Dogs, Children and Responsibility!
Dogs and children seem to go together like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a perfect match for the most part. For many of us, growing up included at least one dog and maybe a cat or two.
Not too much attention was paid to spaying or neutering, kittens or puppies were considered part of the game when you had a pet. Trips to the vet were only for dire emergencies and it took a lot to determine what was a dire emergency.
Not too much attention was paid to what we fed our pets, the dogs usually got table scraps and the cats were supposed to catch their food and usually fed some milk and whatever else they would eat.
Life was fairly simple during those childhood days; Mom and Dad assigned simple chores and the family as a group kept watch on each other including the pets.
Where did those times go and why is life suddenly so much more complex?
As I look back on a time when our family had nine dogs. We did not go out and acquire nine dogs the dogs acquired us. With the exception of the three we did choose to be our dogs, the other six seemed to drop out of the sky and onto our driveway to become members of our household.
And this is where our story begins. Where does responsibility fit in when you first set out to get a pet for yourself or your child?
Many parents think that getting their child a dog will teach the child responsibility. The child will learn to be responsible for the care of something. The child will learn empathy and love for another living being. And if all else fails, there will just be so many opportunities to get some really cute pictures of their child and dog to show off to family.
These are all great reasons for getting a dog, but there is one very important point missing. If you want to teach your child to be a responsible dog owner you have to be one, too. You can not teach your child anything, if you are not setting the example with your own behavior.
Having a dog as a pet in the family means just that, the dog is part of the family and what do family members do? They watch out for each other. If Mom or Dad is not a good role model when it comes to taking care of the dog, how is the child to learn?
Certainly, you can assign all the chores to the child you want, but if you are not willing to step in when necessary and show the child where it is being neglectful and take over the duty, nothing is gained.
Threatening to get rid of the dog if the child does not tend to its responsibilities does not teach responsibility, it teaches the child that the dog is a disposable item and is as meaningless as a broken toy. The dog is really not a loved member of the family, but something that can be tossed away (like in our driveway) or taken to a shelter. And should the child in a fit of anger say, "fine take the dog away," even if he / she does not mean it. How can we measure the emotional trauma the child may face in the future, when the guilt of giving up the dog sinks in?
Giving up a dog or cat may not seem like an emotional problem to a busy non-pet caring parent, but as the reality sets in to a child it may damage that child's future ability to fulfill responsibilities or to commit to relationships, canine or otherwise . Our animal shelters are filled with these broken bonds as are many homes where animals have been dropped along the roadway and caring people have picked them up to give them forever homes.
I guess the point I am trying to make is, if you are a parent and you want to teach your child some responsibility, along with bringing more love and joy into your home by getting a dog. Do it only if you the parent are going to commit yourself to helping care for the pet. Do not even think of it if you are going to use the pet as a threat over the child's head or as a means of punishment for a wrongdoing. Unless you are willing to accept the dog as part of your growing family, as a responsibility for yourself and your child, get a fish.
If your child does not fulfill his / her responsibility, neglects their chores take away a privilege do not use the dog as a threat, you would not threaten to take away a younger brother or sister if the older child did not fulfill a babysitting responsibility, would you? If your dog is not part of the "real" family it has no business being there in the first place.
The only way a child can learn to be a responsible human is by following in the footsteps of their parents. If you are a loving, humane and caring individual, who shows love and compassion to not only people, but to the family pet, guess what your child will learn to do! Yep, follow in Mom or Dad's footsteps!
Having to raise a puppy along with a child is not an easy task. If you are not familiar with the problems that lie ahead, attend some training classes many classes will allow children over the age of seven. Use the same positive training methods on the puppy as you would use on your child. Do not hit or beat the puppy for wrongdoing.
Read a dog training book or two in order to get a handle on what to expect before you venture out to get a dog. Do some research on what breeds are better with children, some are, some are not.
Never and I can not say this strongly enough leave a child under eight alone with a dog, puppy or not. Too many dogs have bitten children when they have been left unsupervised.
Teach your child how to play gently with your dog. When walking your dog and you have a young child, put two leashes on the dog and let your child walk with the longer leash and you keep control with the shorter one.
You can teach your child and your dog basic commands like sit, stay and come. Teach your child that those commands are not to be used as "toys" to drive the dog crazy as some children will keep at the dog until it get stressed out and may bite. If your child understands that you treat your dog as you would a close friend with kindness and by being polite the relationship should last a lifetime.
I hope these few ideas and thoughts will help you and your family build a long and loving relationship with your family pet.