Growing up with a family dog not only boosts her sons’ emotional well-being, they benefit in other ways, too.

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“On my 30th birthday, I decided I wanted to become a mum ― not to a child just yet, but more a ‘fur kid’. Initially, I had wanted to buy a puppy, but a friend of mine who works at the SPCA told me it was better to adopt.

So, off I went to the SPCA with my husband, in search of a new addition to our family. It was there that I first met Tarzan, a 1-year-old Labrador who ended up at the SPCA because he had been neglected by his previous owners. He was already grown to his full size by then, but he was still a puppy at heart ― constantly jumping on me and being playful. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, so the second time we went to visit him, I decided he was ours.

It took a while for us to get used to Tarzan’s high-energy levels, but we loved him like a member of our family. Taking care of my new furry friend also made me more aware of the plight of the other dogs out there who had been abandoned or been mistreated by their owners.

Later, when we were fostering an abandoned dog and wanted to find a home for her, we set up a Facebook page and found a lovely home for it through that. Not wanting the page to go to waste, we renamed it Adopt a Dog Singapore , where like-minded people can share news about abandoned dogs, so that we can match them with families who want to adopt a pet.

Through that page, we fostered a few dogs along the way and that’s how we met Zoey, a beautiful golden retriever, three years later. We found her wandering around a park near our condo.

As challenging as that time was for us, it was never an option to give up our on dogs. They were our first babies, they were family, so they were here to stay.

Everyone in my family, including Tarzan, got along very well with Zoey from the get-go. She seemed to just fit, so we kept her. My husband and I knew it was going to be additional work on our part to take care of two big dogs, but we decided we would figure it out as we went along.

Life was pretty sweet with two active dogs. We spent our days taking long walks with Tarzan and Zoey and every weekend, we would plan some kind of dog-friendly activity. We joined other “fur parents” for doggie birthday parties and play dates at dog-friendly parks.

A year and a half later, our little family of four grew even bigger. I was pregnant with our first baby, Joshua. We knew we had to ease our dogs into accepting our newborn’s arrival. So, before we brought Joshua home from the hospital, my husband took a blanket our bub had been wrapped in home to the dogs. He encouraged them to sniff it, so they would get used to the baby’s smell.

We were never worried about our dogs causing our baby harm because they are such gentle creatures. However, as first-time parents, we worried that our “fur kids” would not get on well with our newborn. Would there be any resentment or acting out?

Our fears were unfounded as the dogs were more than accommodating to the new family member. If anything, it was the new routine that freaked them out! Tarzan and Zoey were not used to a crying baby and frazzled first-time parents. They looked confused and puzzled in the midst of all the newborn chaos.

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Juggling a newborn and two dogs was not easy, I’ll admit. Tarzan and Zoey are very well behaved dogs, but they were used to taking two long walks early in the morning and in the evenings. Each walk would last 45 minutes to an hour.

Suffering from new-parent exhaustion didn’t leave us much energy to follow through with the long walks. We also started doing less dog-friendly activities during the weekend as our days were filled with taking care of Joshua. As challenging as that time was for us, it was never an option to give up on our dogs. They were our first babies, they were family, so they were here to stay.

Instead, we decided to get a domestic helper, so that we would have an extra pair of hands around the house. My husband and I still took responsibility for taking care of our dogs, but my helper helped keep the house clean. Since the dogs shed so much, she vacuumed daily and wiped up the gigantic puddles of water Tarzan and Zoey would leave all over the apartment after their weekly baths.

We also decided to tweak our routine a bit. Instead of everyone joining in on the early morning walk with the dogs, my husband and I decided to take turns taking them out with Joshua strapped to a baby carrier. This meant one of us got to rest a bit more. Evening walks were still a family affair and a great way to wind down after dinner.

These tweaks helped us to juggle parenthood and our dogs better. And we were glad we got it figured out because two years later, our second baby, Isaac, joined our family. By now Zoey and Tarzan had also figured out babies, so they didn’t so much as raise a tail when we brought Isaac home.

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Growing up with dogs has been a priceless experience for our sons. Yes, there were a few times when they would get a bit rough with our canines, tugging their tail or ear, and Tarzan would growl at them. But we used it as a teaching moment to educate our toddlers on the need to be gentle with the dogs and treat them with respect.

Now that they are older, our sons have also taken on some of the pet-minding responsibilities. Joshua, who is 3, gives the dogs their food and brushes their fur, while Isaac, who is 19 months, can even walk Zoe by himself because she’s such a calm canine. Living with dogs and taking care of them has also taught my boys to be more empathetic.

By the way, it’s a complete myth that kids who grow up with dogs are more prone to illness or allergies. On the contrary, being exposed to the dirt my dogs drag in and rolling in the fur that they shed have built my sons’ immunity as they hardly fall ill.

To make sure we don’t neglect our dogs even though we have our hands full with two toddlers, my husband and I make it a point to do one dog-friendly activity every weekend. This can be something as simple as a trip to Coney Island, Sentosa beach or West Coast Park which is near our condo and super dog-friendly.

It is indeed a sight to see our family of six pile up into our SUV. Two adults in the front, two toddlers at the back and two big dogs in the boot. We look like a clown car!

There really is no greater feeling than walking through the door after a long day and be greeted by my excited “fur kids” and their sloppy “kisses” – best feeling ever!

Now that my boys are growing up, they are more aware that some people are afraid of dogs, especially big dogs like Tarzan and Zoey. Some of our neighbours have also refused to enter the lift because of our dogs and Joshua just doesn’t understand why. I try to explain to him that some people are afraid of dogs. But it’s hard for him to understand ― because he’s been on the receiving end of unconditional love from our dogs since the day he was born, he doesn’t see why anyone would be afraid of that.

So, when we are out, I encourage strangers to pet our dogs if they look interested, but a bit hesitant. In a few instances, it has actually worked and they warm up to our furry family members. It’s important for me to make sure my sons see this, so they can continue following my example when they grow up to bust the myth that big dogs are scary and harmful.

Dogs make great first pets for little kids because they are so loving and playful, but I would not suggest getting puppies, as adorable as they are, because they require more commitment than older dogs. Juggling a demanding puppy with babies or toddlers can be overwhelming, such that a lot of families give up their dogs eventually.

Also, don’t get your child a dog as a present, because then they will see the pet as an item they can dispose of when they get bored, instead of as a lifelong commitment. And remember to never compromise on walks for your dogs. It’s very important they get two long walks every day. Long walks help dogs expend their energy and they are less aggressive because of that.

As you can imagine, with two toddlers and two big dogs, our home is never quiet, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. There really is no greater feeling than walking through the door after a long day and be greeted by my excited “fur kids” and their sloppy “kisses” ― best feeling ever!

Jessica Gullichsen, 37, a journalist, is mum to Isaac, 19 months, Joshua, 3, and Tarzan and Zoe, both 9.

Photos: Jessica Gullichsen

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