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Age-Appropriate Dog Care for Kids

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small dog and child smiling on a couch

The responsibility of taking care of a new dog for kids often falls back onto the parents. Though young children cannot be the sole provider for the family dog, they can help in many ways when it comes to feeding or exercising their canine sibling.

Along with teaching kids how they can help care for their dog, it’s also crucial to be aware of kid and dog safety. It’s equally important that kids are kept safe around a dog while also teaching older kids how to treat a dog properly.

How To Introduce a Dog and a Baby

Obviously, babies will not be helping with the dog, at least for the first few years of their life. However, dogs and babies can still make the best of buds when properly introduced and supervised, and it’s amazing to see how quickly they can form a bond. It’s also heartwarming to see your baby and dog grow up alongside one another.

Although most dogs will eventually learn to be comfortable around their new little family member, there is quite a bit of preparation before introducing your pup to a baby. Keep in mind that dogs are creatures of habit, and they often find comfort in their routine. As any parent knows, babies don’t necessarily follow a pattern, and your schedule and lifestyle can vary greatly within a short amount of time. That said, it’s key to begin preparing your dog for a baby well before the baby arrives.

A helpful way to prepare your dog for meeting a baby, whether it be your own or one visiting your home, is to brush up on your dog’s obedience. Basic commands such as sit, down, and stay can be incredibly helpful in making sure that your dog can stay safely out of the way, especially when people are passing the baby around. Commands like leave it and drop it could also come in handy when anything of the baby’s is dropped. Your dog may be tempted to pick up that stray baby sock or a pacifier if they fall on the floor. Teaching your dog to leave things alone or drop them from their mouth could also save them from accidentally ingesting something dangerous.

If your dog becomes overly excited when people visit or likes to jump when you arrive home, these will also be things to work on before the baby arrives. You don’t want your dog, especially if it’s a big pup, to be jumping on people when they are carrying the baby. Teaching the dog to sit for pets and attention, rather than jumping up, can be very helpful. The ‘place’ command could also become your new favorite as it teaches dogs to stay in one specified area until they are given permission to walk around again.

You should also look at your and your dog’s habits and see if there’s anything else you’d like to work on pre-baby to help ease the transition for you and your dog. For instance, if you allow your dog to get on the furniture whenever they please, you may want to teach them to only get on the couch or bed whenever they are given permission. Instead, consider providing an alternative, like a dog bed near the couch. This can be an extra safety measure for when the baby is sitting on the furniture. In the instance that your dog receives their meals and exercise at a specific time every day, you may want to go ahead and start being more flexible with their mealtimes and walks. Chances are, when the baby arrives, you may not be available right at that time every day.

Before the baby arrives, you can also work on acclimating your dog to some of the new sights and sounds associated with a baby. You can decide whether you will allow your dog into the baby’s nursery. If so, try placing a bed for them somewhere out of the way and teach your dog that this isn’t the room for playing. Anything from various baby toys, diapers, the crib, and strollers can all be items to show your pup.

If you plan on taking your dog along for walks with the baby, spend some time getting them used to walking next to the stroller, as this can be scary and confusing for some dogs. You can also begin getting your dog used to the high-pitched sounds babies make. Play sounds of babies crying or squealing, starting at a low volume, while giving your pup some tasty treats while the sound is on. This will help them build a more positive association with the sound rather than finding it stressful.

Once the baby is in your home, continue to work on a positive association with your dog. Show them that being gentle around the baby means they could get a treat and some praise. Positive reinforcement can go a long way, and it can also show your dog that they shouldn’t be jealous of or dislike the baby. Don’t forget still to give your dog plenty of love and attention. Show them that although there’s another person in the house, that doesn’t mean they have been forgotten.

Remember that infants can be confusing and unpredictable for dogs. They often have unfamiliar smells, make sudden loud noises, move in weird ways, and have small, enticing toys. They are also delicate, and even the gentlest dog can accidentally hurt them. Never leave infants unsupervised with dogs. If the infant is on the floor, closely supervise or confine the dog in a separate space. Then, as your child grows and becomes more mobile, you will also want to separate them when you cannot supervise them directly. So, installing baby gates can be a worthwhile investment now and in the future.

Dogs and Young Children

One of the many benefits of your dog and baby growing up alongside one another is that by the time your child enters their toddler phase, your dog will already be used to their company. That said, toddlers explore the world by poking and pulling everything they can get their hands on, which isn’t always reassuring to the family dog.

Some dogs may tolerate quite a lot—even letting young children pat them, pull tails, lean on, or sit on them. However, this does not mean the dog enjoys it, and it could set your child and the dog up for a potentially bad accident. Remember never to leave your toddler unsupervised with your dog.

As silly as it may sound, you and your family can also practice crawling near your dog. If they’ve never been around a young child before, they may find this type of movement foreign, and it is best to introduce them to this so that they are OK when your child is on the move.

Through the process of introducing your toddler or young child to a dog, it’s essential that you teach them what is and isn’t OK to do with their canine companions. Show them that gentle pats and pets are OK, but they shouldn’t pull a dog’s hair, ears, or tail. Teach your child not to poke the dog in the eye and to keep their fingers away from the dog’s mouth. Even at a young age, children should be taught not to climb on a dog and not to get in their face when they are eating.

When your kid becomes more independent and is walking about on their own, that will be a great time to teach them about giving the dog some alone time. It’s not uncommon for dogs to become impatient or overwhelmed by kids, and often their response is to walk away. If this occurs, it’s important that your child does not follow and instead gives the dog the space they want. You can also give your dog a room or a crate that is their safe space, and teach your kids not to touch or talk to the dog when they retreat to this space.

