Kids’ Life with Dogs and What they Learn from Pets

Today’s guest blogger share with us a few insights getting the kids involved in looking after the household pets.

“As a parent who brings home a new puppy for the joy that the children will experience, your role is also to use the puppy as a “teacher-dog”, which simply means using the pet to teach your kids morals and responsibility. Specific situations come up all of the time in the home to take advantage of this opportunity.

There was a case with one person that did not like dogs to begin with, and would always try to use random dog gates and playpens around the house, but eventually, a Basset Hound was being abandoned. It was scruffy and had rickets. Irene took him, saying all the time she “didn’t want that dumb dog messing up the house, but someone had to take it.

dog gates

Now, one of her sons, Eric, is knee-deep in chores. He is 8 years old and exercises the dog, finds the places outside of Irene’s flowerbeds for the dog, Lily, to dig holes. Little boy Eric sees Irene preparing Lily’s food. She fries fat, adds it to the dog’s food, and mixes in vitamins.

Eric sees the medicine and the care and he sees a change in his dog.

Her coat glistens from the food – nutritious raw dog diets help in developing healthy and shiny coats, and her personality opens up. At first, Lily would not even move. Now she chases Eric with a fast, bow-legged waddle. At first, she would not even respond to a scolding. Now when Irene gives commands, she obeys but grumbles under her breath.

Irene sees not instant companionship but a growing bond between Eric and the dog. The eight-year-old does not consider this as a responsibility, but just a new kind of loyalty he never felt before.

Being put in Eric’s situation – having something weaker dependent upon you is a rare experience for such a young child. It gave Eric his own place in the family. He has an older brother and sister, and although they get along very well, there is a five-year gap between their adolescence and his childhood.

Eric’s association with the dog gave his brother and sister an opportunity to truthfully admire what he was doing without talking down to him. It was something Eric could do that was not just a child’s accomplishment – it was considered important in the adult world, too.

Eric also solved a problem he was having with not being able to play ball with his older brother. He would not play with Eric due to his age and lack of coordination that a 13-year-old just could not have fun with. Now Eric can play ball with Lily. It’s not the best – Lily can’t throw and neither of them can catch – but it evens out.

In addition, not only does the new addition of a puppy into the home make children happy, it also creates an unexpected learning center that can teach the kids care, tenderness, responsibility, and ironically – sharing.

I stress the word “ironically” because you probably feel that this would be the last result of adding a dog to a family. Would a dog be the spark to further ignite sibling rivalry? Would one child wind up with the dog’s ears while the other held onto the tail?

One fundamental element can help you cool off sibling rivalry and create a real sharing experience.

A dog is not a toy to be shared, but a coexisting being who expresses his personality and has a fill of his own. It is not easy to manipulate a dog. You have given the children something not just to play with, but to reckon with. You have taken the emphasis off each other and diverted their attention to the dog.

I asked my friend Heather if I could use her story. She said yes but to change everyone’s name except the dog – “he’s the hero.” Heather’s problem was not unusual.

After three sentences, a conversation would be broken. The two boys responsible (her kids were not even in the room with us. The constant interruptions came over an intercom that linked the kitchen to their bedroom. Heather’s two boys (age 2 and 3) were in constant competition with each other, classically called sibling rivalry.

Suddenly, there was a scream and crying. Heather said, “Christopher, are you making Paul cry?” The polite answer came, “Yes, mother.” Heather, on the far edge of exasperation said, “Please don’t hit him. That’s your brother!” One month later, there was a change.

Heather, reasonably free from interruptions, gave her answer, “We’ve got a dog. He was a stray. I said to him, ‘Look, Brown Dog, I give you a week. If you can take the kids, you can stay.’” Heather thought, God bless you dog, and introduced him into the children’s circle.

“Look, we gotta help this dog. He’s a stray and he needs us. Now Paul, you choose a place for him to sleep. Christopher, do you have an old shirt for him to sleep on? Let’s decide who can do what. Can you give some time to walk him? We’ll alternate, but Christopher, you can feed him tonight and at the same time show your brother how, so he can tomorrow? Now, what should I do – go buy him some food?”

Heather’s method worked. She took the boys by surprise. She gave them several things:

1) An honest approach – told them the problems they would have and exactly how to solve them. She made it their giving and their suggestions that made things right.

2) She diverted their attention. What had been riveted on each other in competition was now dispersed. Something else demanded their attention. They were too busy at first and too involved later.

3) The sibling rivalry cooled off and sharing developed because they had a go-between – the dog was the object of their giving and receiving but, in fact, they were learning to give and take from each other.”