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Q. My son wants a puppy, and while I think it could be an excellent opportunity to teach him responsibility, I’m concerned that the work will ultimately fall on me. How do I know if he’s ready, and how can I divide up the workload so that it’s shared?
A. Owning a pet is one of the best ways to teach a child responsibility, empathy and compassion. But the possibility that your son will not hold up his end of the pet care bargain is a justifiable concern. The good news is that you can start to teach your son to take responsibility for his dog long before you bring the puppy home.
When I was 5, I wanted a Wire Haired Fox Terrier. My parents knew the benefits of raising children around dogs, but they weren’t sure I was ready for such a major commitment. To help prepare me for the responsibility of owning a dog, my parents gave me time to prove that I was able and ready to care for a pet before they agreed to let me bring a puppy home.
They started by telling me that I would be required to pay for the dog with my own money, to prove my long-term dedication; this took an entire year of saving my earnings from chores, as well as any money received as gifts. My parents also required me to read dog care books so I would have a thorough understanding of the work involved in owning and caring for a dog. Finally, my parents provided opportunities for me to spend time with dogs, which let them gauge my ability to be appropriately calm and gentle with these animals.
After I had saved up enough money — but before I picked out my puppy — my parents had me sign a contract that required me to care for her needs, all of which were clearly laid out. By articulating all responsibilities related to the dog up front and having me formally agree to them, my parents were ensuring that there would be no conflicts later on about who was supposed to walk the dog or clean up after her. When I finally brought my puppy home, I was ready for the commitment because I understood exactly what I was getting into — and my parents did, too.
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