Dog Care for Kids

As your kids grow up, you can begin to give them some responsibility for helping take care of the dog. Simple tasks that you can help with or watch over could be a fantastic place to start. For instance, you could have your child be in charge of the dog’s water bowl. Show them how to fill it up and explain why it’s necessary always to have clean water for the dog.

When you work on commands and basic manners with your dog, try having your kids join in to help with training. Plus, it could be beneficial for your dog to learn to listen to the kids as well.

Continue to reiterate to your child what is and isn’t OK behavior with the dog. With your dog, praise them for being gentle around and not jumping on the kids. As your child may begin having more friends over to the house, let your dog approach at their own pace and teach your dog that these new guests are a good thing by offering them a tasty treat when new people come over. Depending on the dog, you might also allow the new kids to give your dog a treat when they visit as well. However, if lots of kids are overwhelming for your dog or the kids haven’t learned how to properly interact with dogs, secure your dog in their safe space until the guests leave.

teenage boy holding small white dog at home

Teenagers and Dogs

Around the time that your kids enter middle school and high school and become teenagers, there’s a good chance that their schedules will become much busier with school, extra-curricular activities, jobs, and hanging out with friends.

However, at this point in their life, they should learn more about responsibilities and being held accountable. Though they may have been helping take care of the family dog in a few minor ways before, now would be an excellent time to have them take on more daily duties.

Start by talking with your teens about their new roles. You can ask them if there are specific tasks they may be interested in—maybe they’d love to take the dog on an after-school walk. As you can imagine, some jobs, such as cleaning up the yard or brushing the dog’s teeth, are not going to be sought after, so you may need to take turns with the less desirable tasks. If you have multiple dogs or kids, you can also try to make it a little more fun by divvying up the roles.

Feeding the dog breakfast or dinner, taking the dog on their daily walks, taking them outside to use the potty, playing with them, and helping clean up any messes are all tasks teens can help do. Of course, tasks that don’t directly relate to the dog are also important. Dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, and cleaning the dog’s dishes all need to be done regularly. Not to mention, if your teenager has their own car, you could also have them help with picking the dog up from the groomers or grabbing necessary dog supplies from the store.

The Benefits of Raising Kids With a Pet Dog

Being a dog parent is a rewarding role that comes with many benefits. Raising your dog and kids alongside one another means that your children can also greatly benefit from having a canine in the home.

It’s first worth noting that there are health benefits for your child by growing up with a dog. Overall, children who grow up around animals typically have stronger immune systems and have a higher chance of being physically active. Besides physical health, mental health can also be affected. Kids who have a pet in the house may show fewer signs of behavioral issues, moodiness, and learning problems.

By having their best bud around, kids may feel more open to sharing their thoughts and feelings, even if it is just with the dog. However, through this, your child may build more confidence or self-esteem. Some kids may even work on their reading or speaking skills by reading their books aloud to the family dog.

Even in social situations, your child may find security in having their dog nearby. Their family pet can also become an easy topic for your child to discuss with others, helping them feel more comfortable meeting people. By knowing how to interact with their dog, you are also teaching your children how to interact with other dogs they may come across.

Both children and adults can learn important lessons from caring for a dog.

  • Responsibility

    Teaching your child responsibility is an invaluable lesson. This lesson can be taught with dogs by explaining to your kid and showing them the daily tasks of caring for the family dog—items such as feeding, exercising, and taking the dog outside. You can use many examples to show your children further what a responsible pet parent looks like, including taking your dog to the veterinarian, regularly grooming them, and not leaving your dog home alone for too long.

  • Empathy

    This can be a huge thing for kids to learn, especially as they get used to expressing and explaining their feelings. A large part of empathy as a dog parent is looking at situations through your dog’s eyes. Explain to your kids or teenagers the proper way to treat and interact with the family dog and show them why the dog may not like them acting differently.

  • Patience

    A significant part of raising a dog is learning how to be patient. Puppies, in particular, can test your patience, especially when they continue to have accidents in the house or find something else to chew. Instead of raising your voice at your dog, try redirecting them and continue to work on positively reinforcing correct behaviors. Though it may take some persistence for a few months, your little pup will mature out of the puppy phase soon enough. As an adult, your dog will still need some training and obedience lessons. Remember that not all dogs will catch on to new commands immediately, so continue using positive reinforcement and consistency. Even when your dog is considered a senior, patience will be an essential item to keep in mind. When dogs are much older, more patience from you and your family may be necessary since your dog could be moving slower or may forget some of their old tricks.

  • Money management

    Money management can be a valuable skill to teach your children. Using your dog as an example, you can show them that necessities such as your dog’s food, bowls, and leash and collar are all items that your dog needs. Additional costs such as grooming expenses or veterinary bills could also be discussed with your older children. Explain to your kids how it’s necessary to buy your dog’s essential items before spending money on ‘fun’ things. With your older teenagers who may soon want a dog of their own, show them how expensive veterinary costs could get and allow them to understand that becoming a pet parent is accompanied by some financial responsibility.

  • Unconditional love

    One of the most meaningful things having a dog can teach kids and adults is unconditional love. No matter where you live, what you look like, what your job is, or how your day has been going, your dog will always greet you with a wagging tail, a smile on their face, and much love for their favorite people.

Teaching kids about taking care of a dog can be a rewarding experience. Not only will your child learn many important life lessons, but there is also a long list of benefits to growing up with a dog in the house. No doubt—kids and dogs can make the best of friends when set up for success.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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