Teaching Our Children the Basics of Responsible Dog Ownership

little girl and puppy At some point in every child’s life the inevitable question, “Can we get a dog?” will slip through their adorable little mouths. Likely this will come from watching a fun Disney movie with a cute talking dog, or a friend just showed off pictures of their new doggy. Regardless of what brought those words to the forefront of your child’s mind, you, the parent, need to decide if owning a dog is right for your family.

Growing up, I was the child who frequently begged for that doggy in the window, only to have all dreams shot down with one ‘no’ after another. So when my daughter asked for her first puppy, those painful memories came creeping in, likely impacting my reasoning for saying yes! But influenced or not, that yes came with an expectation–she had to learn responsible dog ownership and understand the lifelong commitment that came with it.

And so began my efforts at helping my daughter learn what it meant to have a puppy.

  1. Understanding a puppy’s needs. The first step was to help my daughter understand exactly what a puppy needed to stay healthy and grow strong. As with most parents, we can list off reasons left and right and most of the time our children will even say ‘okay’, but do they really understand?

    Instead of “telling” my daughter, I decided to show her through volunteering at our local shelter on the weekends. We were allowed to come in during feeding time and assist with the morning meals, giving puppies baths, and cleaning up the messy kennels. My daughter was given permission to play with the puppies in the outdoor run as a reward for her hard work. After a few weeks of volunteering, I had no doubt that my daughter truly understood the work involved in owning a puppy; including cleaning up those nasty messes!

  2. Understanding how to train in preparation for a dog. The next step, and quite possibly one of the most important things for children to understand, is the importance of properly training your new puppy so it will grow up obedient and friendly. We researched several dog training websites and talked about the various areas our dog would need to be trained.

    Then, we sat down with what we learned and decided on rules and what we both expected from a dog in the house. We had learned that everyone needed to have the same expectations if any kind of training was going to be effective. Then we talked about the supplies we would need to have on-hand for teaching our puppy from the very first day of his or her arrival.

    My daughter’s active participation in this conversation gave me confidence that she was ready to put forth the effort required to care for a dog through thick and thin.

  3. Selecting the right dog for us. The next thing we did was really break down various characteristics of different dog breeds and what they brought to the table. She mentioned that we liked to sit around the house a lot and maybe shouldn’t get a dog that wants to run all day. I mentioned that she has lots of little toys she treasures so we might want to consider a dog that won’t chew so much after they get older.

    Back and forth we outlined traits that fit with our family and traits that did not until we finally narrowed down the breeds that best fit out lifestyle and expectations.

  4. Choosing a training method. The fourth thing we considered was how we planned to train our new puppy. Considering time availability, my daughter’s social skills, and my level of interest in bringing someone to my home, we decided on utilizing dog training forums instead of bringing a person in one-on-one.

    In our time volunteering at the local shelter, my daughter had the opportunity to work with the trainers there and we were both very confident in teaching our new puppy all the basics of good manners.

  5. Getting our puppy! We spent about 6 months preparing for this moment, and I have to say, my excitement was just as big as my daughter’s. I had helped her understand how important it was to provide proper care and how to teach her puppy good manners. Now it was time to get our puppy and for us, we knew right where to look–the local shelter!

Teaching our children responsible dog ownership in a way that sticks doesn’t have to be a mind-grilling task. With a little creativity, you can gauge your child’s interest and motivate them to learn.

What are some other ways you can think of for teaching responsible ownership? Perhaps you’ve recently brought home a new pet as well. I’m curious to hear what you think.

Photo by terrie.zeller

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