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Your Happy Pet: Pets teach children responsibility

Original Publication Date: July 21, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

"Please, Mom and Dad, can I have a puppy? I promise to take good care of him."

This is certainly not an uncommon request. The American Pet Product Association's National Pet Owners Survey found that 58 percent of pet owners said caring for a pet helped teach their child responsibility.

A family dog also offers unconditional love and companionship. Adding a new family member is a big step that parents and children should consider carefully.

You and your child should reach a definite agreement about what responsibilities he is willing to accept. It will be necessary to feed, exercise, groom and clean up after the pup. A young child might start by being in charge of feeding the dog. That would require the child to measure the correct amount of food for each meal, keep the dog bowl clean and the water bowl full.

Of course, he should lend a hand as you exercise, groom and clean up after the dog. The child's responsibilities should increase as he ages and learns more about each task. Make each activity a privilege, not a chore. Follow each job with a fun playtime for your kid and pup.

The size and personality of a new puppy should be appropriate for the size and personality of the child. Although most large breed dogs are very mild mannered and good with children, to assist in the care of a gentle giant may be a bit overwhelming for a small child. Small breeds do not necessarily fill the bill either.

A Jack Russell Terrier or similar breed can be a bundle of energy that may be too much for a child to handle. Carefully research the characteristics and needs of any pure breed that you consider. A shelter dog is a wonderful choice. The shelter director knows the dogs in her care and can recommend a dog of appropriate size and temperament for your child.

The puppy will need to be taught several skills, and you and your child should do the training together. Adoption facilities and pet stores offer free or low cost training classes that you, your child and pup can take. Both people and pup will face a bit of a learning curve as together you master house breaking, socialization, walking on a leash and basic commands like come, sit and stay.

A kid who cares for a dog learns a special kind of responsibility, because another living being is dependent upon him. It teaches commitment and consistency. Offer your encouragement and keep it fun. The face-licking, tail-wagging gratitude of the pup will build self-esteem and create a friendship, memories and work ethic that will last a lifetime.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at