Using a Puppy to Teach a Child Responsibilities: A Simple Guide for Parents

18September2020

Using a Puppy to Teach a Child Responsibilities: A Simple Guide for Parents

Is your child constantly begging you for a puppy? There are many great reasons to welcome a dog into your home! Owning a dog can boost a child’s self-esteem and teach them empathy. It’s also a great lesson in responsibility!

Bringing a puppy into your home can be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made – but only if you’re prepared. As a parent, you must be willing to take the time to teach your child how to properly interact with the family dog. It’s also important to add responsibilities in a safe and age-appropriate way.

If you’ve been thinking about saying “yes” to a new puppy, you’re in the right place. By the time you’re done with this simple guide, you’ll understand how a puppy can enhance your child’s life, the best ways to use your puppy as an opportunity to teach your child responsibility, and what to do when things don’t go as planned.

8 Ways a Puppy Will Enhance Your Child’s Life

It’s no secret that having a puppy is a lot of hard work. Yes, your child really wants one, but is it worth the effort? Take a look at some of the many ways a family dog enhances a child’s life, then you can decide for yourself.

  1. They combat loneliness – this is especially important for children who don’t have siblings to keep them company.
  2. They offer protection – dogs are usually even more protective in homes with children. You’re less likely to have a robbery or break-in when you have a dog that will warn you about intruders.
  3. They keep kids active – dogs need daily walks and plenty of playtime. This is a great incentive for your kids to get off their devices and out into the backyard.
  4. They build confidence – a playful dog is great at bringing a shy child out of his or her shell.
  5. They teach selflessness – caring for a dog quickly teaches a child that it’s not always “all about them.”
  6. Having a dog strengthens the immune system – studies show that kids with dogs tend to get sick less often!
  7. Dogs help with speech development – children with speech delays often work hard to learn basic phrases and commands so they can communicate with their furry friends.
  8. Dogs teach unconditional love – a child who has a dog to care for and rely on quickly learns the value of unconditional love.

Using a Puppy to Teach Responsibility

Most parents who aren’t sure about bringing a dog into the home are concerned about all the responsibilities that come with it. We get it! You’ve got plenty to do without worrying about feeding, walking, house-training, and cleaning up after a new puppy. However, you can teach your child to take on some of these responsibilities, which leads to a win-win situation!

Children can start learning how to care for a puppy as early as age 3. Between the ages of 3 and 6, you can teach your child how to properly play with a puppy, brush it, and feed and water it. Of course, this will need to happen under your supervision.

Beginning around the age of 7, kids can take on these responsibilities on their own. In addition, you can teach them things like the importance of washing out food and water bowls, scooping poop, and basic training.

Choosing Your Puppy

One of the most important decisions you’ll need to make as a family is what type of puppy you’ll get. Some children will have their heart set on a certain breed, but, as a parent, it’s your responsibility to make sure the breed you choose is appropriate for your lifestyle. It’s important to consider things like a dog’s size, energy level, and personality traits. If you live in an apartment or a small home, take the time to learn about the best dog breeds for apartment living.

You may want to narrow your choices down to three that would work for your home, then let your child choose which is most appealing to them. If your child is a bit older, you may decide to let them do some basic research and bring you a list of breeds they think would be a good match. Just remember that the breed of dog you choose will have a major impact on how well it fits into your home. This is a decision you’ll have to live with for the next 8 to 15 years, so take the time to make a good choice!

It’s also important to note that just because personality traits are common within a certain dog breed, there’s no guarantee that the puppy you choose will behave the same way. Taking the time to complete a puppy aptitude test is the best way to predict how a puppy will behave as it’s growing up and once it matures.

Preparing to Bring a Puppy Home

As soon as you’ve decided to welcome a puppy into your home, it’s a good idea to start preparing everyone in the family. For example, now is a great time to get your children in the habit of picking up their belongings. Make sure they understand that not only might the puppy ruin their favorite things but getting ahold of certain toys can create a danger for curious puppies.

You’ll also want your children to get into the habit of closing doors behind them, so the puppy doesn’t escape. If you’re going to use baby gates to keep the puppy out of certain areas of your home, teach your children how to use them and make sure they get in the habit of keeping them closed.

Take your children to the pet store with you so they can help pick out the puppy’s toys, bed, dishes, collar, and leash. Consider buying a puppy training book or downloading some YouTube videos so you and your children can watch them together.

