This year, after a lot of debate, discussion, and yes, some begging, my family has decided to add a four-legged member to our ranks. We're currently waiting for a golden retriever puppy, which should join us sometime late this Summer. I've always known I wanted a puppy for our family, and my kids have been making desperate pleas for years, but I wanted the timing to be right (who wants to potty-train a dog and a reluctant kid at the same time?). I also wanted everyone to be on board (having not grown up with dogs, my husband needed some convincing about their benefits) and my kids to be old enough to understand the responsibility of pet ownership.
Now that we've determined that we're ready (and decided which breed fits into our young family best), we're moving on to the next stage: how to prepare our kids for the reality of a puppy. If you've decided to bring a pup home to your house, here's are seven ways to get your kids ready to be good pet owners.
- Find and visit a reputable breeder. Once you've decided which kind of dog makes sense for your family, taking into account activity levels, patience with children, grooming needs, etc., now's the time to find a good breeder and make a visit. Not only will this give your children a sneak peek into what their future dog will look like when you meet its potential parents, but most breeders are invested in finding their dogs good homes, meaning they're more than willing to introduce your children to the process of approaching, walking, grooming, and training a puppy. And if your kids are like mine, they're more likely to listen to a pro than you.
- Dog sit for a friend's pooch. Tell dog-owning friends that you'd like to watch their pup for a few days to give your kids a test run in dog ownership. Let them get involved in feeding, walking, and grooming your borrowed dog, and you'll get a chance to see what you need to work on and just how seriously they're taking their role as pet sitters.
- Talk about the responsibilities of dog ownership. Make sure your kids know that you're expecting them to help with the dog duties and outline what that means. Do you expect your older kids to walk the dog before and after school? To feed the dog in the morning and evening? Lay out clear expectations, and make sure everyone is on board.
- Teach your children some dog respect. Even the friendliest breeds need some space, so teach your kids to approach dogs slowly and calmly (model this behavior whenever possible), to keep some distance when the dog is eating or sleeping soundly, and to understand that dogs need down time, too.
- Create a schedule and a list of commands everyone in the family will use. Training is a huge part of dog ownership, so get everyone on the same page. First set up a schedule that will determine the dog's walking and eating schedules, along with times for play and rest. Then decide which verbal and hand-signal commands you'll use, so you won't confuse your pup. If you're not sure, ask your breeder or enlist the help of a dog trainer.
- Purchase puppy supplies. Let your kids help you pick out appropriate food and water bowls, a collar and leash, ID tags, chew toys, grooming supplies, a crate, and a bed. Not only will this get them excited for their puppy's arrival, but it will teach them a bit about the financial commitments of owning a dog.
- Start puppy proofing. Figure out an area where the puppy will spend most of his time the first few months, and make sure it's a safe environment by removing plants, rugs, and breakables, setting up a crate and installing gates, and making sure there are no harmful electrical cords or household cleaners. Now you're ready to welcome your four-legged family member.