Benefits to owning a dog (with a toddler)

You buy a house and get a dog. I want to say, with absolutely no proof, that it’s a common trend. We did it. There are many positives to owning a dog (although there are drawbacks). Some of these benefits we thought of before we invested in our pet. Others we found out about later on down the track.

Here are some reasons why having a dog and a toddler at the same time is of great value:

1. The benefit of exercise

Benefits of owning a dog with a toddler - dog running
Run doggy! Run!
Photo credit: Andrew Schultz

The fresh air! Getting out and about is great for your health, but sometimes we prefer to stay cooped up indoors. This is not possible with a dog.

Sure, with a toddler you can go to lots of indoor places to burn off energy. There are many cafés you can go to in Christchurch which have playgrounds.

Staying indoors is not possible with a dog for long. They need to be running around outside. This means both you and your little one are going to be running outside too.

And for their sake, you may go a bit further afield to go for a walk. You might choose to go to the beach (tip: prams don’t roll on soft sand very well), or to some hills or forest. Having a dog is a great motivating factor to going and experiencing nature you wouldn’t otherwise experience.

2. Your toddler’s chance of getting asthma is greatly reduced

A study published in 2015 in Sweden showed a high association between children who lived with a dog (or farm animal) in their first year of life and reduced asthma by the age of 6. Isn’t that cool? If you want to reduce the likelihood of your kids getting asthma, get a pet dog (or pig or horse or cow or sheep)!

My husband had asthma as a child. All of our children are going to be living with a dog in their first year of life (and beyond), as this health benefit alone is worth it.

3. Your dog is an instant vacuum cleaner

When babies are learning to eat things get messy. After each feast a process of cleaning up anything spilt on the floor, which is something we have to do when visiting friends or family.

Not so at home! Our large pooch is often hiding under the table (she’s not meant to be there until afterwards), ready to catch anything that drops. Of course, there are things she’d rather not eat, but these are few and far between. We have issues with our son throwing food on the floor for her!

She’s also helpful at cleaning up things you’d rather not think about. Our son was a ‘spilly’ baby. He’d burp once dry, which gave me warning to run to a non-carpeted area, where he’d burp wet. The dog developed a taste for pre-digested breast milk, which made cleaning it up a lot easier. She also has helped clean up post-digested things… let’s move on.

You also feel a lot less wasteful. Toddlers can be so changeable when it comes to food (see 50+ food ideas). If you feed them something they don’t want to eat today (or yesterday or the day before) and you don’t feel like eating it, it’s so wasteful to throw it away (say a hard boiled egg from two days ago). Who better to feed it to than the dog?

4. Your toddler will learn gentleness

You can tell a toddler who has a younger sibling by how gentle they are. They understand (or at least have been trained) to not hit, grab or pull other people.

I think you can tell the same with whether a toddler has dog (or cat). My mother made the comment the other day, how the little boy was very gentle with her cats. We’ve trained him to pat pets gently, which will come in handy with number two on the way! He will already understand the concept of being gentle.

5. Owning a dog wards off dog-phobia

Benefits of owning a dog with a toddler - dog playing tug of war
Always play tug of war side on. Never front on. You’re playing not competing. If you try to compete the dog may try to win and it has teeth.
Photo credit: Darinka Kievskaya

If you grow up with dogs you naturally get some dog education. You are mindful of unknown dogs, but you can read their body language (hey, reading body language! Perhaps people with dogs can transfer those observation skills to humans? Thought to ponder). I think it would be rare for someone to grow up with dogs and develop cynophobia (fear of dogs).

A friend of mine was scared of dogs as a child. Now that she’s an adult she’s no longer scared of them, but she still doesn’t like them. She really doesn’t want that for her kids, so she puts up with a dog now for their benefit.

Another observation of mine was that of a five year old relative. She grew up with Malamutes (think Husky, but slightly taller). Even I was a little nervous around them and yet she was patting them, walking beside them, treating them as big marshmallows! There’s a kid who will never grow up being scared of dogs!

Being scared of dogs can be crippling at times. You may want to take a shortcut through a park, but if there are dogs running off lead you’re going think twice about that. From the dogs perspective it’s polite to come say hi and check you out, which will freak you out. If you can avoid that for your kids, well why wouldn’t you?

6. Go out for both the dog and the toddler

If you were going to ignore the pleas of one dependant, it is very hard to ignore two. Going out with two feels a lot more efficient. I also mentioned above how lovely it is to experience different types of nature. How much more so for your toddler! He or she is having their whole world expand by owning a dog. There are places I have gone with my son because I’ve had a dog, which I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Thankfully we don’t usually have to go so far afield for a walk. Our local park has a small playground and three to four soccer fields. Plenty of space for our bird-chasing dog to run around while the little boy swings and slides. I look forward to when our son will be running around after the dog instead!

7. You all benefit from learning discipline and selflessness

Having a dog teaches discipline and selflessness. You have to be selfless when it’s raining and you want to stay dry, but your dog needs exercise. Here you’re being forced to exercise your discipline muscle.

The types of holidays you go on, thinking of where would be a good place for your dog to stay, coming home early so that the dog gets fed and walked… In so many ways you have to think of someone beyond yourself.

These are great qualities to cultivate in yourself, to model to your kids and to teach your kids. You have to go out of your way to accommodate for a being that has very limited language and is vulnerable in society. Think about it: if a dog were to bite someone, that someone will heal, but the dog will be put down. Who’s the greater loser?

8. The benefit of protection

No matter where you live, there’s danger of an intruder. Our area has a lot of car break ins on the street and some opportunistic theft. And our area is not associated with being that dodgy!

Or if you live in the wop-wops (as in, kilometres away from anyone else in the middle of the bush or something) you may get the odd animal intruder. Plus if anyone was keen enough to trespass with ill-intent the cops won’t be getting to you quickly.

I love having a dog who is big enough to make someone or something think twice about messing with our place. She probably would just bark at them (that’s what she’s bred for). But even that would be a warning sign to anyone wanting to break in.

The best protection that our canine gives me every day is peace of mind. I can get anxious, especially late at night, and if my husband is ever away this can be increased. At that point I can force my rational brain into gear with ‘even if someone broke in, we have a dog’. This has quite the calming effect.

8 Benefits to having a dog and a toddler
Photo credit: Lydia Torrey

As I have said before, having a dog is a must for our whānau at this time. However I don’t have rose-tinted glasses on. There are some definite cons to having a dog too.

May I also add, if you have the opportunity to get a dog or even just look after a dog for a weekend, I encourage you to take it up. The benefits are worth it.

8 Reasons to have a dog and a toddler
8 Reasons to have a dog and a toddler