The time comes in almost every parent’s life when their child asks that short but important question – “Can I get a pet?” The desired pet is typically a cat or dog, but can vary wildly to include snakes, turtles, and the occasional dragon. It’s easy enough to say ‘no’ to pets that breathe fire, but considering cats, dogs, hamsters and the like takes a bit more time. There are of course practical questions to ask yourself, such as, “Is anyone allergic to this type of pet,” and, “Are we really home often enough to care for the pet in question?” If you rent your apartment or home, there is also the question of whether you are permitted to have pets, and the list goes on! But if you have already worked your way through those questions and have found a pet that fits your lifestyle and budget, you’re almost ready to tell them ‘yes we can!’ The last step? Teaching them the responsibility of having a pet…before it arrives!
The work and care that goes into keeping a pet healthy and happy depends greatly upon the pet. Fish and frogs require a lot less attention than cats and dogs, for example. But they are also a lot less good at cuddling up on the couch after a long day, so there are pros and cons to every pet! The first step in teaching your child to care properly for the pet they’ll soon have is determining how much of that pet’s care your child will indeed be responsible for, and what care is required. Let’s assume you’ll be adopting a dog and your child will be in charge of taking the dog for a walk every day, ensuring the dog is fed in the morning, and brushing the dog each week. Make the responsibilities they are handling clear to them, and be sure they are reasonable considering your child’s age. Older children can typically tackle many more responsibilities, while younger children often pay much more attention to playing with their pets, which is very important, too!
Once you have made a list of all their responsibilities, it’s time to let them practice being a good pet owner. How to do so? With a stuffed animal! Webkinz dogs make a great stand-in for a real pet, though they don’t tend to bark if they’re being ignored, so you’ll have to get creative in ensuring your child is keeping up with their pet owner duties. If they will be feeding the real dog once it arrives, keep a bowl of fake food in the cabinet for them to ‘feed’ their Webkinz. This can be anything from pieces of paper to cotton balls – Webkinz aren’t picky! It’s important to let them know real dogs can’t eat these things, of course, but for the sake of testing their dedication to their duties this will work. Set an alarm on your phone to go off 10 minutes or so after they were supposed to feed their dog, then check to ensure the Webkinz is sitting in front of her bowl.
Also encourage your child to play with his or her pet and take it with them into every room the dog will be permitted to venture. They may need to get accustomed to the idea that their four-legged friend will likely follow them around wherever they go as dogs so often do! If they are going to be responsible for walking the dog, and cleaning up its messes, ensure they take their Webkinz for a walk every day, and leave plastic Easter eggs in the yard for them to pick up. Little plastic eggs are much more pleasant than doggie droppings, but the goal is to teach them that this will be a daily task that is a part of being a good pet owner.
As someone who loves dogs more than almost anything, I understand that the joy they bring far outweighs the work involved. But I also understand that I wasn’t as good of a pet parent at 10 as I am today, so there is a lot of work involved in getting up to snuff! It’s inevitable that your child will forget things from time to time – it’s only human nature. But keeping a close eye to ensure all your pet’s needs are met will help in teaching your child the importance of proper care, and make for a happier pet as well.