • Suddenly, it became easier to have dogs at our house for board and train (most were 4 - 12 months old).
  • My children would actively participate in training without screaming and running every time a dog jumped on them. They knew how to ask for a sit or down. ⁠
  • They were taller than a puppy and their faces were not right in front of a puppy’s face. ⁠
  • A game of fetch wasn’t anymore about holding a toy forever or aiming the ball at a dog. ⁠
  • They knew how to redirect a puppy to a toy or cue a sit before a puppy grabbed their pants while running. ⁠
  • My children have been helping me prepare dogs’ food puzzle toys since they were little. 4-5-year-old children are able to fill the kongs or Toppl puzzle toys independently without me spending hours cleaning the kitchen afterward.⁠

“Another big shift in development happens around age 7. We begin to see budding skills such as impulse control, empathy/perspective-taking, and a desire to have more agency or influence in the world around them. These new tendencies can be extremely helpful when bringing a dog into the house. While children at this age are still very active, they tend to have a bit more awareness of their impulses and ability to control them. They also have more awareness of how their actions impact others. Combined, these developmental shifts can help children observe “safe interaction rules” with the dog and understand the why behind the rules.

Seven year-olds tend to desire more agency, so they are more likely to become internally motivated to do helpful tasks independently - especially when it comes to a dog! Again, development is not linear and not the same for every child, so it’s best to take your own child’s developmental stage into consideration during the decision-making process.”

My kids will be 7 years old in a few months. We recently got a Spanish Water Dog puppy, Hela. 

The biggest difference I am noticing between 4 and almost 7 years olds is how much they can do independently with the puppy. To me as a parent, having a puppy is actually way easier now because my kids’ energy matches the puppy's energy but they have the skills to play and even train the puppy safely without my supervision. And they really like to do it! While I was tempted to get a dog earlier, I’m so glad we waited. 

It is a very individual decision. I know many families who choose to wait longer, they want their youngest child to be elementary school age before getting a dog. ⁠And many who want their children to grow up with a puppy, even if the beginnings might be rough. ⁠There’s no right or wrong decision.

Whatever you decide, good luck! You’ve got this! And I’m here to help and support you.