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One of the Family: Welcoming a Fur Baby

When Miles entered my life, he was literally the perfect specimen of a dog.  He was technically my first dog, at 25, and I was in heaven.  I had known his name, a nod to jazz great Miles Davis, as I always thought of a bulldog being a jazz-playing saxophonist who performs gigs on Saturday nights.  I bought a dog toy saxophone years before I actually found Miles.  I just knew that when the time was right, my perfect bulldog would appear.  And he did.  My husband and I moved in together for the first time, leaving our homes and coming down to the South, where we felt like we had found our calling.  But it was different having a dog then.  Having a dog without children is very different from having one with them.

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Miles passed away suddenly when my son was just shy of turning two.  He remembers Miles, and I do think that he thinks of him as his first dog.  But as much as I had wished that he would stay with us forever, he lived an amazing life, and I am glad that my son got to enjoy him for a time, even if it was a small one.  We told him that Miles was older, and he was needed to go and take care of some younger bulldogs at a farm.  So cliche-a farm!  But it is a hard thing to be confronted with explaining death to a small child.  And it was what worked for us at the time.  Every family is different in how they will handle such a loss and the age of your child should play a role in how you handle it.  It would be some time before we (I) was ready to bring a new furry member into our family.  I knew we would know when the time was right.

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My son started asking for another dog when he was almost four.  It had been two years since our dog passed, and by this time, he had realized that he was not teaching other bulldogs on a farm.  We had a great discussion about him being in a better place now, and our son was very understanding.  He was sad but “got it.”  Being an only child, my son was now looking for a partner in crime.  As he phrased it, “You two are in charge of me; I would like to be in charge of someone too!”  Much discussion went into the responsibility of having a pet and what having a pet would mean. Feeling that he was ready for this new adventure, we decided that we would begin our search for our new member of the family shortly after.  We knew what we wanted and that we would be staying within the same breed of dog.  My son had the final say on which one we chose, and the drive to pick out our new dog had my son full of anticipation.  He was so excited, and we stayed there playing with our potential new family member for over an hour.  When the time came to pick him up a week later, the ride home was fun for all involved.  The moment my son knew he was officially ours, he was so excited and hands on.  I mean REALLY hands on.  And that was when I realized that this was going to be about a lot more than just getting a new dog

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I discovered that I was not only training a puppy at this point, but training my son to have a puppy as well.  This should have been on my radar as something that would be happening, but oddly, it did not really occur to me that it would require my son, and not just the puppy, to be learning.  We spent many days trying to explain why he could not play so roughly, why he should not bother the dog when he’s eating, that he could not sleep with the dog at this point.  There was a lot of teaching that went into this decision we had made.  My son had to be redirected often, and I tried to stay as calm as possible.  He was not used to having a puppy around; his experience with dogs at this point was limited to friends and family who all had older dogs.  Training your child along with the new pet is certainly something that every family should think of before making the leap to take home your next furry friend.  It requires you to focus on teaching what it means to care for another living thing and that there are certain ways to do that.

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As the months go by, our son has increasingly gotten better with our dog.  The raised voice that I found myself defaulting into after he would try to wrestle with this ten-pound ball of wrinkles was quieting.  He no longer tried to snatch his toy every time the puppy sat down to chew it.  He finally accepted that the crate was the dog’s personal space, not my son’s playpen.  Now they are buddies who can run around outside together, and the dog is usually playing the role of a superhero in my son’s superhero squad.

Patience and repetition go into training a dog.  It is just important to remember that it may go into training your child as well.  Each child is different in their understanding, energy levels, and so on.  This all affects how they interact with a new furry friend.  I know my son is beginning to have memories with his new best fur bud that will last a lifetime.  Our dog has truly become one of the family, and I know for our family, we are better for having gotten him as he has taught each of us lessons that will last a lifetime.

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