The benefits of living with a dog or cat are numerous – for adults and kids alike! Here’s how caring for a pet can help make children more responsible and compassionate.
How do you teach your child that they are not always the center of the universe? How can you show them that a life well-lived includes, at times, putting the needs of others above their own? One way is through the adoption of a pet.
It’s all fun and games until someone poops on the floor
Sure, getting a new dog or cat sounds like a great idea. Lots of playtime, sharing of snacks, walks in the sunshine and cuddles on the couch. But what about those days when it’s pouring outside, or when everyone is too tired to get off the couch? Remember: it’s all fun and games until someone poops on the floor! Who cleans that up?
Consistency in pet care is key. Children must learn that animals, just like people, need nutritious food, fresh water, and a clean, safe environment in order to thrive. Regular exercise and bathroom time is essential for a healthy pet and child!
Age-appropriate pet chores
Every family member must realize that a pet is a living creature with needs and wants. Assigning specific chores can help a child become more nurturing, responsible, and compassionate. It’s as easy as a walk in the park! Or is it?
Remember – each child and pet are unique. Age, temperament, attention span (for both pet and child) should all be taken into consideration when assigning tasks. Tasks should initially be supervised until everyone feels comfortable.
Ages 2–4: At this age children should help parents with chores. They can pick up dog toys and put them away in a basket – just as they should do with their own toys. They can say “sit” for a treat (and then place a treat on the floor so as not to get accidentally nipped). They can also join you and your dog for daily walks!
Ages 5–7: At this age, kids are a bit more independent and should be able to measure out food and clean pet bowls. Some math skills can be acquired as they learn the difference between a 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup, and full cup. (If you feed your dog raw, it’s best not to let young children handle it! Uncooked food must be properly and hygienically stored, fed and cleaned up). By making sure that the pet always has clean water, kids learn that hydration is important for all living creatures.
Ages 8–10: If your child has proven they can handle the dog, this is the age that they can try walking them! (Again, temperament and size/strength of the dog need to be considered. Some larger dogs can end up taking a child for a walk if not properly trained). Best practices on leash holding should be learned. Crate cleaning is another great chore to teach children in this age group. Just as they make their own bed every day, they should check their pet’s bedding to make sure it is clean.
Ages 11–12: Good hygiene is something tweens need to learn – and what better way than to wash the dog? A smelly dog (or child) is no fun. Once the pet is washed, make sure you include area cleanup as part of the project! And speaking of hygiene – now is a great time to introduce poop patrol! Whether cleaning up after their dog during a walk, scooping the poop in the backyard or cleaning a cat litterbox, proper pickup and discard is important. And remember to instill the habit of hand washing once the chore is completed!
Create a chore chart
Proof that chores are completed may not always be self-evident so creating a chore chart is good way to keep track. Younger children may feel even more pride when they check off each job when accomplished. But checkmark or no checkmark, the hugs and snuggles that they will receive from their pet is reward enough!
At the end of the day, remember to acknowledge your child’s work. As any seasoned dog parent knows, positive reinforcement works best! All these tasks are life lessons that will lead a child down the path to becoming a nurturing, responsible and compassionate adult.
As an animal activist, Jeanne Blandford prides herself on connecting animal rescue organizations nationwide so they can reach as many deserving dogs and cats as possible. That's how she found her three rescues: Gracie Lou, Hoover and MoMo. Every pet has a story to tell, and Jeanne strives for them all to be heard.