Our dad is a dog lover and we always have owned dogs when we were growing up. So our dad taught us about good dog nutrition and dog care. This knowledge helped us learn responsibility and develop a love of our pets – and it inspired us to start a business to help others care for their pets, too. By teaching your children some basics about dogs and engaging them in pet care, they will develop responsibility and a love for their dogs, too.
Your dog is not a toy
It’s important that even little children understand that your dog is a real animal with feelings and needs. They have to understand that they could hurt the dog, frighten the dog, or even anger the dog. Very small children should be supervised and shown how to pet the dog gently and not bother him when he’s eating. Children should never ride on a dog like he’s a horse. This could cause serious harm to the dog’s legs or back and may cause him to try to protect himself.
So the most important thing all children need to know, whatever age they are, is that your dog is real and needs to be treated in a kind and safe manner.
Your dog needs the same things you do
Dogs need healthy food, water, exercise, sleep, and the opportunity to “go to the bathroom.” Depending on your children’s ages, they can be involved in many of these activities. You can even make a chart of dog-care responsibilities and give children age-appropriate duties.
For instance, a small child may be responsible for keeping the dog’s water bowl full and the area around the bowl wiped up (you don’t want anyone slipping on a wet floor!). A 10-year-old child old could be responsible for feeding the dog daily or brushing him weekly.
Take your children of various ages with you when walking the dog and explain to them how to walk him safely on a leash - avoiding entanglements, keeping him out of the street, and cleaning up after him when he has a poop. (No one wants that in their yard, and in some places, it’s the law to clean up after your dog.) Older children who are strong enough can walk the dog alone, once properly instructed.
How you distribute the dog-care chores will depend on the ages of your children, but teaching them how to care for the family dog will really give them a strong sense of responsibility and will help them bond with the dog because he or she is depending on them in order to live. That makes a child feel grown up.
Keeping your dog healthy
Another important lesson for the kids is how to keep your dog healthy. They need to know not to feed the dog their own people food, especially not candy, cookies, gum, chips, etc. We love these foods, but we don’t eat a lot at once because we know they’re not good for us. But dogs don’t know that. They’ll eat whatever you give them, and they’ll stuff themselves with it.
Don’t store food in bottom cabinets, like cereal, chips, or other boxed items. Don’t leave food close to the edge of the counter or on low tables where the dog can get it. Teach your children not to leave food within reach.
We’ve all had the experience at a picnic in which the dog sees an unattended paper plate full of food or a plate of burgers left alone and he helps himself. When that happens, make sure you’ve taught your children not to hit or punish the dog. He was doing what dogs do – eat. It’s our job to keep the food that’s not good for them away from them.
If you’re in a situation where there will be food temptations galore, have dog treats handy. Our Saint Rocco’s Sprinkles are perfect for this. You can just keep a baggie of them in your pocket. Give a baggie to your older children, too, so they can carefully dish them out as a reward when the dog shows restraint and doesn’t go for someone’s plate.
Feed the dog healthy food he loves, like our fresh Saint Rocco’s Beef or Poultry Entrees. If he’s not hungry, he is less likely to hunt in the cabinet, snatch things off the counter, or race for something that has fallen to the floor. He’ll actually prefer his own food and the treats you give him!
Training your dog
Training is critical in order to keep your dog, your children, and other dogs and children safe. Your kids can help in the training process and can help reinforce training. But make sure you first teach your kids how, because the dog could be quite confused if he’s getting mixed messages.
Teach your dog the basics of sit, stay, come, lie down, heel, and drop it. Train your dog with healthy treats, like our Savory Red Meat, Helt’s Honey Treat, or one of our other healthy treats, so he’s getting good nutrition during the training. Cut them into small pieces and they’ll go a long way.
If your children have a few treats in their pockets to reward the dog when he’s behaving outside of training time, he will learn faster and they will have the satisfaction of knowing they’re an important part of their dog’s life.
We loved helping to care for our dogs growing up, making sure they ate well and stayed happy and healthy. We felt important, needed, and responsible. Your kids will, too.