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[Paws & Awws] Is My Child Old Enough For A Dog?

By — One of many Dog Breeds blogs on

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.


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:

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:

I hope these tips help your family get on the right track to a happy and healthy releationship with your puppy/dog.


ASPCA - Kids and Pets

Dog Bible, Edited by Kristin Mehus-Roe, 2005

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