I have always loved animals.
In fact, I can’t think of a single creature on this world that can’t at least tolerate. Except perhaps daddy longlegs.
But that’s not to say I would kill them. I take the view that they were put on this world for a reason, and it’s not for me to cut their lives short.
You might think that I sound like a crazy environmentalist. But I’m not.
I’m not even vegetarian.
So in many ways I’m probably utterly hypocritical, writing a blog about the human rights of the garden slug, whilst happily munching on a bacon sandwich. But the reason I’m writing this is not because I’m a closet Buddhist. It’s actually because I think it’s massively important to instill in your child a humble respect for animals of all kinds.
I also believe that one of the best ways that your child can learn to love animals is by having a dog. I am utterly sympathetic to the fact that dogs can be a hassle. And that many people may not have the time or energy to devote to them. But the benefits of a child having a dog are enormous.
1) You can teach them respect at a very early age. One of our two dogs is a rescue, and we’ve always known she is not particularly tolerant. But rather than keep Arthur away from her entirely, we’ve tried to teach him that he has to give her space; that she will only play on her terms; and that he has to always be gentle with her. It’s amazing how quickly they learn this. And the result? Yesterday Chilli came up to Arthur and actually nuzzled him. She doesn’t even nuzzle me!
2) You can boost their immune system. Studies have shown that having a dog can reduce your baby’s risk of coughs and sniffles during the first year of life and that children with dogs are generally less likely to get sick than those who don’t have pets. Although my personal scientific study is limited to one, I can vouch for the fact that Arthur is very rarely ill – something I put down entirely to the dogs, because by contrast, my husband and I are ill all the time!
3) You can teach them to be gentle. One thing I have discovered about dogs, is that they are some of the most gentle and tolerant creatures that exist on this planet. These characteristics mean that you can demonstrate to your child the importance of kindness. Whilst other children and siblings are likely to fight back, if a child runs full pelt into a dog, they simply look a bit hurt, and walk away. After countless occasions of us having to admonish Arthur along the lines of “Don’t pull Beans’ tail, Arthur. You don’t see us pulling Beans’ tail and he doesn’t like it, “ he stopped. And you can definitely see the results when he is around other children. He is visibly less boisterous and considerate of their feelings. Even at the age of two.
4) You can show them how to respect other people’s belongings. We have a rule in our house. The dogs don’t get Arthur’s toys and Arthur doesn’t get the dogs’ toys. The dogs got the rule straight away. Arthur didn’t. For quite some time. But after taking what felt like 1000 dog toys away from him every day for about a year, he finally clicked. And now if he sees a dog toy on the floor, he picks it up and gives it to one of them instead.
5) You can teach them not to be afraid. I was once walking Beans on a lead in our local park, and we were about to pass a toddler on the path. Out of nowhere, his mother came screaming down the hill and (I absolutely kid you not) threw her child out of our way, and into a bush. The child was petrified. Not because of Beans. But because of his mother’s behaviour. Now perhaps the mother had a legitimate reason to be afraid. Perhaps she was bitten as a child. But you should never instill fear of that kind into your child. There is an enormous difference between teaching your child to be afraid, and teaching them to be cautious.
6) You can teach them about death. No one likes to mention the d-word. But at some point, you are going to have to explain to your child that someone or something has died. When my first dog died, I was about 8 years old. And my mum and dad told me what had happened and where she had gone. And it made me realise that some things don’t last forever, as much as I would like them to. Learning to cope with the death of a dog, in my very humble opinion, teaches you at an early stage how to deal with life’s tragedies. And how to pick yourself up and get on with your life.
So why am I telling you all this?
Not necessarily to convince you all to rush out and get puppies. Too many people do that without really thinking about it and end up giving them away. But dogs are everywhere – you don’t necessarily need your own to reap the benefits. I also wanted to write this blog because, unfortunately, there has been a lot of recent press about dangerous dogs and the damage they can do when they turn on babies and young children.
And to read about such things is utterly heart wrenching.
But it is important to remember that things like that are unbelievably rare. And when you look at the facts of these cases, you see that the dogs responsible should never have been allowed around children in the first place. But it worries me that people don’t consider the facts and that they have now started becoming fearful about bringing up their children around animals. So I just wanted to show the other side of the coin. Demonstrate that bringing up your child with a dog has unbelievable benefits. Yes, it’s hard work. But there is no greater way of teaching your child some of life’s most important lessons.
And dogs give great cuddles too.