Starting from Disney movies like 101 Dalmatians and Lady and the Tramp to Snoopy’s tales in Peanuts comic strips, dogs and children make a happy pair. Leaving a dog in the hands of a child who is barely responsible for himself is a definite ‘No-no’ because of the obvious lack of maturity but there are ways to introduce appropriate pet care chores into his schedule. Let’s see how.
Watching a child and the pet grow up together is a matter of great joy to all parents. “Every little achievement or antic of theirs is viewed with a lot of pride as if the impossible has just been made possible,” shares Dipannita Ghosh Biswas. For instance, architect-photographer-mother Leena Nair has her heart and home full at the moment. There’s Ally, her two-year-old daughter, along with Cocoa. “We adopted Cocoa four years back, two years before Ally was born. Her first introduction to Cocoa was when we first walked into the house with her cradled in my arms. It’s been a little over two years now that they have lived and grown up together and I must say they get along fabulously,” says Leena, adding, “In fact, Ally is the bully. Cocoa is very well-behaved; the problem is my daughter.”
It’s a joyride in every sense of the term, complete with the fun moments and the pressure points undoubtedly. It also requires parents to be careful in every sense of the term,” shares Dipannita.
There’s a reason behind the saying that ‘A dog is a man’s best friend’. Here’s what a child can learn from a pet at home:
- Selfless love: For Neeraj Surana, watching his two Cocker Spaniels – Tyson and Buzzer – play with his son, Vivaan, is the most exhilarating experience. When asked Neeraj what Vivaan has to learn from Buzzer and Tyson, he states, “Why just a child, even we have so much to learn from them, the most vital being to give without wanting anything in return – selfless love. I am sure Vivaan will grow up to love, share and care without hesitation – be it human beings or animals.”
- Non-judgemental attitude: One of the main reasons why kids get along so well with pets at home is because of their non-judgemental nature. “Both take the other as they are – no demands, no expectations, no reprimands, just love and some more love,” shares Dipannita.
- Companionship: The fact that the child and pet are there for each other is also a great sense of relief. “Zero down to one most important thing that a child learns from the pet and vice versa, it would be companionship – a trait that will hold your baby in good stead throughout life,” mentions Dipannita.
- Loyalty: A child learns the value of loyalty and perseverance with a four-legged companion at home.
- Playtime a learning experience: In fact, playing with a pet can also be a huge learning experience for a child, edging him on to be curious and innovative, at the same time.
- More immunity: Physically, the child develops stronger immunity to allergies and asthma.
- Security: Dogs provide a sense of security that’s crucial for the growing up years.
- Responsible: When you have a pet at home, you can make your child responsible towards his needs and make him a responsible person.
- Sensitising: It sensitises children to the needs of another being.
In fact, growing up with a pet at home is a dream for most kids and unforgettable gift from the parents. “For a large number of families, the child’s desire for a pet dog is the reason that the canine member joins them in the first place. While the young ones are quick to promise that they will take care of the dog, the responsibility usually goes to the adults and household help,” says Sue Ghosh.
But you can make your child a responsible pet parent. “Introducing each aspect of the dog’s care into your child’s routine, in a steady manner, can benefit both him and your pet. Be sure to monitor them,” shares Sue.
Here are ways that children at different ages can help take care of their four-legged friend.
Age 3 to 4 years: “Ask your child to participate in the feeding process until the bowl has to be given to the pet. This includes allowing him to locate the food, hand it over to you, and drying the washed food bowl. You can even let him use a big spoon to carefully put the right amount of food in the bowl,” advises Sue.
Age 5 to 8 years: As the child matures, he can take on increased responsibility. “In addition to the aspects he was taking care of earlier, he can learn to wash the food and water bowl, and use the vacuum cleaner to remove fur from the furniture. Putting away the dog’s leash and collar after he comes back from a walk is another new thing he can do. Since dirty collars and leashes can cause skin irritation, infections, and fur loss, keeping them clean is another important aspect. Your child can wash them with vinegar and water or regular detergent. When he takes on this responsibility, make sure to remind him that the leash and collar need to be completely dry before they can be used again. He can lay them out to be air dried. Don’t forget to show him how much soap to use in the bucket and how to check for residue soap that can be bad for the dog,” tells Sue.
Age 9 to 12 years: At this stage, the features of grooming can be introduced. “Take your child with you to the vet or ask him to hold and comfort the dog while his nails are being cut. Ensure that he knows which gestures and physical interactions make the dog uncomfortable. Demonstrate first,” tells Sue.
All dogs need exercise to maintain good health, so include the responsibility of regular play such as throwing a stick or rolling around a ball. “Running around in a room without too much furniture or in an open space like the garden, can promote fitness for both at the same time strengthening their bond,” mentions Sue.
Age 13 and up: Most children in their teens can handle dog care responsibilities other than medical issues and formal training. Buy him some books on basic dog training and care. The common ‘Sit’ and ‘Down’ commands can be taught. Taking the dog for walks is another opportunity for bonding and exercise for both pet and child. Keeping to this will build your child’s self-discipline too. Remember to point out the right and wrong places for the dog’s toilet. No sidewalk or neighbours’ property. Depending on your child’s maturity level, supervise until you think it is unnecessary,” advises Sue.
A responsible child who takes care of his dog is a responsible human being. Not only does he learn so much, he also gains incomparable canine loyalty and love that will last him lifetime.
(With inputs from Sue Ghosh and Dipannita Ghosh Biswas).