Dear Dr. Jann: My wife and I have just separated and our children are 7 and 10 years old. Two years ago we brought a dog into our family, who we all love so much. My wife wants to keep the dog even though she has the kids half the time. I say the dog should go with the kids. She’s worried that this isn’t good for the dog. Please help.
Dr. Jann says: This is quite a common problem, and I always find it ironic that parents think shared custody is just fine for their kids, but not for their dog.
The goal is always to put your children first, so the answer here is you do whatever will help the children adjust to their parents living in two separate homes. You also want to keep their routine as consistent as possible. If the dog will help them feel more secure in both homes, then the dog should go back and forth. If it adds to the chaos, then the dog should stay at one place.
The problem? If the dog stays with mom and the kids pine for his companionship, that will slow down their adjustment and they will not want to go to dad’s. It’s important that they have both parents in their lives, and it’s important that they look forward to seeing both parents.
Finally, in regards to the dog’s adjustment…animals feed off the emotions of their humans. If the homes are calm and the kids feel safe and secure, the dog will be just fine in either home. If one of the homes is unsettled and filled with anxiety, the dog will be anxious—but so will the kids. Make your decision accordingly.