Also, make sure the entire family is on the same page about who will be responsible for things like feeding the puppy, cleaning up after it, and taking it for walks. Consider making a list of everything that needs to be done, dividing it up, and hanging the final list on the refrigerator. You may want to use a dry-erase board to create a checklist. This will help with accountability and also ensure that the puppy gets all of the care it needs.

Feeding and Walking

It’s great to get kids involved in feeding the puppy, as this will help them bond. If your child is small and the puppy is excitable, consider putting it behind a baby gate while your child scoops out the food. This will help prevent dangers from jumping or nipping.

Make sure your child understands how often the dog needs to be fed, and how much. Explain the dangers of over-feeding or feeding anything besides dog food and dog treats. Always supervise your child while they’re feeding the dog, at least until they’re old enough to handle it on their own.

Depending on the dog’s size, kids as young as five can help with walking — as long as they’re assisted by a parent. This is a great habit to develop from a young age.

Responsible Play

It’s important to supervise children while playing with puppies – for the safety of everyone involved. Children must learn to play gently and to set boundaries in positive ways. Puppies must learn not to scratch, jump, or nip. Make sure you have plenty of toys available to keep things fun for both your child and the puppy.

It’s also common for puppies to growl at a child. When this happens, they’re often trying to communicate that something is making them uncomfortable. Beware of punishing a puppy for this. The growl is a warning. If a puppy is deterred from this, next time it might not growl and just bite instead.

When your puppy growls, take a look at what’s happening and discuss it with your child. Try to make it a learning experience. This is an opportunity to teach a child about reading a dog’s body language and watching for certain signals (like becoming stiff, licking its lips, etc.). Talk to your child about the behavior that led up to the growling and how you can keep it from happening again.

Just like people, puppies sometimes get tired and cranky. Make sure your child understands the importance of giving the puppy some space when he needs it. Establish a rule that the puppy is not to be disturbed when he’s in his crate or bed.

Basic Training

Teaching your child how to give a puppy basic commands is extremely empowering. It will help create a bond between your child and your dog. It will also give your child a sense of accountability for the dog’s behavior.

It’s easy for even young children to teach commands like “sit’ and “stay” or “come.” There are many resources available to teach both adults and children about basic dog training. If you decide to take your dog to an in-person puppy training class, make sure you can bring your children with you. If not, make it a point to come home and show your child what you’ve learned right away.

What to Do When Things Don’t Go as Planned

While having a dog is an excellent way to teach a child responsibility, you have to be smart about it. It’s completely unrealistic to expect a child of any age to take on sole responsibility for taking care of a dog. Any parent who adopts a dog “for the kids” must be willing to take over responsibility as the dog’s primary caregiver in case things don’t work out.

When you buy a dog, you’re making a commitment for the animal’s entire lifetime. It’s not fair to give up a dog to a shelter or give it away just because the kids don’t do as much as you think they will.

That being said, there are some things you can do if your child isn’t holding up their end of the bargain.

Use Encouragement to Reinforce Responsibility

When you first bring a puppy into your home, your child will need as much positive reinforcement as the puppy does! Make sure to praise your child every time they take care of their puppy responsibilities without being reminded. This works best if you do it immediately after the task has been done.

As time goes by and your child gets used to the responsibility, you can ease off the constant praise. However, you’ll still want to frequently congratulate them for being such a loving and responsible pet owner.

Keep Up with Gentle Reminders

When the commitment to responsibility starts to lapse (and it almost always does), gentle reminders are usually the best approach. Even if you’re feeling super frustrated about it, try not to be too hard on your kids or make them feel overly guilty. Between school, extracurricular activities, friends, and more, most kids today really do have their plates full.

Being too hard on a child about not keeping up with pet responsibilities can lead to anger or resentment towards the dog. This isn’t good for either the child or the puppy!

Offer Positive Solutions

If your child is constantly missing feedings or other important tasks, it’s a good idea to start by considering whether you’ve given them too much responsibility. It’s best to begin by giving a child one or two tasks and making sure they can handle them before adding any more.

If you’re confident this isn’t the case, sit down with your child and discuss the problem. Work together to come up with positive solutions. Sometimes, making reminder signs for their bedroom or changing their schedule a bit is all it takes to get them back on the right track.

Lead by Example

Often, the best way to show a child how to be a responsible pet owner is to lead by example. Even if you’re having a busy day, make sure you still take your puppy for a walk or give him his daily brushing. Bring this to your child’s attention in a positive way.

Always approach puppy ownership with patience, persistence, and positive reinforcement. Prepare yourself and your child to put in some hard work and the entire family will enjoy many years of incredible benefits.