Guest blog by Emily Schneider, a proud mom of two feisty yorkies and a two-year-old living in the Garden State. Emily works in media and public relations for the ASPCA. Find her onTwitter.
My morning routine is always the same: wake up to a crying toddler who wants out of the crib (I’m lucky he hasn’t mustered up the courage yet to climb out!); get him settled with a toy or book; walk our dogs Olive and Mikey; make breakfast for everyone; get ready for work and leave for the train station with half a bagel in my mouth.
I’m tired just thinking about it.
Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who helps with the daily routine, and we recently started incorporating our two-year-old son to help us with some of the daily pet care tasks and activities. In a subtle way, our son is learning how to be a responsible pet owner as well as strengthening his bond with our family pets.
Here are some of the tasks and activities my son helps us with:
Making Breakfast: This is a fairly simple task that requires very little effort. My son helps me mix the dry kibble and wet food together with a spoon, and he carefully carries each of their bowls to a place mat. I can see the satisfaction on my son’s face when he successfully places each bowl on the mat without spilling a single kibble. Mission accomplished.
Walking the Dogs: My son is too young to go out and walk the dogs himself, but he knows that both Mikey and Olive need to go out for a walk in the morning so they can go potty. Even though my son is really just tagging along because I can’t leave him alone in the apartment, by including him in daily dog walks he feels a sense of importance, and he genuinely enjoys spending time with the dogs. Now, training a two-year-old to use the potty? That’s a real challenge.
Playing Fetch: What to do when you have an energetic two-year-old and two feisty dogs? Grab a few balls and go outside to play fetch! It’s important to find an enclosed area, and keep an eye on your child so they don’t overstimulate your pets. Ask your child to help you throw the ball—it’s a great activity to let both your kid and pets let loose and burn energy.
Cookie Time!: This is my son’s favorite activity. His eyes light up when I say, “cookie time” because he gets to give the dogs their favorite treat as they come up to him and patiently sit until he opens his hand with the yummy goodness. And my son gets a cookie as well (it’s actually a graham cracker, but he doesn’t need to know that). Just like Cookie Monster, all my kids go cookie crazy so we’ve incorporated basic pet training—Sit, Stay, Go – to help curb some of that cookie craziness. They all deserve something sweet and yummy for their good behavior.
On a recent morning, my two-year-old daughter woke me up with a loud exclamation: “Change Diva’s seeds!” She was reporting for her daily pet-feeding duties. Like clockwork every morning, my daughter dumps out the old food for both of our pets pets, puts in new food, demands that we put fresh water in their bowls and stands on her tip toes to turn on the little radio we play to keep the pets entertained during the day.
My husband and I decided early on that our daughter would need to know that to truly love a pet, you need to pitch in to help with all aspects of pet care. Here are a few methods that have worked well for us:
Lead by Example: Our daughter has always been by our side as we take care of our bird, Diva, and our dog, Mr. Happy. I remember balancing her on my hip as she watched me scoop out Mr. Happy’s food. And my husband, Matt, remembers our daughter toddling behind him as he took care of Diva in the mornings. Then one morning, she screamed out, “No-no! Let me do it.” We let her try out feeding our bird. It was a mess with seeds everywhere, but she was determined.
Don’t Force It: Given our daughter’s young age, we believe her participation in pet care is voluntary. We don’t force her to help. However, we do make sure that she finishes her tasks. For example, if she starts changing the bird’s seeds, and then finds her building blocks more interesting, we make her stop playing and return to feeding the bird.
Positive Reinforcement: As soon as our daughter turns on the radio, Diva will start tweeting and dancing. As soon as the kibble hits the bowl, Mr. Happy is enjoying a good chow. Even on our busiest mornings we stop and have our daughter observe our enjoying the food she provided to them. The smile on her face is priceless.
Involvement in Medical Care: Each morning, our daughter watches as we give Mr. Happy his separation anxiety medication and we explain to her what we are doing. It is important to us that she knows that proper medical care is a key part of truly loving a pet. One time, she even noticed an infection in Mr. Happy’s ear. She yelled, “Mommy, Mr. Happy’s ear is red. He needs doctor help.” Sure enough, our dog’s ear was red and he had an ear infection.
