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Tips for teaching your child to care for their first dog

Learn how to teach your children the most important aspects of being a safe and responsible dog owner.

Does your kid beg for a puppy every time they pet a dog at the park? And do you always hear yourself responding “it’s cute, but not today”?

If you’re thinking about growing your family with a canine companion, there are more benefits than the excitement of your child.

For your kids, taking care of a pet like a dog has many important benefits:

1. Offers protection

While not all dogs are trained guard dogs, many have the instinct to protect someone they’re loyal to. With proper training, you can make sure your dog always has your child’s safety in mind. They can even sense harmful allergens!

2. Bolsters empathy

A child’s bond with a dog sparks a special kind of empathy that puts the child in caretaker mode. Through taking care of your dog they can learn to sense the needs of others, and help take care of them.

3. Keeps them active

Dogs require a lot of play, attention and exercise. What better way to pull your kid off that tablet or smartphone than to bribe them with an energetic dog that’s always ready for adventure?

4. Reduces anxiety

Cuddling or playing with a pet releases oxytocin, a hormone that helps reduce stress levels.

And teaching your child to be a good dog owner goes far beyond playing in the backyard or filling up the food bowl.

You’ll need to teach your child the day-to-day care routine, and how to treat your dog and read its body language to keep both the dog and your children safe. Plus, it’s important for the whole family to know how to tell when your dog may need medical help. 

Use this guide to teach your children the most important aspects of being a responsible dog owner, so you can keep your kids and dog safe and happy.

How old should your child be before you get a dog? 

Your kids can start learning how to care for a dog as early as age 3. 

Between ages 3 and 6, you can teach your child to help feed, water, play with, and brush your dog (with supervision). 

When your child is 7 and up, help them learn the details of dog care like cleaning its food bowl, scooping waste and training.

Basic training

Involving your children in your dog’s training process gives them a sense of ownership and accountability for the dog’s behaviors. 

You can turn almost any activity your child does with their dog into a training method. And once your child gets the hang of it, that’s one less duty on your list!

Start with a few basic commands:


  • Show your child how to hold a treat just above the dog’s nose, moving it slowly backwards over its head so the dog rocks back into a sit position.
  • As soon as the dog sits, praise them and give them the treat. 

Walking on a leash

  • When your kid has your dog on a leash, hand them a treat and have them hold it about waist-high.
  • Coach your child to tell the dog “let’s go,” and begin walking while holding the treat. 

Stay down

  • Have your child hold a treat out toward their dog.
  • When the dog’s paying attention, tell them to quickly drop their hand to the ground so the dog drops with it.
  • When the dog is on the ground, have your child quickly give it the treat. 

Once the basic commands are mastered, you can turn them into other tricks: like turning “sit” into “sit” and “stay” by walking a few feet away while they’re sitting while saying “stay.”

Providing emotional care

While your child’s training your dog basic behaviors, it’s a good time to train your child on empathy. 

Learning to have empathy for animals helps kids use the same skills in their interactions with other humans. 

Here are 4 ways to help your child be an attentive caretaker to your new dog, while promoting empathy in the process:

  1. Use each challenge in the process as a learning moment. If your dog growls or bristles, have your child step back and guide them through what that means, and why the dog may be upset. 
  2. Teach your child to respect a safe zone for your dog where it can unwind without being disturbed by any of the family members. 
  3. Teach your child to be gentle with the dog, both in their touch and vocally. 
  4. Show your child an example of how to speak to and touch the dog, and identify places and ways it wouldn’t want to be touched — like the inside of its ears, or yanking its tail. 

Keeping a routine

As a parent, you already know that taking care of another life is an everyday job. With a new dog, you can pass along some of those important “parenting” skills to your child.

Teach your kids how to better manage their time and stay organized by helping them develop a daily routine for taking care of their dog. 

Start by helping your child brainstorm a list of daily care needs for your dog, like food, water, play and potty time. 

Next, brainstorm other regular occurrences, such as vet visits. The frequency of a dog’s check-ups depends on their age, size, and breed. 

Puppies under 1 should have check-ups at the vet every 3-4 weeks. Dogs 1-7 years old should see the vet at least once a week, and senior dogs twice a year. 

Once you’ve written down all the important duties, create a “puppy calendar” with a daily care schedule. 

This will help hold your child accountable, as well as keep track of what they need to do without having to worry about forgetting. 

Giving your child a dog is giving them the gift of confidence, empathy, and accountability. You’ll be surprised at the growth that can occur. 

Teaching your child how to properly care for your new dog through basic training, reading body language, and keeping a daily routine will save your family (and your wallet) the heartache of a sick pup.

But even the most responsible dog owners will have a sick dog on their hands from time to time. There are many common diseases to look out for, whether your dog is on the hiking trail or at the park. 

Luckily, most of these diseases are preventable. And one of the most common diseases that can affect your pet is periodontal disease.

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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