By Pia Silvani, CPDT-KA, CCBC
Raising a pet that will grow to become a special friend to the children is something many families look forward to with excitement. Lots of parents have fond memories of the dogs and cats with which they shared their own childhoods. Others, who grew up without a pet, can’t wait to finally have that special animal they’ve wanted for as long as they can remember. Few would disagree that there’s almost nothing that compares to that unique and even mysterious relationship between kids and pets.
There are many of us, however, who probably remember growing up with our pets in a far less hectic environment than most of us cope with in today’s society. The family of the twenty-first century—adults and kids alike--is likely to be juggling activities and responsibilities that require Herculean organizational skills! Bringing a puppy or kitten, an adorable but needy little creature, into the mix adds additional time and responsibility to schedules that might already be tight.
There is good news though! Recognizing the value of pets in our lives, society has made adjustments as well so that most families, no matter how busy, need not be deprived of the rewards and benefits of animal companions. There are pet sitters, day care, conveniently scheduled training classes for dogs, pet-friendly parks, kitty day care, and loads of “things” that make it possible for us to raise and enjoy our pets with minimal problems.
Some advance planning will help to ensure that “life with puppy or kitty” goes smoothly. Before taking the plunge, take a good look at your current family calendar. While the children, depending on their ages, should take on some additional duties related to having a pet, we all know that the greater part of the responsibility for successfully integrating this new family member will fall to the adults. Spending some time working on how you will meet the pet’s needs and whether outside help will be required will make it easier for you in the long run.
The following is a checklist to help you get ready for your new puppy or kitten. Taking the responsibility of raising a young animal cannot be taken lightly. It requires time and patience. However, being prepared will only help you reap the benefits in the long run.
Prior to bringing your new little friend home it’s best to make sure you, your house and family are prepared and ready for your new adventure. The following is a puppy checklist for you to use to help with the new responsibility of owning a pet:
Both require proper health care. Find a veterinarian in your local area by asking friends and neighbors. Also, write down the location of the nearest emergency veterinary clinic in case your veterinarian doesn’t have 24-hour services. Taking your pet for a checkup and establishing a vaccination schedule as early as possible is important.
Both require good nutritional diets. Until the age of 6 months, most puppies and kittens will need to eat three times a day. This might mean a trip home at lunchtime if you work, or getting a pet sitter in to feed and exercise your puppy or check on and visit your kitten just until she’s a little older.
Puppy/kitten proof your house by taking away valuable knick-knacks from cocktail and end tables, close closet and bathroom doors, pick up floor plants and clear off desks and countertops. Your children’s toys will be of great interest to your pet. They will find anything to play with if given the chance. Curtains are a big hit for both puppies and kittens. Therefore, confining both when they are young and until they are reliable is critical.
Purchase a crate for your dog to sleep in at night and to be placed in when you cannot watch him. Kittens can also be placed in a large cat den or put into a small room. Never leave a puppy or dog in a crate for long periods of time. The crate is not a fort or dollhouse for your children. It should be a place where your pet can relax and feel safe. The crate should be off limits to your children. Some children poke and prod their fingers into the crate when the pet is sleeping. If the pet is constantly bothered, he will begin to protect his resting area. In order to ensure that your kitten or cat is properly housetrained, the litter box will need constant cleaning.
Prepare your yard by putting up a fence or making sure your dog is on a long line. NEVER leave your dog outdoors alone, under any circumstance. When your dog needs to relieve himself, you must go outdoors with him in order to reinforce him that this behavior, relieving himself outdoors, is what you want of him. Furthermore, a dog left outdoors alone can eat things that might be poisonous to him or chew things such as garden furniture, the siding of the house and much more. Cats are much safer as indoor cats. Purchasing a perch or giving her a place to look out is recommended.
Prepare your car. A dog or cat should never ride lose in a car. Either purchase a doggy seat belt or a travel crate for your dog and always have your cat in a cat carrier. Even if you are driving at a slow speed, if you slam your breaks on, your pet can easily fly around the vehicle. Your pet should not sit in your lap while you are driving or be permitted to stick his head out the window. A pebble or other debris can fly up and hit your pet in the face.
You will need equipment for your pet. Dogs need collars, leashes, chew toys and play toys. A simple buckle collar is fine for most dogs as well as a six-foot leash. Chew toys are for chewing; play toys are for playing. Avoid leaving play toys around if your dog destroys them. Cats need 1-2 litter boxes, a collar, scratching posts and play toys. Cats enjoy playing with things that they can bat around or things that hang.
Lastly, you will need to groom your pet. You will need a brush, nail clippers, styptic powder, shampoo, toothbrush and toothpaste and extra towels for baths and wiping paws. Cats need grooming just as much as dogs.
