Lots of kids beg for dogs, and lots of parents worry that if they oblige, it’s the grown-ups who will do all the work that comes with caring for the dog. This was one of my primary concerns when he adopted our dog, Lola. I’d had pets before, so I knew exactly what I was getting into, but my 5-year-old son didn’t. All he was thinking about was how much fun it was going to be to play with her. We had a family meeting to discuss the responsibilities that go along with the fun of having a dog, and we made clear what was expected of him. He was certainly old enough to help feed her as well as take her outside for some exercise when she needed it. Below are several ways that you can ensure your kids help take care of your family pet as much as you do — if not more.
1. Set the rules early. Before your familia adds a dog to your brood, lay out the rules with your kids regarding their responsibilities, and stick by them. The latter can be difficult. Kids procrastinate and whine, and parents often end up doing things themselves (I know I do). But if you commit to the plan, caring for the dog will become second nature to everyone. That’s what Erin Volz, a mom of three kids in Orlando, Florida, did years ago when her family took in three dogs. Today caring for them is simply routine. “Now I just ask and say, ‘please and thank you,’” says Volz. The earlier this becomes a habit, the likelier kids will grow up thinking these chores are just one part of the joy of having a pet, right?
2. Turn a chore into a good time. Kids love to get wet. I let my son wear his bathing suit and join our pup in the tub when she gets a bath. He’s been doing this for years, and now he’s old enough where I just have to supervise. By turning it into a fun activity, I increased the likelihood that my son would jump in and help, and it worked.
3. Create a point system. This can help turn caring for Fido into a game. Make a list of pet care responsibilities; the more dog chores your child checks off, the more points he earns. As points accumulate, let him “cash” them in for treats, play dates, or bonus time at the park, whatever works for both of you.
4. Give even little kids a job. Tania Paredes’ of Miami, Florida, has a toddler who holds the medicine bottle while her dad applies skin cream to one of their dogs each night. “She’s also in charge of picking up the puppy bowls after the dogs eat,” Paredes says. “We tell her, ‘Don’t forget your job,’ and she goes straight to the bowls. It teaches her she is a part of a larger system, a family that happens to include dogs.” Calling an activity a “job” also can prompt littles who are already striving for independence to feel like grown-ups, so it’s a win-win.
5. Visit or volunteer at a shelter. Even if yours isn’t a rescue dog, volunteering or even visiting a shelter can be a real eye-opener for kids, especially if the staff is willing to share la historia of some of the animals. My son’s first visit to a shelter helped him empathize with the dogs. It brought out his nurturing feelings, which motivated him to take good care of our pup at home.
6. Turn kids into trainers. We taught our dog, Lola, to sit by rewarding her with Beneful Chopped Blends, served by my son for a job well done. Doing this over and over strengthened their bond — and helped teach the dog to sit and stay when told!
*This post is sponsored by Beneful. The opinions and stories are my own.