Is My Child Old Enough For A Dog?
As a dog trainer and parent, I have very strong opinions on this topic.
Often my appointments include children, which I LOVE. It's important that the WHOLE family learn how to respect and take care of their dog. As such, it's disappointing to hear parents tell me they bought the dog "for the kids" and that it is JUST their 6 and 8 year old kids that are responsible for the dog.
Don't get me wrong.
Some 6 year olds ARE beyond their years in maturity, but parents need to be realistic in their expectations. It saddens me to know the dog will be the one to pay the price of this mindset. All too often in these arrangements, puppies that are still not potty trained or have problems with nipping, are discarded at shelters. Through no fault of their own, these dogs suffer, because young children fail to stay on top of responsibilities or just don't have the knowledge to train a dog themselves.
So when SHOULD a child take full responsibility of a dog?
My answer: never! A dog should ALWAYS be the responsibility of the entire family.
Now let me be clearer on this.
As you may expect, the majority of my appointments revolve around behavioral problems with dogs - and a good portion of them develop from just this sort of responsibility delineation. Children of all ages, even teenagers, may not be mature enough to truly understand what it takes to train, discipline, and effectively potty train "their" puppy/dog. They have a hard time just picking up after themselves!
Though dogs are smart, they are completely dependent on humans for their care. You wouldn't expect your child to care for a toddler, would you? This isn't a stuffed animal that can be pushed aside when it starts getting in the way of playtime with friends, piano lessons, basketball practice, or Facebook time.
This is NOT to say your kids shouldn't be involved in your dog's care, just know that if they fail to do their share of the work, it's your job as a dog owner to pick up the slack. The decision to take on a dog is one the whole family should be on board for.
Parents, heed this warning: if you are hoping a puppy/dog will teach your kids responsibility, you will be VERY disappointed - and it's just not fair to allow a dog to be neglected in the process.
DOG TRAINER'S GUIDE FOR KIDS
Make A Chart.
Setting up a care chart is a great visual reminder of everyone's responsibility to the dog. Break it into four sections:
- Poo Pick Up
Put it somewhere the kids can initial or place a sticker on after fulfilling their portion of the work
Make Expectations Clear and Reasonable.
Each child's maturity level and ability is different. Consider this when determining what their responsibility in the following areas should be:
- Feeding. Set feeding times and amounts for your dog depending on their age and size. Be sure your children are clear on which feedings they will be responsible for. Show them how much food should be in the bowl.
- Walking. Remember medium sized adult dogs need at least a 30-45 minute walk once a day. Decide on good walk times and how long they should last depending on your dogs age and size. Whatever you decide, be sure you child is clear on which walks they will be responsible for and where they should be walking the dog. Consider buying a stop watch to ensure your dog is getting sufficient exercise. Also discuss the need to pick up any dropping that happen on your walk. You don't want to be THOSE dog owners!
- Poo Pick Up. It's not the most exciting part of dog ownership, but it's an important one. Discuss how often you'd like things cleaned up. Some people pick certain days of the week, other once a day and others prefer to pick up as it happens. Personally, I'd advise picking it up as it happens. Not only does it keep you yard more sanitary, it prevents people from stepping in it - or your dog from picking up a poo-eating habit.Whatever your choice, make sure your child aware of your expectations from them.
- Training. Your new dog is going to need some obedience training and your whole family should be involved in teaching them. Look for a kid-friendly trainer or training program that will allow your entire household to participate. Dogs, like children, do better with consistency. Everyone in the household should understand the rules the dog must follow and what should be done if they break them.
I hope these tips help your family get on the right track to a happy and healthy releationship with your puppy/dog.
Dog Bible, Edited by Kristin Mehus-Roe, 2005