I T happens to nearly every parent at some point. You stop by the local shelter, pet store, or find a needy stray on the street. Your children fall head over heels with some four-footed, furry creature, looking up at you with those adoring eyes, and utter the word ``Can we keep him?'
Of course through the litany of ``pleases' there will be many promises that they will walk him, feed him, bathe him, pick up poop, and complete the other various chores that are associated with owning a dog. However, many parents know that once the novelty of owning the new pet wears off they are the ones stuck taking the dog out at 2am.
However, you can teach your children to be responsible for a pet, and it may not be as hard as you think.
Choose Activities That Are Age-Appropriate
Obviously, the age of your child will affect how much they can care for a dog. A teenager, for instance, can be held responsible for feeding and walking a dog, but your preschooler cannot. This is one thing that parents should consider
when choosing a pet. But even a preschooler can help you dump a cup of food in the bowl or refill the water dish, and older kids can help clean up after a dog and assist with chores like walking and grooming.
Be A Good Example
Children learn from you, so the best way to show proper pet care is to do it yourself. Have the children watch while you groom the dog and check him for fleas. Show them the proper way to hold the leash when taking the dog for a walk. Set aside a certain amount of time each day to play with the dog.
When your kids see you caring for the dog, they will too.
Do Everything Together
Just because your child isn't old enough or strong enough to hold onto the leash doesn't mean that he or she cannot go on the walk as well. Have your child walk with you, perhaps giving them a job like carrying the waste bags or treats for the dogs. If the dog is trained enough (and your child old enough) allow them a turn to hold the leash while you supervise.
Have your child go along to vet visits, assist with baths, and have some role in all aspects of the dog's care.
Explain Good Nutrition
Even a younger child can understand that giving a dog table food or over-feeding the dog can give the dog a "tummy ache". Older children can be taught about vitamins and nutrients and how dog food is appropriately balanced.
Make Pet Care A Priority
Like any other chore, your children are going to need some reminders on when and how to care for the dog. If you have a chore chart, make sure that the pet care responsibilities are listed there as well. Remind the kids to walk the dog before going over to a friend's house or other activity. Over time, caring for the dog will become a habit.
Your child will be more likely to care for the dog if they enjoy doing it. Praise them for remembering to care for the pet. Take pictures of the pet and the child together. Of course, pets have their own way of rewarding those that care for them, so don't forget to point out how much Rover loves sleeping with the child or how much fun he has on walks. A little praise and encouragement will give a child more enthusiasm for caring for the pet.
John Esdaile, Tauranga SPCA