As I am writing this, it is a beautiful, sunny day. My girls are outside in the garden, running around and playing with our two Labradores. As I’m watching them, I’m reminded how lucky I am to have such great kids – kids that are happy to and capable of taking care of the dogs alongside my husband and myself.
I didn’t always think that would be possible though, and we spent a very long evening discussing the benefits of having a dog, as opposed to the disruption to our lives this would entail. However, we managed to teach the girls early on what was expected of them, so we today live in a very happy community.
Here are our top 4 tips on how to teach your own kids to share in the dog care responsibilities:
Make Sure the Kids are Ready for the Task
In my experience, all children, regardless of their age, will make big promises as to how they will do everything if you get them a dog. This, of course, will (almost) never happen, so you shouldn’t strive for it. Instead, you should focus on teaching your kids the responsibilities involved in taking care of a dog and then teaching them how to share them between all members of the family.
There are also signs you should keep an eye out for that will tell you that the kids are indeed ready for a pup – in which case, the time is ripe for introducing a new member into your family.
Obviously, the smaller the children are, the fewer responsibilities they will be able to handle. Generally, children around 10 and over are perfectly capable of sharing all the dog care and training duties with their parents. Slightly younger kids and toddlers can be assigned certain age-appropriate duties, but they need to be supervised.
As well as being aware of what your kids can handle, it is also important to be aware that not all dogs are child-friendly. Getting a dog that loves families with children, and especially young children, makes the whole experience easier. Fortunately, you won’t have to look far for such dogs, as there are many breeds that love kids.
Draw up a Game Plan
Even if you are not a big fan of making plans, bear in mind that drawing up a pet care plan can do wonders for your ultimate goal.
Talk to your kids first to identify all the things that need to be done with respect to feeding, grooming and exercising the dog, and see which chores they don’t mind doing and which chores are appropriate for their age. Together, make a weekly calendar, where each member of the family gets a certain dog care chore.
If you want to make things more interesting, you can create a wheel chart with all the dog care responsibilities. Each day, you can all spin the wheel and get your chore for the day. It might take a little more time to create the chart, but the kids` excitement when spinning the wheel will certainly make up for it.
Reward the Kids
Taking care of a dog is a huge responsibility and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, the kids have shown us over and over again that they are up to the task, especially if we give them a nudge in the right direction with lots of praise and rewards.
Whenever your kids do their chores, don’t forget to praise them. Words can go a long way because once praised, kids feel more motivated, more inspired and more inclined to do the right thing again.
Rewards work in much the same way. Stickers are one of the most popular and effective types of rewards for children. Whenever your kids do their chores, place a sticker on the wheel chart or the chore calendar. For older children, you can also consider giving them extra pocket money (always a welcome incentive), or treating them to an experience: the movies, a meal, and so on.
Get the Dog to Listen to Your Kids
In order for your dog to listen to your kids, they need to be included in the training process as well, because the attitude of a dog is dependent on the way it was raised when it was a puppy.
During the training process, the kids will get familiar with the commands the dog is taught, making it easier for them to perform them when/if needed under adult supervision, and it will help them recognize the gestures that the dog was taught to use to express its needs.
Apart from observing the training process, your kids can participate as much as you let them. You can encourage them to try out a few basic commands such as getting the dog to sit, stay, fetch, come and walk on a leash. While doing so, make sure to teach the kids how to properly utilize reward-based training.
Last but not least, guiding your kids to teach the dog some tricks and games will help to strengthen the bond between them. Games such as hide-and-seek or playing fetch are great activities that can have a very positive effect on their relationship.
The thing to remember is that this is a process. It won’t get done in a day or two. It won’t be quick, it won’t always be easy, but if you stay focused on the goal and follow the advice we’ve provided, your efforts will eventually pay off, and you will enjoy watching your kids playing with the dog.
About the author: Julia is a mother of two girls, as well as two Labradors and one cat. She has always been a writer at heart, and has recently established her own space on the web, alongside her husband James. You can read more of their work at Two Heads Are Smarter Than One.
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