The disadvantages to having a dog (with a toddler)

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Are you thinking of getting a dog? There are many advantages and disadvantages to owning a dog. There are some that are specifically relevant when you have children.

We own a dog and we have a toddler, so I feel like we have some authority on the pros and cons to having both together.

Our dog is lovely and we wouldn’t give her up for… almost anything (being honest here, if I was offered a million dollars and knew she was going to a good home I’d be sorely tempted).

We got her when we bought our house and were trying to conceive (took us 13 months, but that’s another story). Below are some things we didn’t realise when we got her, which have turned out to be things we’d rather not have to deal with. This includes things that have developed as we’ve had a baby and now toddler.

These negatives are dog dependant and you may never have the issues that we’ve had. It’s nice to be aware of potential issues before getting a pup though.

An obvious disadvantage: bye, bye garden

Our dog is a female huntaway; a medium to large sized farm dog. We got her when she was five months old and so she was still a puppy. Puppies are crazy and take a lot of effort to train. If she was left to be bored…

Our garden has numerous holes in it, which she dug two years ago and are still there. We all (children and adults) are in danger of tripping up in them.

Also, she’s female, which means her urine is concentrated into spots on the lawn. This kills grass. Male dogs tend to cock a leg and pee on things, so your lawn is spared the brown patches.

She would also run crazily every once and a while. These are called ‘zoomies’. It’s when your puppy bolts as fast as they can. Their claws grip on the ground as they break and turn at high speeds and this will also destroy any manicured lawn (or furniture if this were to happen inside).

Oh! And we had a Daphne… Once… She ripped it up possibly the first day she came to us.

Needless to say gardens are vulnerable to all kinds of abuse with dogs around. If you love a manicured lawn or your veggie patch or flowerbed, it would be best if you found a way to fence this off from your dog and perhaps look into investing in some dog rocks (I have no idea how good these are other than the reviews, these are just an example of what I mean).

Another obvious disadvantage: the financial cost

Disadvantages to having a dog (with a toddler) - money
$1 a day adds up.
Photo credit: Katie Harp

The con that everyone thinks of if they have foresight. Interestingly large dogs will cost more than small dogs, as they have larger stomachs and therefore eat more.

Also vets charge by the amount of drugs that they need to give. Smaller dogs need less anaesthetic than larger dogs, as they are lighter and drugs go by weight.

For us with a roughly 30 kilogram dog it costs about $1,000 a year to keep her healthy and well fed. In saying that we did get lucky with her. She doesn’t have severe allergies. She doesn’t eat things she shouldn’t (which would result in surgeries to remove, say Frisbee bits or something). She is keen to please and not aggressive.

We also don’t pay for any bells and whistles, like a dog walker or a doggy day care or pet insurance. She goes to a kennel, perhaps two days a year if we’re away and none of our friends can look after her.

We did get dog training when she was a puppy and have returned there as issues have come up. From memory this was about $250, which was worth the cost, as we now have a well trained dog and support if we ever run into behaviour problems.

Add any combination of the above and we could easily spend $2,000+ a year on her.

If your financial situation is precarious (or your living situation for that matter) then it would be a good idea to hold off on getting a dog. This is regardless of whether you have children or not.

A potential disadvantage: the workload

Walking your dog

Dogs need more time to upkeep than cats. Our dog is bred to run and run, so she needs to have at least an hour at the park every day. This doesn’t always happen, as when you have a baby it’s not always the top priority.

Your dog might not need to be walked as much. If you get a smaller breed they might only need a twenty minute walk around the block every day. Worth keeping in mind when choosing a dog.

Some women can exercise just fine heavily pregnant. I was not such a woman, and there’s no guarantee that you will be either!

The consequences of this will be that your partner will take over the dog walking for about a month. The last time I walked to the park during my first pregnancy was at 38 weeks and it was a struggle! I walked 200 meters, sat on a bench for half an hour and then walked back.

The next time I walked down to the park was three weeks later carrying my newborn baby (very precious)!

Disadvantages to having a dog (with a toddler) - pug on a lead
A happy dog is an exercised dog.
Photo credit: Leonides ruvalcabar

Picking up after your dog

There’s also the number 2s to clean up. This is especially important to do every day with a toddler around, who doesn’t realise the difference between a mud pie and a ‘DON’T YOU DARE TOUCH THAT! NO! ARGH! NOT IN YOUR MOUTH!’ pie. Tip: In order to reduce our plastic rubbish use junk mail or paper.

