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A Boy and His Purse Dog

A Boy & His Pursedog

By Amalah

Amalah is currently on maternity leave. In her absence, however, she’s just as tethered to the computer as ever, and will be using this space to ask you — our intrepid Advice Smackdown Commenter Crew — questions. What’s been baffling her, as a parent, you may wonder? Why, she’s so glad you asked!

Advice Smackdown ArchivesDear Internet Wan-Kenobi,

We got our dog before we had kids. Before we had a house. Or a yard. Basically before our lives resembled anything even close to what they are now. So we have a little dog. A city dog. A tiny high-strung runt of a thing who basically wants four things in life: 1) Access to my lap and my lap only, 2) imaginary things to bark at, 3) people food people food PEOPLE FOOD, and 4) to otherwise be left alone to sun herself on velvet throw pillows. She likes walks but not to the playground (makes her nervous), she likes chasing balls and sticks but not bringing them back, and she likes our kids up until they are too tall for her to steal crackers and waffles from. Then she pretty much has no use for them, other than a misguided excuse for barking to PROTECT PROTECT PROTECT I AM EIGHT POUNDS OF TERRIFYING GUARD DOG FURY.

Basically, we don’t have a kids‘ kind of dog. I know this. She’s not a big ol’ furry lab or golden retriever, she’s a dainty and easily startled pursedog. She has never, ever shown any aggression towards our boys, and we’ve worked very, very hard to make sure they understand that she is NOT a toy, but an animal who can easily be hurt or scared and must be treated gently.

What we seem to have missed along the way is…well, any nice sort of boy-and-his-dog BOND of any kind. Noah loves dogs — big dogs — but generally sees Ceiba as little more than an annoyance. (She DID steal snacks out of his hands and mouth for YEARS, though, so she’s hardly blameless.) He tries to play with her but I’m usually intervening within five minutes because he’s trying to carry her around or lay on her and she’s protesting and I worry Noah doesn’t know his own strength. Or they do engage in a nice game of chase or tug-of-war but Ceiba’s totally over it after a few minutes and heads off to lie down while Noah still wants to play and doesn’t understand that he can’t MAKE her do anything. Basically, I’m not really getting the sense that either of the boys particularly LIKE our poor little dog and I’m wondering if there’s anything at all we can do to course-correct.

(Our cat, on the other hand, obviously isn’t a big rascally playmate either, but they LOVE him anyway. He regularly submits to being a big furry body pillow for them and occasionally sneaks in bed with them, and this seems to be enough to cement their complete adoration of their kitty cat.)

(Maybe they’re just…cat people?)

Anyway, we’ve tried getting Noah more involved in Ceiba’s care — letting her out in the backyard, holding her leash on walks, “helping” me give her baths — but then I wonder if he’s now just thinking of her as a chore, and if there’s a different approach I should be taking. And I have no idea how to make a DOG engage or play more with children, or if I should just be happy that everybody seems independently happy and nobody’s hurting each other.

Any ideas, Oh Great Internet? Or is ignoring the long-suffering, always-there family pet just a common thing for preschoolers, because new puppies and other people’s dogs are just always going to be more exciting and attractive than what you already have?


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Julie

    June 13, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I vote for this: (Maybe they’re just…cat people?)

    I am just cat people, and just don’t jive with dogs, big or small. Maybe your boys are the same way! Maybe Ceiba can just stay ‘yours and Jason’s dog’ and Max can be the family cat since he seems more disposed to interacting with the kids?

  • leah

    June 13, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    We have a big dog (collie mix) and a small dog (rat terrier) and three kids, almost 5, 2, and almost 1. I think your last sentence is right on the money. I’d phrase it as a declarative and not a question. 🙂 that said, this last weekend we got the almost 5 year old into dog training a bit by teaching her basic concepts of clicker training and letting her go nuts.  I told her to use “YES!” as a marker for when the dog does what she wants, and always give a treat when she says “YES!” She loved it, the dog loved it, it was probably not the fastest/most effective route to clicker training but everyone involved had fun and bonded a bit. We’ll see how well it goes in the future, but that might be fun for you too. My dogs aren’t tolerant enough for me to let the kids play roughhousing games with them, so this seems like it might be a great bonding middle ground.

  • leah

    June 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Oh, and by treats I mean the little tiny training treats from Trader Joes. Not, like, a giant milkbone whenever or something.

