My First Best Friend – How dogs can help teach your children responsibility

In this final edition we will look in more detail at the benefits a dog can bring young children. We will look at some of the physical and mental benefits that are associated with dog ownership. But in particular we will focus on how looking after a dog can teach young people important lessons about responsibility.

Humans have been keeping dogs for many thousands of years. Scientists think the first domesticated wolves entered human camps 15,000 years ago. Back then the benefits of having a dog were mainly practical. Dogs provided a superior sense of smell which helped during hunting. They also acted as useful sentries and guard dogs. In the centuries since then, however, dogs have evolved into a very different type of companion. Their role as hunters is almost non-existent in the modern world. Yet dog ownership is more popular than ever. This is because owning a dog today brings a range of very different benefits.

Health benefits

Medical researchers have discovered evidence that owning a dog is good for your general physical and mental wellbeing. Sharing your life with a pet can, for instance, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and even help allergies, some studies have found. There are also the more obvious fitness benefits that come from regularly taking your dog out for a walk or to play in the park.

Dogs also help reduce loneliness and depression. This applies as much to children as it does to adults. A dog can be a companion and faithful friend to which children can turn at times of stress or anxiety. The fact that they don’t judge or express an opinion is a real asset at times of emotional insecurity. Dog’s really can be a man’s or a boy’s best friend.

Bonding the family

Dogs also provide a focus for a family, a shared experience that brings parents and children together in a positive way. Raising a new puppy can be a great project for the family to share. Families can learn a lot together during the process of training and introducing a dog to their home. The new family member can act as a way of bonding everyone together.

Teaching responsibility

Perhaps the greatest, long-term benefit of dog ownership from a child’s point of view, however, is the way that it introduces them to a sense of responsibility. Dogs provide this in several ways:

A sense of routine

Maintaining a dog requires regular work and a real sense of routine. Walking your English bulldog or exercising your Cocker Spaniel should not be a random event. It should be part of the daily timetable, something that happens at least once or twice on a daily basis. This is an important concept for young children to grasp.

Similarly, feeding your dog is another daily event. Giving children responsibility for this part of the timetable can be particularly useful. Some dog trainers, in particular Jan Fennell, place emphasis on using feeding time as a way to establish authority over the dog. This can help a child get used to the idea of ‘leadership’ and instil a sense of responsibility within the household ‘pecking order’. So feeding their Labrador Retriever can be much more than a bit of fun each morning and evening.

The same applies to other important aspects of caring for a dog, such as grooming and making regular health checks of eyes, ears and feet. This again instils in the child the idea of having a role within the family, and in particular of being a parent to the family pet.

Junior parenting

Children are used to being cared for by their parents. They take it for granted that someone is there for them – 24 hours a day. Having a dog introduces children to the idea of being in charge themselves. They begin to understand the responsibilities that come when the roles are reversed and they are the person making the decisions. They learn to become a junior parent within the home.

Financial education

Owning a dog can be useful for teaching children about simple finance. Children can be introduced to budgeting and money management via their dogs. You can, for instance, give them a set amount of money each week or month to devote to their dog. They can use this to buy food, toys or treats or to take their dog out on walks. Under your supervision, they will learn how to spend this money wisely and effectively.

Self esteem

All adults like being told they are doing a good job. Children are no different. If they get positive feedback, say from a vet or other canine professional, it will encourage them and help build their self esteem. This will encourage them to take more responsibility and help them make an important step forward in their development.

Thank you for reading

Thank you for reading our My First Best Friend newsletter series. We hope this information has helped you make a good decision.

If you'd rather have the contents of the series in a single downloadable ebook format, you can get it here.

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