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Teaching Your Child to be Pet-Responsible

By: Virginia Wells

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If you'd like your child to learn about responsibility, try getting a pet. At a very early age, children can learn the importance of responsibility, and as a result can learn important life lessons such as discipline, patience, kindness and attentiveness. If they are good pet owners, chances are they will be able to take on the responsibility of being adults and eventually parents.

Things Young Children Should Learn

The most important point if you have young children and a dog is that young children should never be left alone with a dog. This is to protect both the child and the dog. Young children have no idea that squeezing, hitting, pinching or stepping on a dog can inflict pain. It isn't fair to put your child or your pet into a scary situation, and if a very young child doesn't know how to treat a dog, the dog may feel threatened and lash out at the child. Even if you feel your child "knows better," children are curious and experimental, and you can't depend on responsible behavior all of the time.

Training should start early. Very young children can learn about humane treatment and can learn how to interact appropriately. They should learn which parts of the animal's body can be touched and how and when to pet them. They should learn not to disturb the dog when he is resting, eating or chewing on his favorite toy. They should learn that animals are not toys and they can feel pain.

One good way to teach youngsters is to role play. The child can pretend to be a puppy – great fun – and you can be the child. Pet the "puppy" gently and remind the child how nice it feels. Talk to the "puppy" and play with him the way you want your child to do it in real life. You are the role model and children look to adults for the proper way to act.

You should always teach your children to wash their hands with soap and water after handling their pet.

Taking on Responsibility

As children grow older they become ready to accept responsibility for the care of the pet. Start slowly by having your child participate with you.
  • Have your child accompany you when you walk the dog. Let your child hold the leash under supervision. Explain the rules about curbing and keeping the dog off other people's property. When the child is older and more responsible, you can allow him or her to walk the dog alone.

  • Children should accompany you when you take the dog to the veterinarian for his checkup. Here they learn that dogs are living beings and need the same things as humans to stay healthy and happy. Most veterinarians, provided they have some time, may explain to children what they are doing or allow them to see other parts of the hospital, such as where the dog gets weighed. Some veterinarians provide literature or coloring books to give to children explaining how to keep a dog healthy.

  • Let your child be responsible for making sure there is fresh water in the bowl at all times. This can be done by very young children, perhaps under supervision. Or they may just be responsible for letting you know the bowl is nearing empty.

  • At feeding time you can show children how to measure the food and allow them to pour the food in the bowl. Older children, perhaps 10 or older, can learn to do this themselves.

  • Allow children to do "scoop duty" in the yard.

  • Have children be on the lookout for small items lying around the house that the dog can swallow.

    When training children to care for a pet, try not to expect too much. As the saying goes, "children will be children," and children learn more through success than failure. Start by giving small tasks and increase responsibility gradually, but only when you feel the child is ready.

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