  • IrishCream

    June 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    I guess I lean towards letting well enough alone, especially if the boys haven’t expressed a serious desire to play with the dog they way they might with a more traditional family dog. If everyone gets along and no one’s demanding a new puppy of their very own, then it’s all good.

    Otherwise, maybe Noah could be taught how to brush her/scratch behind her ears/give her a belly rub? I know those aren’t super-fun activities for him, but they might feel less chore-like than feeding or walking her.

  • Trish

    June 13, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    You Ask:
    Or is ignoring the long-suffering, always-there family pet just a common thing for preschoolers, because new puppies and other people’s dogs are just always going to be more exciting and attractive than what you already have?

    I don’t think this is it at all. Ceiba just isn’t fun. The boys have to be too careful with her.

    More productive questions are: Could we handle another dog? Do the boys want another dog… one that’s theirs?

    A family dog doesn’t have to be big like a lab or retriever, it just has to have a more laid back temperament. We had a dachshund when I was growing up that predated me. She let me dress her up, use her as a pillow or foot warmer, would go for a run.

  • the grumbles

    June 13, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Some dogs just don’t gel as well with kids. Ceiba might be that dog. I’ve noticed especially with smaller dogs their temperament isn’t always a great mix.

    We have two (dogs, not kids, one kid). Our english bulldog is FAB with kids. She and our son are best buds, go everywhere together, wrestle, play, etc. She engages him and vice versa.

    Our other dog, who recently passed away, was older and grouchy and just not… kids. He liked his space and we had to go out of our way to make sure he always had a toddler-free zone to retreat to. So the dog itself can make a pretty big difference.

    It always helped though to point out things that older boring dog did/liked as a way to connect. Conversations about his favorite things (balls, squirrels, etc.) seemed good. I’d shy away from the chore aspect of it, I would hate for them to think of her as that annoying thing that never plays and needs all this stuff, know what I mean?

    Or, maybe they don’t like dogs. Then I have no idea.

  • Heidi T

    June 13, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    We have a miniature pinscher also (or as my 5 year called it for years – Minister Pincher). His name is Robin. Although he is yappy and would like access to my lap at all times, we have definitely done a couple things to make him my kids (8 year old girl and 5 year old boy) dog too. My daughter is allowed to take him to her room and dress him up? cuddle him? make him recite Shakespeare with her? We don’t know – we don’t get involved. We have gotten my son involved with teaching him tricks and rewarding him with biscuits. Also, they like to play fetch together a lot and Robin likes licking him as he is often sticky.

    We are not getting another dog anytime soon (too much work for me) so this will be the dog that my kids remember from their childhood (he is only 3 years old, and is small dog, so will live forever)

  • Dawn K

    June 13, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Ceiba is a small delicate dog, and while small dogs have their place, that is not normally in a household with small children, especially boys. You have rough and tumble boys who want to play rough with the dog. Sorry dear, but you need a big ole golden retriever or a lab to rassle with those boys! I understand that isn’t necessarily practicle for your family at this point (new baby, older family pets already, etc.). But it may be something you want to think about when you are ready for a new pet. In the meantime, see if you can befriend someone with a larger dog that is more comfortable with children and let the boys have some play time with a larger more attentive pet that way.

  • enginerd

    June 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I would second the training idea. Get Noah to teach Ceiba some fun tricks (not hard if she’s food motivated). It will them both bond with one another. Playing dead is a trick that kids love to see dogs do and it isn’t hard to teach if the dog doesn’t mind showing its belly.

  • cagey

    June 13, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I think it is simply a mix of personalities with ALL involved – animals and humans.  My son is CRAZY about the dog and the cats and the fish and the tarantula.  My daughter is CRAZY about the cats and is only semi-interested in the fish and the tarantula.  Generally, the dog annoys her because she is stinky (the dog, not the daughter)

    Oddly, BOTH kids get super-hyped over a new dog – both at the dog park and in our own yard (we have tons of dog-walkers who pass by every day).

  • Brooke

    June 13, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Our son is 3 months old, and right now our dog alternates between being protective of ‘his’ baby and “What baby? There is no baby. These are not the droids you are looking for.” I also wonder if our kid and dog are ever gonna be able to play together. Of course, our dog is 10 years old so odds are good he’ll die before our son is coordinated enough to play tug of war or fetch with him. I know it sounds cold, but Ceiba won’t be around forever which will eventually solve the problem….

