Inevitably, at some point in a child’s life, he or she will ask for a pet. Children see pets on television, or at friend’s homes and start falling in love with the idea of a one of their own. It’s a big decision to bring one into a family and definitely one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. So, if the child will be expected to care for the pet, it’s important to teach him or her proper care early – even before bringing it home. Here are some steps parents can take to help ensure that once a new pet is brought home, the child is well equipped to care for it.
The Basics First
– The first thing to discuss with children is the absolute basics of pet care, including the need for food, water, and shelter. Let them know that food should be good-quality pet food and never table scraps at dinner time. The water dish should always be full of fresh water, and a soft and warm place to sleep is essential. Lead the child to understand that pets are dependent on people, and that despite what some movies depict, they are not self-sufficient.
The Value of Exercise
– Let the child know that just as he feels so happy after playing in the yard or riding his bike, his pet will feel better and be healthier with regular exercise. Discuss what type of exercise he would like to do with, such as hikes, walks, playing fetch, or playing other games.
Approaching and Handling Pets
– Children who will be caring for a pet of their own at some point should be exposed to other pets as regularly as possible. They should know they should always ask the owner before approaching the pet, and when allowed, they should understand the proper way to approach an animal so as not to seem aggressive or overbearing. If holding a pet, they should know the signs to look for when the pet is ‘finished’ being held and that they should never stick their face into the face of an animal. All of these behaviors will be beneficial when they have their own animal, and when their friends try to approach that pet.
– Make the correlation between your child’s annual doctor visits and sick visits (and how much better he feels once he receives medicine) to veterinary visits for his animal. Tell the child that his pet may be scared just like he sometimes is at the doctor, so it’s important to be patient with the pet and comfort him during these trips.
– The concept of training a pet to be a responsible member of the family – and of society – is an important part of the pet-owning process. Discuss with the child that there will need to be time set aside each week for training, whether that be at a training facility or at home. It will be another commitment the child will have to accept.It’s important to teach responsible pet ownership as early as possible, so the child knows there should be no other way to raise an animal. All of the above steps lead to responsible pet ownership and will give parents a good idea as to whether the child is ready for this commitment yet. Starting early, before bringing a pet home, will help ensure that pet will be a member of the family forever and not given up to a shelter down the road.