|Dogs and cats make wonderful companions, and they are terribly cute. Having a companion animal can be a wonderful, enriching experience for you and your children, and can provide years of loyalty, love, and companionship as well as important lessons in responsibility, patience, communication, and the humane treatment of your whole family.
Before getting a family pet, parents should make a realistic assessment of their own time and level of commitment. The fact is that, as rewarding and loving as a dog or cat will prove, animals need a level of care, attention, training, management, and financial commitment that children (even adolescents) are simply incapable of providing without the help of adults. While children of all ages can learn a great deal from helping to care for a family pet, it really will be parents who are ultimately responsible for things like setting up, paying for, and attending puppy classes with the children and puppy; making, keeping, and paying for regular veterinary appointments; getting the equipment necessary for housetraining and following the housetraining schedule; socializing and teaching bite inhibition to the puppy or kitten, and all the myriad other responsibilities that come with the care of a sentient being with sharp teeth. While a new puppy or kitten is not quite as demanding as a human infant (and adult dogs and cats are not quite as demanding as puppies or kittens), they do require a level of maturity and responsibility that children simply haven’t reached. The process of watching and helping you care for the family pet, and of gaining greater responsibility with age, will be a terrifically rewarding way for your children to learn that maturity and dependability—but you should be aware that it will really be you left holding that poop bag. We’ve packed this website with helpful training tips and animal learning information to help you develop a wonderful, lasting relationship with your new pet. Use our free information to help you assess whether you have the time and energy to become a primary pet owner, and to discuss with your children the joys and responsibilities of pet ownership.
As you discuss the tasks and duties of pet ownership, your child must first understand that pets are neither teddy bears nor people. Unlike teddy bears, they need food and water, education, a place to eliminate, medical care, comfort, companionship, entertainment, etc. At some point, they will need attention at a time that is very inconvenient. Unlike people, they don’t speak a language or do “people” things to entertain themselves—they’ll need doggy- or kitty-appropriate entertainment and care.
KEEP IN MIND THAT CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF THIRTEEN SHOULD NEVER BE LEFT ALONE WITH A DOG.
These are the basics that your child needs to understand and commit to before s/he is ready to be a juniordog guardian (see below) or junior cat guardian.
Read Before you get your Puppy, then discuss this with your child, using the acronym SPOT GO!
Socialization – Your new pet must be introduced to lots and lots of new people when you bring her home. Ask your child to brainstorm with you how your family will do this. (For help, click here)
Potty training – Pets don’t come potty trained. A dog or cat’s instincts can’t possibly tell her that a carpet isn’t an appropriate place to go to the bathroom. And, to her, everything in the house is potentially a toy. You’ll have to teach her where you’d like her to go to the bathroom and what things are toys (and what objects aren’t toy s). The easiest and fairest way to do that is to set things up so that it’s difficult for her to make mistakes, while clearly showing her the right way to do things and rewarding her for getting things right. See our section on Errorless Housetraining to learn how to do this in the most fun and easy ways!
Be sure your child understands that the new pet has to go potty several times a day, and agree on how the child will help you deal with the messier aspects of pet ownership. (For help, click here)
Outside time – If the pet is a dog, you will need to take him for on-leash walks or provide supervised outdoor time daily. Helping you during some of these sessions can be a great way for your children to learn communication and patience—keep in mind that children below the age of thirteen must never be left alone with a dog, so you’ll have to supervise all of these walk and play sessions for younger children and your new puppy/dog.
Teach manners – Training is essential. Your child should be excited about taking Fido to obedience classes with you.
To locate a certified pet dog trainer in your area, contact the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) at 1-800-PET-DOGS or log onto www.apdt.com.
Grooming – Dogs and cats need regular brushing, at least once a week.
As your children help you with these tasks, it can be a wonderful way for your family to spend time together and for your children to gain an increasingly deeper understanding of commitment to others, kindness, and care.