The kids want a puppy?
We have all read the heart-warming stories of children with ASD connecting to his/her dog in a way they had never done before. We all know the bond between man and dog and our heart swells when we hear of those who experience difficulties connecting, making that important relationship with their dog.
Now this blog is not to warn parents off the idea altogether. If your child is on the spectrum they may well indeed benefit from having a doggy addition to the family. But it comes with a very serious warning: These bonds cannot be made through luck. The relationship that comes with dog and child needs to be carefully introduced, shaped, trained and nurtured.
Not introduced and trained properly, a puppy, who carries the expectations of an entire family may grow up to be an adult dog exiled to the garden due to the child too afraid to step foot in the back yard.
Over the years we have spoken to many families who have bought a puppy for their child, hoping the two will grow together.
This can be a mistake.
Children on the spectrum require routine, they want to know when and where something is happening. Puppies do not come into the world with a routine. It has to be taught and then re-enforced. We have spoken to many hardworking, well-meaning parents who are trying to train their puppy, while at the same time maintain a constant routine for their child. It becomes impossible and the puppy loses out.
Also puppies like to bite, bark, jump, pull, pee, run and play. Parents with children on the spectrum often report that such behaviour in the dog triggers anxiety informed behaviour in the child and vice a versa. It can be a nightmare trying to get a puppy and a child to settle down at the same time. Parents hope the introduction of a puppy will teach the children responsibility. Will it? I don’t know, I’m not sure. As a teacher it is a long and winding road teaching any child responsibility and consequences for their actions. To be done effectively it is done by both the household and the community. Passing that responsibility onto a puppy who is just learning about life himself may be a bit much.
Training a dog is difficult for most adults I know. We cannot expect a child to train a dog!
Yes, dog training for most kids provides a great and productive distraction but the onus of responsibility needs to be with the adult
So if you still want to introduce a dog into your family’s life, here are some tips on how to make the transition to life with a dog easier for everyone.
- Get a dog. Not a Puppy.
- Do your research. There are many wonderful rescue organisations that have dogs begging for homes. You need to make sure the organisation understands your requirements especially in terms of personality that will best suit your situation
- A relaxed easy going dog
- Good with children
- Adjusts to change well
- Speak to a few dog trainers and choose a trainer before you get your dog. That way they will be there to answer questions and help along the way. It would also be a bonus if the trainer is affiliated with a dog sitter – so your dog has somewhere safe to go if they need a break from the chaos of family life.
- Focus on a relaxed, calm personality type rather than breed. Any dog can be an angel or a demon. Breed doesn’t always determine personality.
- Timing is everything. Wait till your child is going through a fairly stable patch before introducing the dog. Don’t be talked into it. If it doesn’t feel like the right time, don’t do it!