I know I have written this elsewhere in other articles, but I felt the need to touch on this subject further. I am hoping this will be helpful for families who are thinking of breeding their dog or are looking to buy a dog and have children under the age of 21. I am assuming that many reading this article have read some of the numerous publications on Shih Tzus. A good portion of them suggest that Shih Tzus and children do not mix. Well, my household is obvious proof that these writers are incorrect. I have three children and in 2005, I owned four dogs and had numerous litters; my children were all under the age of 8 yrs. My dogs are absolutely wonderful with my kids and they love to have their attention; of course, my children are happy to bestow their love. I have seen them play dress up, hide and seek, go down playground slides, dance, waiting in a playhouse, covered in bows... the list is almost endless. I am not saying I have approved all of these activities, but, after everything, my dogs still love my children. What some of the books you might have read are saying is that children are too hard on Shih Tzus and most breeders will not sell to a home with children. It is true that children can be hard on the breed but there are certainly many breeders who will still sell you a dog if you have children. Actually, there are breeders who would be more likely to accept you as a new owner because you have children.
So what to do? I have a few suggestions that should help decrease your worry. First, I want to start with getting to know your children. If you have never owned a dog before you will want to take the time to find out how your children (ages 5-10) will do with a puppy or a rescue dog. Try asking a friend for some playtime with their dog or find a breeder near you who would be willing to let your children play with their breeding stock or any pets they might have. If your children handle these dogs without any real maliciousness then you can be pretty sure they will handle a new pet well. This does not mean they won't try inappropriate activities with your pet, like going down a slide, as they are still children.
Most children (aged newborn-10) can be capable of holding a puppy too tight or in a dangerous way so you will have to watch them. If you are looking to breed, generally, anyone under the age of eighteen should be supervised with puppies younger than 9 weeks. I know that there are many who are very adept at taking care of a new born puppy but they are not everyone. Anyone who is not mature enough to never let their mind off that puppy is bound to make a mistake and it is better just to be cautious. Very small children (ages newborn-2) will have to be watched continually around the dog, for their own protection and the dog's, to keep your child from being licked to death; many dogs love the smell of a baby. You also want to protect your dog from hands that grab hair and pull when it is in range. For toddlers (ages 2-5), please also watch them continuously around any dogs under the age of 8 months. They are likely to carry the dog in a choke hold, throw a heavy object in the dog's direction or fall on the dog. As the dog grows older and your children more accustomed you will be able to worry less.
Despite what you are thinking after reading this far, you can still have a puppy or rescue dog in your home. Once you know how your children are likely to treat a dog you can decide which of my next suggestions will help and which you can skip over. It all pretty much starts with teaching. Teach your children about the science of a growing dog. Puppies are extremely fragile when they are born. If you think babies are fragile, multiply that by 20. Babies can survive a pitfall, surgery, loneliness, and other problems; not very well, but they can live through it. In fact, it is ingrained into my head the time a relative dropped my new baby from a standing height onto a hard floor. I called the pediatrician, frantic, and she told me that children are surprisingly resilient and if she were not displaying certain signs she would be fine. If the same thing were to happen to a new born puppy and they were to survive, in any condition, you could consider it a miracle. A puppy under 9 weeks of age (95% of the time) will not survive an overnight stay at a vet office, operation, a fall from standing height, or loneliness. Whatever you do please do not scare your child. By explaining this, I am hoping you will know what your child will need to hear to impress upon them how careful they need to be.
Once puppies reach the age of about 3 weeks they can be held for short periods of time. My children eagerly watch the puppies through their cage for their eyes to open because then I will allow my kids to sit on the floor next to the cage and hold a puppy down in their lap. This usually lasts no longer than a minute or two. When my youngest was three she was allowed to hold one as long as my hands are also on the puppy to keep her from squeezing it. When the puppies start to fight with one another I allow my kids to play with them under the rule that they are not allowed to lift feet, legs, or bottom from the floor. This way I can keep a puppy from getting accidentally squished. If I am keeping one of my puppies I will allow my kids to walk around with the puppy once it is 9 weeks old. As long as you are able and willing to keep a constant eye on that puppy around your children, all can be well. This brings me to the next step. How you train your puppy and the rules of your household will make you less worried about the interaction between your puppy/dog and your kids. These are only ideas, as is everything on this page, and not law.