Being prepared will make your life a lot easier once the pet arrives.
Advance planning will pay off! Many of the behaviors of children and pets are quite similar—both can be somewhat inconsistent as they move from infancy to adolescence to adulthood! Dogs and cats, especially puppies and kittens, need consistency in their lives in order to function well. When the basic rules haven’t been established, routinely change or are unclear, the developing pup or kitten is likely to become confused and even unruly. If your pet is left to guess what is expected of him, he will probably do whatever pleases him! Who could blame him?
This should certainly not discourage you from getting a pet—just be certain that you are getting one for the family, not ONLY for the children. It will be up to you, the parent, to set the guidelines that will help develop a healthy relationship between pet and child. When you, the adult, are committed to starting training early and involving the entire family in learning basic training skills and practicing consistent behavior toward the pet, the benefits you will all reap will surpass any doubts you may have had when making the decision to get a new pet.
Enrolling in a puppy training class as early as 8 weeks will help guide you through the very best ways to show your newest family member what is expected. Puppies’ brains are fully developed by the time they are 7 weeks of age. There is no reason for you to delay your training. If you wait until your puppy is 6 months or older, you may be dealt with the task of undoing many unwanted behaviors as opposed to shaping and molding good behaviors starting with a clean slate. Here are some general guidelines when looking for puppy class.
Before signing up, drop in and observe a class or two. If you are not permitted to observe (for free!), find another school. Are the puppies having fun? Are the people enjoying the training? Is the instructor friendly to both puppies as well as the owners? Both puppy and owner should be equally enjoying the training.
Don’t be hesitant about asking questions about the school’s training techniques and the instructor’s level of education. Look for a puppy class that uses positive reinforcement as a means of teaching behaviors. The use of food treats and toys as motivators is critical at this young age. Also, there is a national certification program for dog trainers. Ask if the trainer is certified under the National Certification for Pet Dog Trainers (www.ccpdt.com) and how much experience the trainer has.
If, for any reason, your puppy is not enjoying the puppy play sessions or you do not like how the instructor is treating your puppy, speak up! Now is the time to protect your youngster and to ensure that all interactions with people and dogs are positive.
At home, the key to getting started on the right “paw” is to establish guidelines for both the puppy and the children. The list below should help guide you in developing a strategy for success:
Rules for Dogs
Rules for Children
These basic rules are written just for kids. Be sure to involve your kids in preparing for the newest family member. Discuss the following guidelines as a family prior to dog’s or cat’s arrival and, if need be, have the kids post them around the house as reminders.
Leave the pet alone when he is eating, sleeping, resting and chewing on a bone. Constant interruptions may irritate the pet, forcing him to reach the point where he tells children (in dog language) to ‘bug off!’
Noisy games and running should be outdoor activities, or should take place away from the pet. Running children often excite a dog or cat and make it irresistible for him to give chase, especially if he hasn’t had adequate exercise.
Do NOT chase after the pet. He may become fearful and suddenly turn and snap or scratch if cornered. Furthermore, this may encourage your puppy to pick up non-pet items to elicit the chase game since it worked before. Chasing a pet teaches him to run faster and farther. You will not want to see this occur in an open soccer field with a busy street nearby.
Do NOT use the pet as a pillow, step stool, doll or toy. Tackling, roughhousing, wrestling and grabbing are not good play. There are lots of special games to learn that will be fun for pets and children.
Do NOT pick up and carry dogs or cats, unless the child is older and has been given permission by the adult. They can be dropped or hurt if not handled correctly. Little girls tend to carry pets around like dolls, while hugging and kissing them. Most animals are picked up when they are resting simply because the child can get hold of them. Once again, put yourself in the pet’s paws. When you are tired and resting, you would not want to be elevated into the air and smothered.
Depending on the ages and personalities of both your pet and your child, they will require varying amounts of supervision. It’s too easy for a toddler to fall on or startle a sleeping animal. The animal may growl, snap, bite, swat or scratch your child.
Getting the children involved in training and attending classes is an asset for the entire family.
One final reminder: Always be prepared for those once in a lifetime photo opportunities. There’s nothing more heartwarming than photos of “best friends” growing up together!
Another resource for kids and dogs is my book entitled “Raising Puppies and Kids Together: A Guide for Parents." The book will help you learn how to meld the playful and protective nature of a puppy, an adolescent dog or an adult dog with the curiosity and compulsiveness of a child to create a positive atmosphere for the puppy, the child and the rest of the household. Whether you have children and are preparing to add a dog to the family - or have a dog and are expecting a child - this book will be useful to you and your family!