A puppy? With a toddler? Are you insane? That was the reaction I got from almost everyone I dared to share my plan with. And I kind of get their reaction, it is a lot. But here’s the thing: I have always had a dog. I was born into a family that always had dogs and my husband and I had a dog long before we ventured into the realm of parenthood. So when we lost our six-year-old retriever when our daughter was two, the family felt off-kilter.
If you’ve experienced the grief of losing a pet yourself, I’m sure you’ll understand. A house without a dog - when you’re so used to the patter of paws, the tumbleweeds of hair, the constant companionship -no longer feels like home and is one of the things nobody tells you when your pet dies.
Add to that we wanted to start expanding our human family in the near future (and even I’m not mad enough to consider a newborn and a puppy!) and you might understand why we were contemplating this. So we did our research, found a litter, stocked up on the best puppy toys and braced ourselves for the chaos that is combined puppyhood and toddlerhood. Keep reading to find out what I wish I'd been told before embarking on this journey and six useful tips I'd share with anyone else taking on a puppy and a toddler at once...
Things I wish I’d known before getting a dog while raising a toddler…
Your house will be chaotic for at least a month
I read a lot of puppy training books and watched many, many YouTube puppy training channels in the lead up to getting our golden retriever puppy, Lowen. But looking back, nothing could have prepared me for the chaos of the first few weeks. Juggling the needs of a totally untrained puppy with a typically demanding two and a half year old was about as challenging as it sounds. But we soon found our groove, and I’m pleased to report that the madness doesn’t last forever. (But in the interim, do stock up on floor cleaner and kitchen roll. I really can’t stress that enough.)
Boundaries are important for the puppy and toddler
I knew I would need to keep my toddler safe from typical puppy behavior like mouthing, but I had neglected to think about things as much from the puppy’s perspective. Toddlers can be full-on at the best of times, throw an adorable fluffy puppy into the mixture and the excitement levels are next level. Suffice to say, boundaries are important all round.
It will be worth it (I promise)
Lowen is eight months old now and the bond between her and my daughter is magical. They are best friends, ultimate playmates and forever partners in crime. I’m pleased to say, all the madness was 100% worth it.
Shaina Zimmerman is a full-time dog trainer currently residing in Ohio, USA. She has mentored under some of the most reputable dog trainers in the country, and regularly attends seminars, workshops, and online clinics to improve her skillset and learn new, modern dog training techniques to best serve her clients. She is a professional member of the IACP and sits on the board of directors for the United States Mondioring Association. She is a multi-time National level competitor in Mondioring and French Ring, and has competed in AKC Obedience, as well as AKC and ASCA Rally Obedience. Shaina has also raised many puppies for breeders, ensuring they have the proper foundation to become loving pets for their homes.
Six helpful things that I learned in the first few months…
“Getting a puppy while raising a toddler can be challenging, but if you plan ahead and consult a professional for help early on, you'll be on the road to success in no time,” says professional dog trainer Shaina Zimmerman. I couldn’t agree more. With that in mind, here are the most helpful lessons I learned the hard way so you don’t have to…
1. Get a game plan early on
“It is important for potential puppy owners to understand there are three very common puppy behaviors that cause owners' distress; mouthing or play biting, potty training, and crying in the crate. These are totally normal puppy behaviors but compounding them with raising a small child can make the tasks seem daunting,” says Zimmerman.
These behaviors will happen so you might as well decide how you’re going to deal with them ahead of the new arrival. Although I thought I’d spent a lot of time researching, I hadn’t actually come up with a solid strategy for dealing with these issues in the context of also having a toddler. I quickly did though, as you’ll see below.
2. Use a house line
A house line is absolutely invaluable for managing your puppy's behavior in the early days. “Using a leash in the house when your puppy is outside of the crate will give you the ability to prevent ‘naughty’ behaviors such as jumping on, chasing, and mouthing at your child, while also teaching your puppy how to be calm in the house and to prevent potty training accidents,” says Zimmerman.
After a few episodes of puppy jumping resulting in a toddler meltdown, we decided to try it. We just bought a few (they will get peed on!) thin leads and cut the loop off the end so no little legs got trapped. Lowen got used to this really quickly and I think it played a vital role in her understanding boundaries quicker. She simply wasn’t able to perform undesirable behavior (such as jumping up) so she eventually stopped doing it altogether. Sometimes this behavior can persist, read our guide on how to stop a dog from jumping up to nip this habit in the bud nice and early on.
3. Use a crate
With our previous dog, we didn’t use the crate much. I worked from home, but otherwise the house was quiet and he was able to find peace and rest with ease. Lowen did not have that luxury with a toddler running rampant throughout the house. And we all know an overstimulated, overtired puppy is no fun. Enter: the crate and learning how to crate train a dog.
“Using your crate regularly throughout the day helps normalize the crate, decreasing whining and crying so you and your toddler can stay well-rested,” says Zimmerman.
The guarantee of sleep, undisturbed by a toddler, made the crate quickly popular with Lowen and it became a really useful tool for us in the early days of puppy training.
Got a pup who doesn’t love the crate? “Pro tip: Feed your puppies meals through training and in the crate, using the food as a reward for good behavior and as a way to build a positive association,” says Zimmerman.
4. Teach your toddler to be respectful
“Don't forget to also teach your child healthy boundaries when it comes to interacting with their puppy, such as not pulling on fur, hugging the puppy, chasing the puppy, or messing with the puppies food,” says Zimmerman. “Even if your puppy tolerates these behaviors, teaching your toddler to respect a puppy's space will help prevent potential problems with other dogs in the future.”
At two and a half, our daughter was capable of mostly understanding this through lots of repetition and modeling. The few times she did slip up, we quickly removed her from the situation and explained why her behavior wasn’t acceptable.
5. Split the days into manageable chunks
“Puppy owners should provide their puppies with daily mental and physical stimulation, including obedience training, to help give their puppies an outlet for their energy,” says Zimmerman. On top of that, you also have to watch both puppy and toddler like a hawk in the early days.
If it sounds like a lot, it is!
One way to manage this, while also making sure you have time for other necessary life activities, is to break the day up and give everyone some time out. “It is totally okay to split up your puppy’s day between intentional time spent training, playing, and exercising, and spending downtime in their kennel,” says Zimmerman.
6. Get professional help
“When in doubt, consult an experienced dog trainer to help get you on a schedule and set your puppy up for the most success possible, before problem behaviors develop,” advises Zimmerman.
One of the best things I did to prepare us all for success was book a puppy consultation with a local dog trainer. He was able to visit our house and give advice specific to our lifestyle that proved invaluable.
If you're thinking about getting a puppy when you've already got a toddler, I don't think you're insane. Yes, things might look a little chaotic for a while. And you might need to get seriously tough on boundaries with both pup and toddler alike, but that's no bad thing.
From responsibility to respect, children can learn so much from pet ownership. And seeing that special bond form between your kids and family dog is like nothing else.
So I hope I've reassured you that with the right planning, mindset and support in place you can raise a puppy and a toddler simultaneously, without losing your mind!
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