Respecting our Pets' Boundaries: For the safety of all, it is critical that our daughter respects our pets' boundaries. From a very young age, we have instructed her not to give food to the pets without first asking us. There are certain parts of the house where our dog is trained to go if he needs a break, and it took some time, but our daughter is finally respecting those limits. We are as firm with her on respecting these boundaries as are we are with other safety routines in our home, such as not touching the stove and not playing on the stairs.
Do you involve your kids in your family’s pet care routine? Please share in the comments.
Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and two dogs in New York City.
In addition to the day-to-day fun of having pets and kids, our furry friends can offer some important life lessons for children. My daughter is only 20-months-old, but she has already learned quite a bit from our two dogs. We started with a lesson on how to pet the dogs gently, which is still a challenge when my daughter is excited. When she started walking, she would sometimes step on a paw or a tail or even attempt to use our pets as a step when they were lying down. We taught her that she needs to walk around them if they are in her way, which is often since we live in a one bedroom apartment. I love watching her when she carefully steps around a paw or tail.
We’re also teaching her that animals have feelings, too. If she plows into one of our dogs with her toy baby stroller and he ends up in the corner, we tell her he feels scared and hurt. If the dogs run to get their leash on for a walk, we explain that they are excited. When her aunt’s cat scampers away when my daughter shrieks with excitement, I explain that we should be quiet and gentle with the cat or she’ll feel scared.
My daughter likes to give the dogs instructions: To sit here or there, to go up on the bed or the couch, or to go in her tunnel. They don't typically listen to her, and we'll sometimes translate her requests or commands to the dogs. And she has learned that sometimes the dogs will do what she wants them to, but not every time, and that's okay. I recently observed her telling a squirrel at the playground to “sit," so she's still on the learning curve.
I look forward to her being able to play fetch with the dogs and cuddle with them in bed. We’ll teach her why our family doesn’t eat animals, why it’s important to adopt a pet and why it’s critical to show compassion for everyone, including animals. One of the inevitable life lessons that pets teach children is how death is a part of life. I hope we don’t have to teach her that lesson for quite some time. But I know it will be an important part of her development—and mine, too.
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown.
I love seeing first day of school photographs on Facebook. The pictures remind me of my own two children when, as little kids, they were eager to pose in brand new shorts or a favorite dress. When they grew into preteens, smiles faded to smirks and, with older high schoolers, I was lucky to snap a quick photo before they jumped behind the wheel of the car to drive themselves. Now in albums, my favorite first day shots are those where our family dogs lean into the children. Our kids’ smiles are genuine and broad, showing their happiness that the pups were included in the send off.
This fall, our back to school photo tradition changed. No longer do we have a child to line up in front of fading summer roses or at the school bus stop. Instead, we watched our youngest say a tearful goodbye to her dog, Moose, before she left home to move into her freshman dorm. For our family and others with college kids, witnessing the final hugs between a young adult and her childhood pal is painful. New college students realize that they’ll no longer share a home with their confidant, their playmate and study buddy. They may worry about the health of an aging dog and wonder about his life expectancy.
And as for the dogs left behind? It’s common for pets to exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety as their human companions prepare to leave home and depart, as well as in the case of the sudden absence of a resident family member. Dogs with separation anxiety may become depressed and disruptive when left alone.
While I miss our daughter terribly and am trying not to fret about her well-being on campus, I also want to be vigilant about Moose in case he becomes anxious and sad. Warning signs include pacing, whining or barking, chewing furniture or other items, attempting to escape or “having an accident” inside the home. The ASPCA provides a list of tips for helping pets overcome separation anxiety.
Although I no longer have kids under roof to parent, my “mothering” responsibilities for our pups goes on. From the vantage of my empty nest, I have never been more grateful for the presence of our dogs!
In August, the ASPCA teamed up with the New York Public Library’s (NYPL) Literacy Leaders program to encourage first and second graders to write letters on behalf of our adoptable pets. See the students’ adorable letters and drawings below. Click each letter to enlarge.