As it happens more and more these days, I am learning not to be surprised when my son shows me he is ready to help with a new chore or activity rather than me introducing it first. This is how we stumbled upon helping him learn how to care for our family dog. These two are inseparable when we’re at home, and while our pup does seem slightly irritated by our son most of the time, she also seems pretty attached and secretly in love. We’re grateful that she is so patient with his learning curve. The following activities are what he has been learning to be apart of:
- Feeding breakfast and dinner
- Dehydrating (to our dismay)
- Walking and hiking
- Petting gently (not hitting)
- Feeding the dog
I have tried to get our son to practice scooping by giving him Cheerios or Rice Krispies, but he normally just throws it around (or at the dog), which is why we only eat cereal with milk and not dry. My son is obsessed with our dog’s meal time. The minute he hears the utility door open up, I think he runs to the food bowl faster than the pup. While we used to grab him and take him out of the room kicking and screaming, we started letting him scoop the food and place it in the bowl. What intention and focus on this little toddler’s face! He is so proud to scoop and pour. The tricky part is that when he is done, he immediately wants to grab the food. Occasionally we will use a tiny scoop so that he can scoop many times, but have found that his attention span isn’t that long. This task definitely requires supervision by a parent. He is slowly getting better about not grabbing Walden’s food while she is eating (we’re trying to prepare him for a world that is not as passive his dog thankfully is).
2. Dehydrating the dog
While our child loves to feed the dog, any attempt to give water results in our son immediately dumping the container over. His curiosity with water overrides any introduction on our part to leave water bowls alone. Other than making sure our dog gets water when the little one is sleeping, we haven’t found a solution to this problem yet. Let me know if you have any ideas!
Brushing our dog is probably our son’s second favorite dog activity behind feeding. He loves to come over when we our brushing our long-haired pup, sometimes kindly and sometimes unkindly asking to take the brush from us so he can have a go. We hadn’t yet gotten him a brush for his hair, so this prompted us to start giving him a brush to groom himself.
4. Going for walks
As our son started to have shorter attention spans with going for stroller walks, we started handing him our dog’s leash to hold onto. He loves holding the leash now. When we go for hikes or walks, he will ask to hold the leash. We make sure to hold halfway down to make sure our pup doesn’t get excited and knock the baby down. Hopefully this will help to keep his interest in hiking and maybe one day we’ll make it farther than a quarter mile!
5. Learning to have gentle hands
We have been lucky to have a dog that has always played so gently and age appropriately with our son. She knows not to pull to hard or get too aggressive. Unfortunately, our son is not this attuned to gentle play and had to be taught to pet gently rather than hit aggressively. He learned this pretty quickly but still needs constant reminders. Now that he is much more active, he can get too handsy and think that our pup is his personal jungle gym. While our dog is extremely patient, all animals have limits, so we sometimes separate the two if our son is not able to calm down. Most of the time, he responds to our requests to treat her with care.
All of these activities helping to care for our dog are a wonderful way for our son to be involved. He already adores the dog, and now he can help take care of her. As an only child, his relationship with our dog is helping to teach him empathy and care. I am grateful that he has her to play with and learn from. Now if we could only teach our golden retriever that she is supposed to bring the ball back… but for now we’ll let our child chase her around.
Cost: No more than the dog already cost
Advanced Learning: Take your child to the vet with you when your dog goes for their check-up, this is a great learning experience to see what veterinarians do and to help them understand that we all go to the doctor; get a book on pet anatomy and learn about their body structure; teach your dog tricks and let your child learn the commands; watch dog shows together or go to a local dog show; volunteer at the humane society; get your dog trained to be a therapy dog and visit local hospitals together.