Another reason why it’s important to pick up your dog’s poo is that it can tell you if your pooch is sick (just like with humans). If your dog’s stools are loose or they’re constipated they may need medical attention.

An unexpected disadvantage: Fur babies not welcome

This is an emotional downer. Dogs in New Zealand are not really welcome inside places. The places where they are, are the exception. This can be a real struggle when you want to go for a walk to a shop or a café and take your dog.

With children in mind, all playgrounds have a ‘No dogs within 1 meter’ sign on them. As Kiwis I think we live by the spirit of this law rather than the letter. If my kid is the only one within sight on the playground I won’t send my dog away from there.

But the very second another child approaches my dog is no longer welcome in that space. This can make walking the dog while entertaining a toddler a little trickier. It’s not a huge issue for us, but for others it will be.

Pet-friendly accommodation

Going away on holiday also has a ‘dogs not welcome’ sign on it. Most campsites allow you to tent with a dog, but if you want to stay in a cabin? Good luck.

Also, New Zealand is known for it’s beautiful scenery, especially the South Island. Guess who’s not welcome there either? It’s for both the dog and the endangered species’ benefit. We have poison put down for pests, which dogs could eat if they got loose.

Still, a real downer if you want to go on a nature walk. This rule of ‘no dogs’ on lots of our bush walks is definitely not for the human’s benefit. Dogs provide companionship, can signal for help and they’re a great ‘get lost’ sign to boar or other people with ill-intent.

The disadvantages with politics

Even walking your dog is quite political these days. There are so many rules! I have become anxious when walking my dog because of them. Here are a sample of them:

  • Give your dog plenty of exercise (of course, it’s cruel not to right?)
  • Don’t have your dog off lead on any footpath next to the road.
  • Always have your dog under ‘effective control’, or else have them on a lead.
  • Avoid letting your dog greet another dog when one or both of them are on a lead.
  • Always be mindful of people passing by, as dog phobias are a real thing.
  • There are parks and gardens where you’re not allowed to walk your dog.

So, a consequence of this we experienced was, if your dog doesn’t come back when called you have to keep it on a lead AT ALL TIMES. If your dog needs to run, well you’re both going to be running for a long time. Or you ignore the rule and face strangers swearing at you when your dog goes up to greet them.

Unsolicited advice

People will also offer unsolicited advice from time to time. Some of it is really helpful (like will give you 10% off your pet food if you autoship and it’s free shipping over $39), but most of it is ‘Have you tried treats?’ for ANY behaviour problem you care to mention.

No… I’ve never tried treats. These are the ones we use at the moment. She seems to like them.

On the plus side this does get you ready for parenting, where every other parent tries to give you advice on everything (guilty here).

Potluck personality

Cons to having a dog and a child - dog and a baby
Photo credit: Picsea

Different breeds are known for their different personality traits, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always stick to it. They’re stereotypes. People from New Zealand are known for being Do-It-Yourself, laid back, farming sorts of people, but that doesn’t mean every New Zealander is a handy, chilled out gardener.

And just like people, dogs have their likes and dislikes, which they can’t communicate to us at all really. Sure they wag their tail at food, but it takes a bit of trial and error to work out which food they prefer.

Add babies and children to the mix and you’ve got yourself a big conundrum. Not all people like kids and it’s the same with dogs. Also, babies and children are different (something I didn’t think about). So if your dog likes being around kids, they may not like being around a baby. Or they may not like either.

We thought that because our dog liked kids at her previous home, she would like our baby. Wrong. She tolerates him at best, hates him at worst. We hope that eventually she’ll get along with him, but in the meantime we’re very grateful that she gets up and walks away when he approaches, rather than becoming instantly aggressive (which she will become after being annoyed a lot).

If you get a dog what will you do if they don’t like your baby? Sure, get a breed that is known for being good with children, but as said above, that’s not a guarantee. Will you go out of your way to keep the dog? If not then perhaps now is not a good time to get one.

Cons to having a dog and a child - Golden Labrador
Photo credit: Samuel Thompson

I said at the start I’d be sorely tempted to sell her for a million dollars to a good home. May I point out that I would promptly get another dog if that happened (perhaps a smaller one). Unless there’s a drastic change in our circumstances I think dogs are going to be a constant member in our family, because of all the benefits they provide.