  • JB

    June 13, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Many of these are harsh responses….what gives, people?

    I do think it’s that some dogs don’t like young children. But, your kids will grow older and might start to appreciate her more.

    I would second the previous response to teach them “fun” activities with Ceiba – brush her, throw a ball for her, take cute pictures of her, give her a stuffed toy, help feed her, teach her a trick (if that’s possible)…etc.

    I think you’re a GREAT person for asking this question, by the way – considerate of both the animals and humans in your household. 🙂 [[ps sorry if this double-posts, my internetz is weird today]]

  • Katina

    June 13, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Don’t have dogs…or kids…(so you can totally discount my post if you like), but I think the whole dogs and kids getting along is highly dependent on the dogs and kids in question. my coworker has 2 rat terriers (which are about the same age) and 2 boys (4 and 2). One of the dogs LOVES and adores the kids, the other tends to avoid them.

    A bigger dog isn’t a bad idea, but make sure you care more about personality over breed – labs/retrievers are great, but they can also be high energy and can easily get too excited and knock over little kids (I once had a lab/pointer that easily would jump 4 feet in the air when he was excited, and my springer spaniel growing up routinely knocked me and my sister over, and that’s when we were 7 and 8 years old). Smaller dogs in the jack russell/rat terrier range generally don’t knock over kids, but they can also be very high energy (knew two jack russells that could easily bounce 3 feet in the air – one of which who would launch himself off the couch at guests as they walked in the front door)

    All that being said, i know my sister and I BEGGED our parents for a dog (thus the springer spaniel), and of course the newness wore off and then he was just there until I actually started wanting to be around him when I was in junior high. Of course, that also was about the time that he didn’t act like a crazed lunatic trying to knock us over or drag us everywhere during a walk all the time (which means he was about 5 or 6 when he finally ran out of that “puppy” energy).

    basically don’t get a puppy – they’re cute and they’re fun, but there’s no way to tell if you have a crazy one or a laid back one until they’re about 1; and then depending on the breed, it could be another 4 years before they calm down enough for your kids to want to be around them.

  • -k-

    June 13, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I vote live and let live. As JB says, this dynamic might change as the kids get older and can deal with the dog on her terms. Or maybe not. Either way, personalities kind of are what they are, in dogs and in people, and it sounds like you have a pretty good idea of the type of personality Ceiba has. You could train her to do different things, but I don’t think you can train her into being something else. And that’s okay.

    Meanwhile.. here’s to the cat!

  • Ashlea

    June 13, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I really don’t believe the people above who say boys and small dogs don’t mix. I really feel that isn’t the case at all!

    I believe it is all about personality. The boys, AND the dogs. We have a mini foxy and a son, and they get on so well. Our dog was here well before baby, and he has loved my son since the moment we brought him home. They are always within a couple of metres of eachother, and they play together happily. He also plays really well with older children (5+). I think its all about the kind of dog you have, and what personality that they have too.

  • Paige

    June 14, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Well, I don’t know about preschoolers, but my toddler (20 months) and our dog (a 2 1/2 year old, 45 pound Finnish Spitz) get along pretty much as if they are both toddlers. There’s a lot of parallel play. Sometimes she throws balls or sticks around and he barks at them, which is as close to playing fetch as this dog ever gets anyway. When she’s calm, my toddler loves on the dog, with cuddles, petting and kisses. He tolerates this, sometimes even seeking it out, unless he’s trying to sleep, in which case he gets up and barks. When she’s wild, she teases him, which makes him bark (seeing a theme here yet?) and then they get separated, which makes him bark. One thing I’ve noticed is that she truly loves sharing with the dog – she tries to give him food scraps and toys. That’s pretty much mutual – he brings her toys and his food ball. One of her favorite things is to give him treats, which she asks to do often… more often than he needs them, really. She’s picked up a lot of our regular training commands for him, particularly “hush” “shh” and “quiet.” He barks a lot, can you tell?

    I think the other commenters are right – it’s all about personality. If you want two people to be friends, their personalities must mesh. If you want a kid and a dog to be friends, their personalities have to mesh too. I don’t think you can force companionship on either party. With the new baby, perhaps now isn’t the time to get a puppy, but maybe in a year or two you’ll be ready to face puppy training again, and you can raise a dog that will be more interested in playing with kids, because it’s what he knows.

