Whose Dog Is It? A Child's Responsibility for A Dog - Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My husband and I are disagreeing about our 10-year-old’s responsibility regarding the new dog.

I’m on the side that we’re the grown-ups and she’s still just learning to take care of herself. On the other hand, my husband thinks our daughter should be the one to participate in obedience classes with the dog, walk him three times a day, refill the food and water bowls, and clean up after his messes. So until this is settled, the dog is making messes and our daughter is getting fussed at.

And no one is going to training.

Life in this Dog House is Not Fun,

Dear LitDHiNF,

Yes, your daughter is still a child. Yes, a new dog can make lots of messes. Yes, your family life sounds very un-fun. Though I am more qualified to talk about children than dogs, thanks to my husband I have learned that everyone in the family can take part in the responsibilities a dog presents. No matter whose decision it was to get a dog, and whether any of you had a good idea of what that would entail, everyone can contribute toward:

Food
One of the adults, or maybe the partnership of both, needs to keep the house stocked with the dog’s food. An adult is also responsible for the nutritional quality of that food, perhaps in consultation with the veterinarian.

A child as young as two-years-old can be supervised to scoop and pour dry food into the dog’s bowl. As your child shows she can handle it, the adult can back off from directly overseeing, to reminding her that it’s time, to helping her associate another routine (such as getting her own breakfast) with checking and filling the dog’s bowl. After this step you can work out a system whereby your daughter notifies a parent that it’s time to buy more food. A shopping list on the refrigerator and a nearby pencil should do it.

Water
Drinking water for your dog is nearly as accessible as drinking water for the humans. He just can’t reach the tap. So as above, the adult takes the oversight role in assuring the dog’s water bowl is never empty.

For a child to be successful with keeping the water bowl filled, she needs to be able to easily see the level of water in the bowl (i.e. not in a dark corner), carry the bowl to the sink, and be able to carry the full bowl back to its proper place. A dog past puppyhood will have a role in alerting you to an empty bowl by scratching at it or pushing it around. You may need to interpret these signals for your daughter so she can learn to “hear” them for herself. But if she’s not around, the nearest human should respond quickly with a re-filled bowl.

Exercise
Are you getting ample exercise? A very energetic dog could benefit from more than one family member taking him for a walk each day. You could start out with the whole family to establish a nice walking route (with neighborly consideration to bring along a poop bag), then have each family member “claim” a time of the day or day of the week as their turn for walks. Because your daughter is still growing, she needs a daily schedule of her own for getting off to school on time and going to bed. The after school walk is the best option to be her sole responsibility. Either parent could claim the early morning or late night walk if one or both of these might compromise your daughter’s needs. Among the three of you, and the needs of the dog, work out a schedule for dog walks to meet everyone’s needs.

Housetraining
Sufficient walking should help with housetraining, however, you’re probably more concerned about the cleanliness of your house than your daughter is. One parent should take charge of this so there is consistency for the dog. Read a book. Go online. Ask the vet. The other members can certainly assist by responding to the dog’s communications that he needs an extra walk. As with other household tasks that your daughter should be included in, keep cleaning tools and supplies handy for the inevitable messes. And just as you taught your daughter by example and reminders about hand washing after toileting, demonstrate how to be hygienic with the dog’s waste.

Obedience Training
There is a social hierarchy to normal dog behavior with or without humans. It is important to establish yourself and your husband as the Alphas, the leaders, who protect and direct the rest of the pack. Your daughter is a Beta - still able to dominate the dog, whose role as the Omega is to alert the pack to danger. Training classes teach the human to accept a superior status over the dog’s subordinate status. These clear levels of status, dog experts tell us, make the dog happy. If your daughter shares her father’s opinion that she is the dog’s primary human, then of course she should participate in a training class. Find one that welcomes children! She will learn how to confidently connect with the dog for essential commands. You’ll want to pay attention to the instructor too, though, since there will be times when you need to command the dog to “sit,” “stay,” or “drop it.”

Chew Toys / Dog Proofing
Most dogs do a lot of chewing as they cut their teeth in puppyhood. Some continue to seek out chew toys whether or not that was the object’s intended use. Everyone in the house needs to guard their possessions against accidental destruction by the dear dog. The adults can set a budget and let your daughter choose appropriate chew toys, or suggest that she make some herself.

Health Care
Obviously one or the other adult needs to take the lead for taking the dog to the veterinarian for essential shots, check ups, and urgent care visits. But please include your daughter as you feel is appropriate. Considering the dog may have a life expectancy of a dozen years or more, she could decide to take him with her when she leaves the nest and will benefit from having had experience taking care of his health needs. On the other hand, you may find yourself as the dog’s primary human during your daughter’s college years and to the end of his life. Regardless, regular visits to the vet can be good learning opportunities for your daughter.

Affection
As a pack animal by nature, a dog’s instinct is to have a loyal and loving relationship with his family. As the humans in that family you can show affection not only with proper care as highlighted above, but in the special way you each spend time with him. This could be the couch cuddling when you watch tv, the things he helps you stop and notice on your walks, the cool tricks you learn to perform together, or the special (vet. approved!) snacks you share with him. In any good relationship there is good communication and respect for one another’s emotions. Therefor share what each of you is learning about what pleases or displeases your newest member so that you can be a fun family again.

Dr. Debbie

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