Developing a positive relationship with a dog contributes to children’s self-confidence, empathy and sense of responsibility. Whether you already have a dog or decide to bring a new dog or puppy into your family, consider ways to involve your child in daily pet care. Children who participate by taking on age-appropriate tasks gain skills, patience and compassion. Your child will also learn that when the family works together, everyone benefits.
Create a simple dog care chart to remind family members about dog-related jobs. The children can decorate the chart and take turns affixing stickers to mark jobs that have been done each day. A child who can tell time can assume responsibility for keeping track of feeding time. You also can ask him to ensure the dog’s water bowl is adequately filled throughout the day.
Teach your children how to measure and prepare your dog’s food. Mark on a measuring cup how much food is enough for each meal. Children also can take charge of cleanup. After dinner, older children can wash and rinse the dog’s bowls and younger children can dry them.
Encourage children to play fetch outdoors. Dogs enjoy this game even if a young child can't throw the ball very far. Show your children some indoor games or activities they can play with the dog. For example, a child can hide a treat and ask the dog to find it, or play school by reading books out loud to their dog.
Allow younger children to help walk the dog. Attach two leashes to your dog’s collar; you hold the leash that provides control, while the child holds the other.
Practice commands with your child so the dog learns to respond to your child’s voice.
Teach your child to recognize signs — whining, scratching at doors, pacing — that your dog needs to go to the bathroom. Show older children how to pick up after the dog.
Teach your child how to gently brush his dog to get rid of shedding fur and anything caught in the dog's coat. Let your child choose an easy-to-hold, soft brush and tape his or her name to it. Encourage your child to assist you in regular flea and tick inspections.
Buy a dog toothbrush and toothpaste. Your child will probably be amused that dog toothpaste comes in strange flavors including chicken, turkey and beef. Let him choose which flavor he thinks the dog will like.
Make bath time a family event. Let your child rinse and towel dry the dog. Children are usually delighted when the wet dog ends bath time by shaking her body very vigorously and soaking everyone nearby.
Post a color chart of foods that might sicken your dog, such as chocolate or onions, and ensure your child understands that he must not feed these items to the canine.
Children under the age of 8 should always be supervised when interacting with dogs.
Remind your children to wash their hands with soap after every pet-related job or activity.
Sign up for a dog or puppy class with a trainer who welcomes families, including children. Children can help with training and socializing in class and short practice sessions at home.
- PBS Kids: It's My Life: Pets: Taking Care Of Your Pet
- How To Love Your Dog: What Dogs Need
- ASPCA: Dog Care
- Caring for a Dog Teaches Kids Responsibility; Pat Miller
- My Dog!: A Kids' Guide to Keeping a Happy and Healthy Pet; Michael J Rosen
- How To Speak Dog; Sarah Whitehead
- Everything Dog: What Kids Really Want to Know About Dogs; Marty Crisp
- Dogs for Kids: Everything You Need to Know About Dogs; Kristin Mehus-Roe
- ASPCA: Reading Canine Body Postures
- the girl with dogs image by Vladimir Konjushenko from Fotolia.com