  • Olivia

    June 14, 2011 at 9:52 am

    I say leave well enough alone. If the dog just isn’t into the kids that’s okay. As long as she doesn’t bite. My dog is a lab/cocker spaniel mix who has always been friendly with people and kids. Yet, at 10 yrs old she really doesn’t give a flip about our toddler except to hoover up the crumbs on the floor. Maybe when my daughter is a little older I’ll teach her to throw a ball for the dog, but meh. I see one benefit to them not having a close relationship is that hopefully when the dog dies my daughter won’t be terribly heart broken.

  • Clueless

    June 14, 2011 at 11:59 am

    I agree with leaving well enough alone. We live in a household of constantly manuvering so that my 14 month old son and 6 year old mix are not in the same room unless the baby is unreachable. Our dog just does not do well with anyone other than my husband and me (and a few choice friends). Teaching tricks sounds like it could be fun. Just remember, you can’t change a dog’s personality just like you can’t change a person’s personality. Hopefully your boys will grow to love and appreciate the dog for who she is.

  • Anne

    June 14, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    I have an 8 lb dog as well and I’m pregnant now, so this is a major concern to me. However, I can comment on his interactions with my nephews, with whom he’s spent a fair amount of time.

    He really has no interest in playing with them. They are very rambunctious and always want to pick him up. He runs away from them. Our best solution has been to tell the kids to leave the dog alone, sadly. The dog has been more receptive to smaller children in my neighborhood who just want to pet him, so I have hopes that if my baby girl is gentle, he will be OK around her.

    My advice for your boys would be to let the dog and the boys live their separate lives. It doesn’t sound like either side is super interested in the other, and the dog will definitely be happier if the wild boys just leave her alone. Maybe get a bigger dog when you’re ready. (I would rescue an adult so you know their temperament with kids.)

  • Amy in StL

    June 14, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Some dogs – like some people – just don’t like kids. My Sheltie mix never liked anyone under the height of about 4′. He actually growled when a child approached – and little girls wanted to pet him all the time. I made him submit to gentle petting, but he never liked kids. (Honestly, I don’t really like kids all that much until they’re about 6.) My new dog of uncertain (corgi? spaniel?) origin loves kids. He’s gentle and curious and gravitates to every stroller and small child we see. Your boys may not be interested in a dog that isn’t interested in them.
    My mom’s Cocker Spaniel left home when she brought me home (the second child in 12 years!) and she had to go pick her up at the neighbors house. So be glad that Ceiba doesn’t run to the neighbors at the first opportunity!

  • Margie

    June 14, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I ‘m a fan of live and let live. We’ve got a 3 year old, a 10 day old and a pit bull/husky mix. For the most part, the 3 year old and the dog seem to regard each other as furniture around the house. They usually ignore the other’s presence unless they’re super-bored. Sometimes Logan will hug the dog, and sometimes the dog will lick Logan, but usually they just do their own thing and neither is ever upset when the other is ignoring him. (The dog seems to like the newborn, but that may be because his diapers smell awesome.)

    That being said, Logan gets super excited about literally every other dog we encounter. He’s got stuffed puppies that are also way more exciting than the real dog walking around the house. I guess the tail is always waggier on the other side of the leash.

  • Cary

    June 16, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Fostering is always an option. The shelter are in desperate need of temporary homes for pups and moms with pups. Also, this way you can see if the desire for a puppy lasts after the novelty of it fades, without having to take on a life long commitment.

  • Nicole

    June 16, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    eh, let them be. We currently live in manhattan, with 3 (count ’em, three) chihuahuas and a 14 month old. She pets the doggies nicely, but that’s about all the interaction either I or the dogs are comfortable with. My plan is to get a large breed puppy the second we have a back yard (about a year, ish) for the baby to maul and crawl all over from day one, and that will be her dog. The chichis are mine 🙂

  • Leslie

    June 20, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Another vote for letting it be!  Our German Shorthaired Pointer was 2 when we brought home our son, and she adored him from the second we walked in that front door (as in, sleeping next to the cradle, crying outside the nursery door when we let him “cry it out”, laying nose-to-nose with him during tummy time and all kinds of cuteness like that).  Now that Riggs is 14 months old, they are really starting to interact more.  It all just happened very naturally, which I think can all be attributed to our dog’s breed and personality.  BUT, that doesn’t mean that your boys wouldn’t benefit for some fun activities like non-chore-related training, playing, etc.

