I have always been a dog lover. I grew up with a rotating pack of dogs who were way more than pets — they were true members of our family. They went on roadtrips with us, slept in our beds, and joined us on vacations. My mom even used to make us get off the sofa for our dogs. (but now where do WE sit?!)

So naturally, I knew my kids would grow up with furry siblings. What I didn’t realize was what they would take away from these relationships. Beyond the obvious benefits of love and companionship, my kids have learned some key life lessons from our dogs.

1. You Can’t Control Everything

This is a big one. The earlier we learn this lesson, the better we are able to handle life’s setbacks and curveballs. When there’s a dog in the house, anything goes.

She chewed your Barbie doll? Probably shouldn’t have left it in the middle of your floor. You were startled when she jumped up on you as you walked in the door? Then assert yourself, and teach her to stay down while she greets you.

Yes, kids like predictability.

But here’s the thing — life is unpredictable. From a young age our kids have stepped in dog poop in the yard (no worries, we’ll clean it up), had toys chewed by teething puppies (a good reminder to put your things away), and have had to maneuver through a maze of dogs when visiting relatives (just let them sniff your hand and say ‘hello,’ then they’ll leave you alone.)

Being around dogs has taught them that things might not always go as planned, and that’s ok.

2. Spend Time Outside Everyday

In this day in age, it’s easy for our kids to go from school, to extra-curricular activities, to homework or screen time, to bed. The benefits of playing outside, or even just going for a short walk, are plentiful. One of the many benefits is emotional well-being.

As Thetrek.co states: “Spending time in nature has been linked to improved attention span, boosts in serotonin, and shows increased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability, and love.”

When there’s a dog who needs to exercise, it’s an instant excuse for kids to be outdoors. Whether it’s throwing a ball in the backyard, taking a walk around the block, or going for a hike in a nearby park, your dog’s need for daily exercise gets your kids outside too. And if that time outside results in clear-headed kids and an exhausted dog, well then it’s a win for parents too!

3. The Importance of Keeping A Loved One’s Memory Alive

For most kids, their first experience with death is that of a pet. When our first two dogs passed away, the kids were devastated, and so were we. It lead to a lot of questions about illness, aging, and what happens when we die. We had a lot of conversations, and one of the big takeaways was that it’s important to talk about these things.

We are constantly talking about the ways our new dog reminds us of our old ones, and remembering funny things they used to do when they were still alive. Learning the importance of talking about and remembering those who are no longer with us will hopefully help them as they grow up and inevitably have to face the loss of family and friends.

4. What You Put into A Relationship is What You Get Out of It

The more affectionate the kids are with our dog, the more attention she gives them. Her excitement when they get home from school, her presence at their games, and her snuggles on the couch, makes them feel appreciated and valued. In return, they read to her, play with her, and generally show her the same unconditional love she shows them.

I hope this teaches them that love is a two way street. In all of their relationships, whether it be with friends, family or spouses, the love they show for others and the way they care for them, will only enhance the love and care they get in return.

The relationship our kids have with our dog will be a defining part of their childhood; she will be what they miss when they go off to college. I know that they will carry the lessons she has taught, and continues to teach, throughout their lives. And for that I’m grateful.

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