Last month I wrote about dogs and babies and common sense safety measures. A number of questions came up around one central theme:
OK, I want my pets and kids to get along, but how can I involve my kids in pet care while staying safe?
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Why should kids help take care of pets?
Years ago, I volunteered at an animal welfare booth, and the volunteers traded stories about various rescue experiences. The topic turned to dog bites, and I relayed a story of a 10-year-old who was bitten by their dog during feeding time. One of the volunteers said, “Well, that’s on the parents! Children shouldn’t be allowed to feed dogs–it’s unsafe!”
Now, if your dog has resource issues or if he’s a brand-new addition to your family or if you have some other legitimate issue you’re working on with your pup, sure, involving your kids in that area probably isn’t a great idea. You do need safety measures in place.
However, when it comes to basic pet care, it’s so important to get kids involved. Why?
Compassion and responsibility.
Kids learn how important it is to care for another, to meet the needs of someone other than themselves.
Plus, it helps your pets bond with your kid.
Pet Care Chores for Little Kids
You know your kid best. You know how well he or she listens to and follows instructions. You know the depth of his or her still-developing motor skills. Here are four ideas to get you started, knowing you may need to adapt them to your kiddo’s abilities:
Water: Every morning, Violet comes downstairs, and her first thing she does is take a big cup of water that I’ve filled at the sink and pour it into the pet fountain. (It’s this. It’s WAY too big for her to fill at the sink with her steps.) Sure, there are lots of spills, but I’ll happily wipe up the floor to let her learn how to help care for her animals. And now she will say, “I spilled! I need a rag!” and will wipe up her own spills.
Food: If your dog eats kibble from a bowl, scooping and filling is an awesome chore under supervision. This isn’t a chore that works in our house since Coop eats The Farmer’s Dog out of a puzzle feeder… but I can see “stuffing puzzles” a chore for her in a few years!
The cats eat kibble for lunch each day, and she loves dumping the scoops into their bowls or puzzles (I still measure because I want to feed them the exact amount to keep their weight in check).
Grooming: No, your little kid shouldn’t be wielding a pair of nail clippers, but teaching your kid how to brush out your pup is a fantastic exercise in care and compassion. Don’t expect your dog to come away fully groomed, of course, and this is an area where you know your dog and kid best: If your dog hates grooming, skip this one.
Training: Your small child won’t be able to teach your pup complicated tricks or obedience; however, he or she most certainly can get involved in what you’re training. Here are two examples in our house: Every time we leave for the day, we ask Coop to go to his bed and give him a treat to work on. Now, Violet sends him to his bed and gives him his treat–and she’s a stickler! If he’s not fully on, she’ll wait, “All the way, Coopsie!” Another fun one is to help your dog learn “touch” to your kiddo’s outstretched hand. This is an awesome way to get them to work together in a fun way that rewards your pup.
Beyond that, little kids always want to help, so asking them to hold the roll of pickup bags or clipping a second leash to your pup’s harness so they can help “walk” the dog or running to get the clippers out of the drawer for you to groom, and so on, all help your kiddo feel important and involved while learning how to care for your dog.
Pet Care Chores for Big Kids
Bigger kids are limited only by what’s expected of them…
Truly, if you teach and model what needs to happen, and then you empower your kids to do it, they will.
Some examples of pet care chores for big kids:
- Feeding and watering
- Cleaning the water fountain and replacing the filter
- Scooping the litter box
- Picking up the yard
- Stuffing puzzle toys
- Training with you and your dog, including taking training classes together
- Daily playtime
Kids with their licenses can take the family pet to the vet as long as they’ve been walked through how to do it responsibly. This used to be my responsibility in high school.
You’ll notice neither list included walking the dog. It’s not that big kids aren’t capable. They are. However… and, again, this is something you need to decide for your kid, your dog, and your neighborhood… there are too many potential safety issues that require a responsible adult. Again, this is in my opinion. You might live somewhere without a loose dog here or there. Your dog might not react to a cat crossing the street. Your kid might be able to walk around the block without his or her face buried in her phone (this is all the teens in my neighborhood walking their dogs…). Honestly, this is a judgement call you need to make. For me, this is one where the variables are too many and too significant. That said, walking and hiking together as a family is super important and models responsible behavior!
Ultimately, though, as the responsible adult, you need to decide what chores your kids can take on, then you need to teach them how to do them. You’ll probably have to review it dozens of times and clean up spills along the way, but don’t let that deter you from empowering your kid to take on additional responsibility and family contributions! In the short term it might require more from you, but in the long term you’re teaching your kid compassion and responsibility.
How do your kids, nieces and nephews, or friends help take care of the animals around you? Have you taught and empowered kids to help? What questions do you have about taking the steps needed to teach your kiddos how to help take care of your pets? Let us know in the comments below!
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash