Kids and Pets: How Owning a Pet Builds Character

kids and pets

It’s been nearly 2 months now since we made the leap to dog ownership, and what a fun 2 months it’s been! We waited a long time before taking the plunge, and now that we’re here, I have two things to say: I’m so glad we got a dog … and I’m so glad we waited.

We talk a lot on The Risky Kids about how important it is to us that we raise kids who are responsible and confident in their skills. And one really good way to give kids more responsibility and confidence is to put them in charge of something. When that something just happens to be a real, living thing … well, you can imagine the effect is magnified.

We’ve had “pets” before, of the fish variety, and I always used their sad stories to illustrate for the kids why I thought they weren’t ready for a dog or cat. You probably know the scenario: kid begs for pet, parents want minimal upkeep, fish is chosen as compromise, fish is exciting for 2.5 days, no one gives a crap about the fish anymore, fish dies. That, my friends, is the fish circle of life right there. The kids swore fish were different, they would be better about a real pet. You know, one they could actually pet? I was very, very skeptical.

They’ve been trying to wear me down on the puppy front for years, and finally all the pieces were in place. The house we moved in to has an invisible fence the previous owners installed and left behind. We knew we had our big trip to Spain coming up for nearly 2 years, and I told them we wouldn’t take on the responsibility of a dog and have to worry about finding someone to watch it for a month. Well, now the trip is behind us. Finally, I needed the kids to be fairly self-sufficient themselves.  I wanted them to be able to walk our neighborhood on their own, get their own food, and clean up their own messes before I signed up to walk, feed, and clean up another living being. Lo and behold, we got back from Spain and the kids were quick to point out that all my previous requirements had been met. What were we waiting for? And so with everything in place, we began looking for a dog that would be a good fit for our family. Soon after, we found Gus.

What do you know? The dog > fish theory my kids presented was actually right. I have been, quite frankly, blown away by Elena and Eli’s ability to care for an animal properly. Two months in, and here are just a few key areas of character I’ve seen the kids grow in:

Thinking of others

Having a dog puts certain constraints on what you can do and how long you can be gone. The kids have learned that we can’t leave the house all day and not make arrangements for the puppy. We can’t simply leave him in the crate for 10 hours and forget about him.

Taking care of daily responsibilities

There are some things that you always have to do, whether you feel like it or not. The puppy needs fed twice a day. He needs his water bowl filled. He needs played with and exercised daily. He needs to go outside to pee and poop many times a day. All these things need to be done, no matter the weather, your mood, the status of your social life, or the amount of homework you brought home.

The importance of putting things where they belong

Puppies are like toddlers – with an uncanny ability to sense what they shouldn’t have and then seek and destroy it. While we’ve been lucky that Gus hasn’t ruined anything of extreme importance (though he has great taste in socks – Smartwool, to be exact), the kids have learned that toys, socks, shoes, books, and electronic devices need to be put up and out of reach if they want to ensure their safety.

The consequences of shirking your duties

We had one very bad night where Elena was in charge of the puppy by herself. She got sucked into her iPod and neglected to watch Gus like she should. The result? He pooped and peed multiple times in the house. Which leads me to …

Taking care of unpleasant tasks

We could’ve have easily scolded her and then cleaned up ourselves. It would’ve been faster and less filled with tween dramatics. But there’s a valuable lesson to be had here. Sometimes life hands you nasty stuff you don’t want to deal with, but you have to. Dogs poop, and it needs to be scooped. Just like one day you’ll have to clean someone else’s pee off a toilet, or change a dirty diaper, or wash someone else’s dishes.

The reward of a job well done

This is where taking care of a dog really shines. Because the kids have invested the time and effort into feeding, walking, and playing with Gus, he rewards them in the best of all ways: with lots of love, snuggles and puppy kisses. Of course, I’ve been doing that their entire lives, but when it comes from a dog? So much better.

Not only are these skills important to learn in order to take care of a pet, they’re absolutely necessary for living a happy, productive, and well-adjusted life! Teach them now, and your kids’ siblings, teachers, friends, future roommates, bosses and spouses will thank you later.

Now, I would never suggest you get a pet just to teach your kids responsibility or to build their confidence. Adding a pet to your family is a huge, long-term commitment, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve been thinking about it, and you’re ready on all fronts except for wondering if the kids will benefit? Then by all means, take the leap!

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