Dogs Teach Responsibility
If your child has been asking for a dog, you may hesitate to get him one. He has probably promised that he will feed the dog and walk him every day without being told. He may beg and plead, but all you can see is a child who can’t even keep track of where his shoes are.
You may be thinking – How in the world is he going to take care of a dog, when he’s forgotten his homework three times this week?
You are right to take your time with this decision. Waiting for a month or two will help you evaluate whether your child really wants the dog or is just going through a phase. Animal shelters are full of dogs that were acquired on impulse, and later abandoned when the appeal dimmed for the owner.
Getting your child a dog might be a good way to teach him about responsibility. As a trial, you may want to play a pretend game. Give your child a stuffed toy. Each day, you should make your child pretend to feed, water, play with, and walk the toy dog.
After a week or two, talk to your child about what he thinks about dog ownership now. Ask him if it was worth it to interrupt his own activities to take care of the dog. Don’t demand instant answers. Allow him to really think through his answers for a day or two. Help your child understand that dog ownership has wonderful benefits, but it is not always all fun and games.
Another way to have a dog ownership trial is to care for a friend’s dog in your home while they are away on vacation. This will give your child firsthand experience in what dog ownership entails.
If your child still insists that he wants a dog, carefully research the breed that you intend to buy. Not all breeds are suited for every family. Give your older child the responsibility of researching three or four possible breeds, listing the pros and cons of each kind of dog.
Don’t allow your child to fall for a particular breed based upon what kind of dog is popular or cute. Make him learn about some of the common behavior traits of that breed to get a full picture of what owning that kind of dog will be like.
Bringing your child on board for this task will teach him that dog ownership is a responsibility that one should take seriously as a long-term commitment.
Age Appropriate Tasks
One thing that will encourage your child in learning to be a responsible pet owner is assigning him age-appropriate tasks. Giving him more responsibility than he is ready for will only frustrate him and set him up for failure. A small child, seven or eight years of age, can keep the water bowl filled and feed the dog, if there are no food aggression issues.
They may also be able to brush the dog and help pick up his toys. However, you will probably have to remind him often to do these things.
Older kids who are nine to twelve years old can take on more responsibility, along with the above listed tasks. If the dog isn’t too large they can probably walk him once a day and play games like Frisbee with him. They can help clean up the poop from the yard and train him.
However, you will probably need to supervise some dogs and some kids, at least for a while, to make sure that the dog listens to the child and the child is handling the dog appropriately.
In theory, teens should be able to do all of the dog-care tasks on their own. However, the teenage brain can be notoriously unreliable. You should expect to have to give your teen reminders, and you may need to set up parameters to help him remember to do his dog-care chores. Rules like, “No electronics until the dog is walked and fed each morning” will help him stay motivated to make dog-care a priority.
Exercise and Health
Many children struggle with getting enough exercise. Getting a dog can help your kids take responsibility for their own health along with that of the dog. While a child may not be conscious of his or her own weight, he can see the effect that too many treats and not enough activity can have on a small house dog.
When the child is responsible for walking the dog, he too will be getting off the couch and getting his body moving.
Help Him Carry the Load
Children and teens are not little adults, so don’t expect him to do everything perfectly and never forget his responsibilities. There will be times when you have to step up to feed the dog, and care for his needs when the child drops the ball.
You will need to gently talk your child through how the dog must have felt to be forgotten, alone, and hungry. Doing this will slowly instill a sense of responsibility for a living creature in your child.
Dog ownership may be one wonderful way to teach your child about privileges and responsibility. With the privilege of doggy kisses and companionship comes a whole lot of hard work. However, raising a puppy to be a well-behaved, lovable, obedient companion is definitely worth the responsibility.