I have two dogs: a miniature pinscher named Romo – yes, after Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys, don’t judge — and Coal, as in charcoal, because his fur is black. I often look into people’s eyes when telling them my dogs’ name, waiting for their eyes to alight in recognition of my pet naming cleverness. I’m still waiting.
When I first got my dogs, it never occurred to me how much they would do for me, let alone for my children. Of course I knew they would provide me with a measure of happiness in the form of puppy breath, cuddles, and laughs. I also thought about how much I would do for them. But I never even considered that they would help me raise my children.
Watching my children grow alongside my dogs has been one of the great joys of my life. I often use the dogs to teach valuable lessons in love, kindness, and understanding. My dogs are helping me raise better humans in so many ways.
They teach empathy.
Other than telling my kids to “be nice,” it can be tough to teach a child that their actions can impact others.
Any time my blind, older dog runs into a wall or can’t find his food dish or can’t throw a pass (oops, that’s the other Romo), my kids actively comfort and help him. They see his struggles and offer him cuddles and slobbery kisses (hmm, maybe that’s what the human Romo needs to win a game). They learn the importance of helping others, and all the feelings that go with it.
Even my toddler has grown into a kind, gentle child. After a few tail pulls or paw stomps, followed by a quick yelp, he’s learned that the dogs have feelings, and he now curbs his behavior accordingly.
My kids are learning caregiving skills.
My children have an active roll in caring for our two dogs. They let them out, feed them, and take them for walks. They’re learning that living creatures require attention and care. These lessons are paramount to understanding the responsibility of being a parent, pet owner, babysitter, or any kind of caregiver.
(Bonus: mommy gets to put her feet up once and a while.)
Cleaning is important.
My kids hate to clean. The struggle is real even just getting them to hang up a wet towel.
But I make sure they understand that pee stains don’t clean themselves. Dogs get sick, they make messes, and cleaning up after them is another important lesson in learning to care for others. The way my daughter mothers these dogs now, I have no doubt she will make an amazing parent some day.
Besides, doggie-doo landmines aren’t good for anyone, so scooping the poop is a win-win for the whole family.
These dogs keep my kids active, which is wonderful.
Even when I’m exhausted, the dogs will have my kids running all over the house. They also play chase, fetch, and take the dogs out for walks.
And, of course, exercise is important for both dogs and humans.
No food was ever wasted in my grandfather’s time, and no food is wasted in my house. Feeding food scraps to the dogs is teaching my children the importance of not being wasteful.
(Okay fine, maybe it’s not really teaching them anything but how to get rid of the food they don’t want to eat. But it’s still bonding time!)
The power of physical contact.
Most of the time I can’t get my kids away from my side for five minutes, but some children have a hard time with physical contact.
Dogs are used in hospital settings to comfort patients, and they’re also used to help make connections for children with autism. Furry friends can provide an enormous amount of comfort just by being present. Studies have even shown endorphins are released when petting dogs or other animals.
Cuddles = love and comfort, and we could all use a bit more of that.
The significance of play and laughter.
I’m not sure anything can make my family laugh more than our dogs’ shenanigans. Whether we are giggling over a dog fart, or laughing as the dogs run around in circles after a bath (why do dogs do that?), the kids are having a ball.
Anything that brings more play and laughter into a household is a valuable addition. Watching my kids play with my dogs is wonderful, and I know they’re learning that life is short and it should be filled with love, wonder, joy, and laughs.
Thank you to my dogs, for helping me raise my kids, for providing them with happiness and lessons in life I couldn’t have provided as well without you. I will pay you back with more kisses, more lap time, more walks, and as much love as you can stand.