Kids and Dogs
Looking for ways for your kids to help out with the care and training of your family dog? How much responsibility should you delegate, and at what age should you allow your child to help out?
The age at which your child can begin to assist in basic dog care and training will depend on the breed, age and disposition of your dog. A 10-year-old might be responsible and mentally mature enough to handle basic pet care, but may not be physically capable of safely controlling a large breed such as a German Shepherd or a St. Bernard. Likewise, a five- or six-year-old may be physically able to handle a Yorkshire Terrier or Chihuahua, but might lack the understanding to properly care for the pet.
The age of the dog also comes into play. Puppies often need a more experienced handler, especially when their early training isn’t yet complete. Under no circumstance should a child be expected to help with a challenging or difficult dog.
Some dog care tasks are suitable for younger children, such as brushing. Even if your child’s efforts don’t accomplish much, it’s still an important way for them to learn. Older kids may enjoy helping with walks, feeding and even basic dog training.
Even if you decide to let your child take on some of the responsibility of caring for the family dog, it’s important to realize that the situation will still require your overall supervision and attention. Maybe your child can be in charge of feeding time, but you’re in charge of the dog’s overall diet, rations and times for feeding. Consider having your child use a measuring scoop that has been clearly marked in order to avoid overfeeding.
Avoid nagging or making your child feel as though you don’t trust him to do the job. You want to be a passive presence in the background, making sure that no aspect of the pet’s care goes forgotten. Also, offer to pitch in sometimes. It can be discouraging to your child if you always say, “it’s your dog” or “you wanted him” when a pet-care task comes up. If your child is feeling overwhelmed, offer to help. The key is to not let your child feel as though you’re picking up slack, but rather that you’re all on the same team—the team of enjoying your dog and giving him the best possible care.
Kids can do a great job and have a lot of fun teaching dogs to follow basic cues like sit, stay, shake and heel. Again, the key is to keep the situation fun and effective while still allowing your child to feel the satisfaction of helping to train the family dog. Everyone in the family should be using the same methods for training so your dog doesn’t get confused.
When young children want to walk the dog, start out by using two leashes—one for you and one for your child. Older children may be able to handle the dog alone, as long as the two are a compatible size to each other. Children must be able to understand the importance of holding the leash at all times so the dog doesn’t run into the street or run away.
Simple commands like sit are easy to teach and well within the reach of many children. Show your child the steps of teaching sit: Say, “sit!” while guiding your dog’s nose upwards and back with a treat until he naturally sits down, then demonstrate how to offer a reward. Sit is an easy command to teach and one that even young children can probably help with. Older children can tackle stay, down and other cues.
Quality bonding time
Kids are best at providing what your furry family member relishes most—lots of love and attention. If your dog enjoys being brushed, demonstrate the proper technique. Have your child gather loose hair, which can be repurposed in a bush or a tree for birds to use as nesting material.
Encourage your child to sit on the floor with the dog—petting him, giving belly rubs, reading to him or just talking to him. Your child can also have fun playing a game of fetch outside. Ensure that your child is always safe and doesn’t play tug-of-war with the dog. Kids can also provide treats for your dog, and teach him how to take the treat gently.
Kids can learn many valuable life lessons by helping to take care of the family dog, including responsibility and empathy. Safety is imperative when it comes to kids and dogs. Always supervise kids around your dog and teach the importance of being kind to their pet.