I have given many reasons for cage training throughout my site and here is yet another one. When you cage train your dog you will be able to put your puppy away for rest and alone time without worrying if your children will suddenly pounce. You can also protect your puppy from settling under dangerous pieces of furniture, eating inappropriate objects, or getting caught in everyday traffic. Many homes have never used a cage and their dogs have grown up healthy and well but not every home is the same and it takes one accident to send you to your emergency vet.
This may sound terrible and before you condemn me I beg you to read on. From experience with my own children, I know that some kids will not accept no when you tell them to leave the puppy or dog alone. I cannot live my life next to my dog's cage watching for my children. I have other things that must be done and I have come in from another room to find a puppy running around that was previously resting in it's cage and is now under my feet. In this instance, especially if you want to breed and your children are fascinated with the new puppies, a padlock on the cage to ensure your dog's safety no longer sounds cruel. This should not have to be a constant practice if yours is just a pet. In fact, I only to had to protect my cages for the first day or so and then my children understood my rule. As for breeding, I find that the only child I can trust not to touch the tiny puppies is my nine year old. My seven year old still has yet to win my trust enough for me to take the padlock off the cage, which protects mother and pups from her eager hands. She just finds it too difficult to resist such tiny little puppies whom she is only sometimes allowed to touch.
Join the Play
When you take the time to join your children when they play with the puppy you open up a world of opportunities. You are now able to show your child how to correctly hold and pet a dog. You can show them how to play without causing pain or injury. Tell them that the same things that hurt your child will hurt the puppy. Show them how to train the dog. Teach your child the same commands you are teaching or have taught your dog. The possibilities are endless and you will be training up a wonderful animal advocate.
You Own the Dog
Most people cannot expect their child to completely take care of a Shih Tzu. I honestly suggest that you not let a child under the age of 16 really own a Shih Tzu. You should be the caretaker to ensure the dog's health. With most breeds, particularly this one, that means the dog is yours. You may call it the family pet and your children and your dog will still have a wonderfully close relationship but that means the dog stays when your child leaves home. A child will still gain everything you want them to gain even if they cannot call their dog their own. In fact, you will ensure they will not make the same blunders when they are ready to buy a pet of their own. When considering the life and health of a living being, your puppy, it is best to rule first and reconsider later. *And yet again, for those of you who happen to be younger than 16 and you are the caretaker of your dog I ask you to not be offended. You are rare and most assuredly blessed.
Share the Chores
Take the time to allow your child to help you with the little things that you do to take care of your dog. Let them fill the water or food, clean the cage, change the bedding, help you walk or let them outside for potty breaks. Let your child hold the blow dryer when you are cleaning your dog. Let them run the brush through your dog's coat a final time. Put the dog on your child's lap in a towel to hold before blow drying. As your children get older they will be able to help with more things. We had an aging poodle when I was 13 and my parents allowed me to do all the grooming. It depends on the abilities of your child. Make sure that it does not become a drudging activity. You may have to be creative, as you do not want your child to ever resent your pet. I try to always ask my children if they would like to help me do certain things rather than assigning them those chores. Leave assignments for other household chores as they will have to learn to care for themselves. With your pet, it is better to do everything in your power to ensure he is loved by everyone in your home, and if you are not willing to take over all care of your dog then you should rethink getting one.
Having a pet in your home can be a wonderful blessing and you don't have to walk on eggshells. Shih Tzus can be generalized but they are likely to take on the personality of your family if you have chosen your puppy wisely. Each breed has general tendencies in personality. As long as you remember that a Shih Tzu must have one owner who is the one and only person that will never change and always take care of them while still attaching themselves to everyone they come in contact with, you will be able to ensure your new dog a loving and happy home. Please also remember that if I have confused you or left anything out that you feel is important please contact me. I am always glad to hear from you.