A small child hugs her dog.

Bringing home a new pet or a new baby are both happy and life-altering experiences. With your family expanding, it is important to teach your kids to respect and care for the pets in your home, from avoiding tail-pulling to properly bathing and feeding your pets.

Understanding how to respect your pet’s personal space is also important to keep your children safe, as a tugged tail may result in an unintentional nip. Children can also be involved in training pets, which enforces positive behaviors in both the kids and pets. Working patiently and succeeding in getting your dog to sit on command is a big accomplishment for all involved. 

Planning, preparation, parental involvement, and communication can make pet ownership an incredibly rewarding experience for all family members. Read below for some tips on how to promote a harmonious relationship between your pets and your children and how to teach your kids the responsibility of caring for animals. 

Teaching Young Children to be Gentle with Pets

Having a pet can be a very exciting privilege, and it is important to teach young children to be gentle and respectful with pets. Some ways to encourage gentle behavior with pets include: 

  • Scheduled petting times: When your child is feeling calm, sit down with your pet and teach them slow, gentle petting. You may even want to model this on a stuffed animal first, before trying with your pet. 
  • Taking away a privilege: To emphasize that caring for an animal is a privilege, if your child is a bit too rough, have them wait and sit aside until they can play with the pet calmly. This practice teaches that mistreating animals is not permitted. 
  • Setting an example: Getting your child involved with pet care will model how to treat a pet properly.

The American Kennel Club suggests always supervising pets and young children together. Dogs are animals with sharp teeth and instincts to protect themselves, and a child can be in a dangerous predicament if they choose to mishandle a pet. 

Pet-Care Responsibilities 

The first step is to make all the pet care responsibilities clear to children. 

It’s a good idea to create a list with your child about what responsibilities are involved with caring for a pet. Then discuss with them which chores your kids feel they can take on. By choosing the chore to complete, your child will feel more responsibility for the chore and will be more likely to complete it regularly. 

You should discuss why the chore is important and what might happen if the chore isn’t completed, such as the animal could make a mess in the house or get hungry. Make sure to emphasize the effects on the animal, too, to reinforce the idea that good care leads to happier, healthier animals. For example, explain how late feeding can make an animal hungry and upset, whereas overfeeding can lead to chronic health problems and an inability for the animal to enjoy aging gracefully. 

Before giving your child the reins, it is essential to model the pet care behaviors and get your child involved. 

Choose Appropriate Responsibilities for Their Age:

It is also important that their chore be age-appropriate. This level will vary by child, but some general age-appropriate pet chores include: 

Ages 2 to 5: 

  • Help put food and water in dishes. Make sure this task is performed out of reach of your pet, as pets can get excited about meal time and accidentally nip little hands. 
  • Help with cage maintenance, such as wiping down the bottom of the cage or changing a puppy pad.
  • Clean and put away pet dishes 
  • Help put away toys

Ages 6 to 10 

  • Clean up pet droppings 
  • Help with brushing, grooming, and bathing 
  • Help with exercise and walking 
  • Involve your child with training by teaching them how to use treats and praise and giving them their own cue. 

Ages 10+

  • Most children can actively assume all aspects of pet care unless your pet is very large or has special needs.

Seek to Positively Reinforce Both Pets and Children

Studies have shown that positive reinforcement results in pets learning faster and responding more quickly to commands, and this has also been proven to work with children as well. 

Make an effort to praise your child whenever they complete a chore without being asked. Positive reinforcement will increase the likelihood that this event will happen again. The event can even be something fun involving the pet, such as playing or cuddling with them in a way the pet enjoys. Once a child has consistently completed a pet chore, you can decrease the continuous praise as it becomes a habit. 

According to Parenting, it is important not to associate pet care with punishments, as this can introduce frustration or resentment towards your pet. For example, a child should not have the responsibility of scooping litter only as a punishment. Instead, they should understand this is an opportunity to care for the pet so that they can be happier and enjoy a clean living space. 

Teaching Kids to Train the Dog 

Because consistency is key in dog training, it is important to get the whole family, including children, on board with the process. A child as young as five can understand asking a dog to sit before giving him a treat. It is important that children know how to use praise and treats for training. 

Also, seek to reinforce disciplined behavior around the dog, such as not regularly offering it human food or table scraps.

In training, “poisoning the cue” is a result of a cue being used too often without the dog obeying which leads to the word losing meaning or creating a negative association for your pet. 

To avoid poisoning the cue, the American Kennel Club suggests giving kids their own verbal cues. For example, your dog may learn to come to you when you say “here” and come to your child at the word “come.” 

Keep in Mind that Greenlin Is Here to Offer Safe Fun for Your Pet 

Having a pet is a great way to learn about empathy and practice responsibility. If you want help from an expert in making your pet and child comfortable with one another, Greenlin offers dog training to help both dogs and owners establish a consistent routine that can be practiced daily. Working with a certified professional trainer and your vet can be a winning combination for encouraging your children to be involved in training and pet care. 

If you need to work or travel, Greenlin’s dog daycare can also give you the peace of mind that your pet is safe while you are away from home. We have manicured outdoor play areas and indoor climate-controlled play gyms for supervised fun in all types of weather. 

For more information, please visit our website or call (717) 844-6569 to learn about our 6 locations in the Harrisburg Area.