    As for the “boys and small dogs” thing, my husband and his brother are big man’s man kind of guys, and a few years ago I watched them both cry like babies as they buried the miniature dachshund they’d had since they were little boys. That dog was the only pet they ever knew, and she loved them both to pieces, so it worked, even if it was hilarious to see two muscly grown boys carrying around a little rat of a dog! 🙂  

  • dayna

    June 20, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    We had the same concern with our little dog and we somewhat dumbly developed the solution of adding another dog. It worked out swimmingly for the kids but oy, two dogs. I regularly wonder aloud how that happened because I am very much a cat person. Dog #2 is the same mix of breeds as #1 (dachshund/pekingese) but way more “sturdy”. He’s practically a mid-size dog (that does mid-size things like dig holes and get filthy) while the older gal is tiny… about 10 lbs. He tolerates all manner of dress-up and will play tennis ball for many minutes before his wee, dachshund like legs just need to rest, man. He is a good sport. Also, dirty. Dog #1 and I can barely abide his presence. 🙂

  • Tracy

    June 21, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    It’s too bad your cat lets them get physically affectionate, because I was going to suggest teaching them to treat the dog as if it were a cat (petting and feeding are good, rough and tumble play is not appreciated). But that might be a good way to ease into it – tell them that Ceiba is more like a cat and less like the dogs they see on dog food commercials.

  • tasterspoon

    June 21, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Agree with you that there has to be payoff (snuggles and roughhousing) for the work (walks and scooping) to be interesting for the boys. I think it’s not fair to make them do doggy chores if you are the only one getting doggy love: your dog, your chores.
    But at least the boys have an animal pal, right? They get their quota of furry snuggles. So maybe Ceiba isn’t their go-to buddy, it doesn’t sound like they or Ceiba is all that sad about it – and she’s still part of the family/pack so it doesn’t seem like she’s losing out. If it were me, I wouldn’t get another pet until all three sons are willing to share the work.

    (To echo previous dog-specific comments: I had a small, highly-strung, untrainable, non-responsive, chain-smoking Kishu mix and a big, sweet, dopey, cuddle-bug of a Lab mix. Completely contrary to expectation, the lab had zero tolerance for children, would growl and move away, while the Japanese dog looooved them and would let babies completely abuse her. Sometimes it’s just the dog and you take them as they come. But there’s a lesson there about family, somewhere.)

  • Trina

    June 22, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I have a 6 pound chihuahua who has been exposed to kids earlier in his life, as I used to work at a preschool and they loved having special visits with my pup. I would be there to control the situation (which I know might not be possible if you’re a mom at home with kids and pups!)…showing how to pet him and really praising my dog and the children the whole time. I’d start off my holding the dog and then once everyone got their pets in (and the excitement for the children and the pup had died down some), I’d let him be free and tell the children to sit down on the ground if they wanted to get some time with the dog. Seemed to work!

    I’m expecting a boy and I’m hoping they form a bond as strong as my husband and I have with our dog. I can speak from experience with my nephews and my dog, I think it truly depends on the dog’s personality and not the breed or size. And I think another factor is the children’s personality and age.

    Our dog really likes our nephews and I always let them give him treats first thing to start things off right. Our dog does his fair share of tricks so I always have the boys make the pup perform before they give the treat away. It makes the boys laugh and my dog’s excited because he get’s 3 treats. :0)

    The boys can get a little excited from time to time and they have been prone to chasing the dog, but the dog puts up with it. He lets them carry him too and doesn’t get mad when the toddler pokes him in the eyes and ears. Although, I keep an eye on the situation and if I see my dog tiring from all the “games” I either put him in his house or hold him for a bit. So maybe set a time limit to the play time with the dog, if only at first? And I think giving your dog lots of treats during their interaction together, at least to start off, is a good idea. Teaching tricks is great too!

    I don’t know if it will help our future son and dog’s relationship, but once we’ve found out we were expecting, we starting tugging gently on our dog’s ears and tail, petting him and bugging him while he eats and smothering him with hugs etc to get him ready for our son. Hopefully it helps! Currently, he couldn’t care less when we do these things, so hopefully he will feel the same when our son does it! :0)