Many children crave having a pet to look after and parents often think it is a great way to teach them responsibility by caring for something else. Growing up with a pet is a wonderful experience for children but there are a few things to consider first and rushing to get a puppy or kitten may not be the best option.
If you have young children, you may think that a puppy or kitten would be most appropriate as they are small, would grow up with your child and adapt quickly to toddlerhood. However, young animals are fragile and are more easily harmed, especially if your youngster likes to pick them up and carry them around. They also play with their teeth or claws and will learn to scratch and bite any rough handling. Young cats will be using an indoor litter tray as they are too young to go out, and puppies will need to be toilet trained. Both require a lot of concentration and attention - not something that parents of toddlers have spare. Many clients come in with new puppies after having an older dog, exclaiming they’d forgotten how much hard work it is. Older animals with experience of young children may be more suitable and any good rehoming centre will assess your needs thoroughly.
You may also think that small breeds will be better than large ones. Again, this very much depends on the breed and the individual dog. Small breeds such as Chihuahuas or Italian Greyhounds are very fragile and not up to the rough and tumble of lively children. Others, such as Terriers can be nippy, because they are working breeds. Larger dogs such as Labradors and Rottweilers are very child orientated and protective. Breed is just one component of a dog’s temperament and all dogs no matter what size should be socialised and trained from a young age. Just as all humans, no matter what size should be trained to give their pets the love and attention they need.
“Let sleeping dogs (and cats) lie” is a very good cliché and children must be taught not to disturb animals when they are resting or eating. Animals need their down time just as much as humans and children must never be left unsupervised with animals. Toddlers must also be taught that pulling ears or tails is very wrong. Dogs can also become very excited if young children are running around screaming so a time out session is advised here too.
Older children can help to take care of a pet, but with busy social lives and school requirements, it is unrealistic for them to be the sole carer. Always assume the pet is yours and that your child helps you take care of it.
Owning a pet is a wonderful way to teach your child trust, responsibility and commitment. They can whisper into a furry ear things they’d never say to others and pets can teach children the most important things in life – loyalty and love.