Although most children have a natural affinity towards nature and animals, they can unknowingly hurt an
animal out of enthusiasm or ignorance. Moreover, fear and lack of familiarity can fling all the love and compassion out of the window. By teaching children to respect dogs as well as other animals, we are doing our bit to raise a sensitive generation that is connected to nature—this eventually translates into fewer incidents of animal cruelty and abuse.
Bring home a pet: Keeping a household pet is by far the best way to bring your child closer to the animal world but caring for one is not every one’s cup of tea. If the prospect of a dog or a cat seems too daunting for now, consider smaller pets like goldfish, hamsters and guinea pigs who are relatively less demanding in terms of feeding, space and care. A child will learn a lot about animals by observing the mannerism of a pet and will gradually identify the animal as a member of the family.
Let kids share the responsibility: Depending on your child’s age and abilities, assign different care-taking responsibilities. Younger kids could take up simple tasks like putting the dog food in the bowl, arranging the dog’s bedding and playing outdoor games with the pooch while older kids should be able to handle bathing, feeding, walking and training the dog.
Playing with a neighbour pet dog: If you don’t happen to have a dog in the house, may be a neighbour’s affectionate dog can make a good playmate for your child. Teach your children to always ask the pet parent before playing with a pet dog as some dogs do not appreciate juvenile company. Always supervise the interaction.
Teaching good manners: Teach children not to touch dogs during meal-times or when they are sleeping. Show your kid the correct way to pet a dog without touching trouble spots like the tail and the eyes. Children should also be told that animals feel pain and also have feelings.
Say ‘no’ to wrong behaviour: If you find a child teasing a dog, correct him. Dogs usually don’t retaliate unless they are threatened or driven off the edge. Let your kids know that behaving badly with animals is not acceptable and that an animal’s feelings are no different from that of a human being. Children should be taught to gently caress the animal and offering treats in order to establish the trust.
Develop love and compassion: When you talk to your child about dogs, avoid referring to them as “it”. Instead, refer to the pooch by name or use pronouns like “he” or “she”. This helps kids associate them with living beings who undergo pain and trauma just like humans. Once children identify a pooch as a “person” rather than an inanimate object, they are more likely to respect their feelings. For example, try “Coco is too tired to play right now” instead of “Don’t play with the dog. It will bite you!” Let your voice reflect love and compassion for animals if you would like your children to develop the same values.
Watch dog-friendly movies: Introduce your child to stories and books that talk about beautiful relationship between humans and dogs. Several movies (animated and otherwise) that delve into the psyche of animals will help your children relate to the feelings and emotional needs of animals. Old Yeller, Lassie and Lady and The Tramp are great to begin with. Not to forget Marley & Me and Hachiko: A Dog’s Story.
Visit an animal shelter: Similarly, you could spend a few hours at a local animal shelter to sensitise your child towards stray, abandoned, sick and injured dogs. Older kids may be encouraged to volunteer at shelters during holidays or on a couple of Sundays every month. Such activities are a tremendous learning experience and significantly add to your child’s extra-curricular repertoire.
By infusing your children’s hearts with love and regard for canines, you are not only contributing towards their moral development but also reinforcing the timeless bonds between humans and their best buddies.