When Should We Add a New Dog?

Dear Madeline,

Thank you so much for all of the helpful information on your blog- I’ve shared it far and wide with other parents/dog-owners!

Our family dog passed away about six months ago, when my son (an only child) was 6 months old. We would like to have another dog at some point, but we also plan to have another child when our first is around 3 years old. We’re trying to think about the best time to bring a new dog into the mix. It was very easy (for us) having a dog with a newborn who left the dog alone, but I worry about the grabby, unsteadily-mobile toddler phase. We do plan to follow your guidance on teaching babies that dogs are to be left alone, but I wonder if you have any suggestions on when there might be a good window to bring home another dog. I probably wouldn’t mind waiting till our youngest is old enough to interact appropriately with dogs, but I don’t think my husband wants to wait that long. If you have any suggestions or food for thought, I’d love to hear them! Thanks!


Thanks for the great question! I’m really sorry for the loss of your dog.  One of our dogs died suddenly when our first child was just a year old and we still miss him ten years later.

I think the answer to your question is going to be different for different families — kind of like the universal wondering about the best spacing of children.  That’s because there’s probably a similar amount of hard parts and joyful parts, just a different mix of when and what might be hard.  So, what might seem like a good idea to me, for my family, might not work for you and vice-versa.


Consider the Basics

Number One thing in my book is that you guys – the parents – have to want another dog for yourselves.  Sounds like you’ve got that covered.

Next is to factor in what the dog is going to need from you in order to develop into a stable, welcome family member for many years to come.  I want you to really enjoy your new dog’s company.  Usually, this means a good exercise plan, attention to training default behaviors (what you want your dog to do even when you are not telling him what to do) and the expectation that you will feel frustrated and annoyed but will still choose patience and understanding as best you can — just like you will do as you add children to your family.

You and your husband can make a specific plan with your goals for family life with a new dog.  Want a dog that can walk calmly with the stroller?  Set out a plan for building loose leash walking and work on it together.  Know your dog will need to be OK crated or behind a gate at times?  Make that part of the routine from the start.  Same with all the typical annoying behaviors — you have an opportunity to “grow” the dog your family needs through training.

Write down what you want from the dog and lay out a plan for how you can accomplish that.  Does it seem reasonable for your current schedule?  Work together! (Sometimes I say in my classes that the person who loves/wants the dog the most should be responsible for doing most of the training and exercising, except when the person who loves the dog the most is the one who is actually having the baby.  Then, the person who loves the person who loves the dog the most should take on more responsibility…)

When adding a dog to any family, even without kids, it’s important to know how you are going to make it all work successfully.


My Quick Answer

I have half a dozen posts/articles in-progress that never get finished because I always want to write more!  So, for this question, I will at least get right to a quick answer for you and maybe come back and write in more detail later.  (This topic is planned for a whole chapter in my book.)

I’d lean towards getting a dog now if you and your husband are missing having a dog.

Benefits of “Now:”

  • If you wait until your one-year-old is at a “better” age, your next baby is going to be at a difficult age.  There isn’t really an age in the near future when your first child is going to be truly “helpful” with the dog while you tend to the new baby.  My older son is ten and he’s pretty helpful and reliable now, but my seven-year-old still requires my guidance and watchful eye.
  • With only one child, you and your husband can better “divide and conquer” so one of you can be working with the dog and one with the baby.  Or, when you are home by yourself, you can still do better attending to the dog’s training with only one baby to manage.  A well-trained dog is such a blessing!
  • AND, a one-year-old is still a stroller/highchair kid.  Once they hit the age where they won’t be strapped into anything anymore, it gets harder to manage anything with a baby on the loose!
  • The dog can acclimate to your child(ren) as they grow.  Adding a dog to a family with kids already in place is a different situation (again, another book chapter!).
  • It will also be easier with a one year old to not have the dog be a big deal so you can start off without having your baby be “magnetized” to the dog, making it easier to manage everyone when you add the second baby. Right from the start, you can build your “internal prompts” and establish ways of co-existing in a friendly manner that does not involve a toddler “exploring” the dog.

I don’t think there’s a time when it’s “easy” to add a new creature to the family (human or canine!).  There will always be an adjustment period where new additions do NOT seem like a good idea after all, but then you make it work and it seems like your family would be incomplete without them.  Whatever you decide will be fine in its own way:  IF you go into it with a plan!

Good books:

Happy Kids, Happy Dogs by Barbara Shumannfang

Living With Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar


Warning:  You didn’t mention if you were considering a puppy or adult dog (yet another book chapter!).  I just want to mention that a risk factor is “dog new to the home.”  All dogs need a bit of a settling-in period and time to build their connections with their new family.  Do not assume any new dog is “good” with your baby or that the safety of your baby should somehow be left to the judgment of any dog.




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  1. There is another book and CD that I have called ‘Tell your dog you’re pregnant: an essential guide for dog owners expecting a baby. It is written by a vet too and I found it very helpful.

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