Lydia M. of Akron, Ohio, was understandably upset when she contacted me for help. Her family had been begging her for years to let them get a dog, but she resisted because she didn’t think her husband or three children (ages 7 to 13) would help care for it. Lydia finally gave in, and they adopted Roscoe, a 6-month-old Siberian Husky mix. After the first week, not only was Lydia the one feeding, walking, and cleaning up after Roscoe, but she was often the only one who played with him.
Her family’s lack of participation in Roscoe’s care made Marin feel overwhelmed, but it also meant that she was the only person bonding with Roscoe. “I knew from the start that my husband and I would be the main caregivers, but I wanted my children to participate in some way if only so they would learn to enjoy spending time with Roscoe,” Lydia wisely said.
Most care tasks, including feeding, watering, and training help strengthen your bond with your dog – a benefit that should extend to each family member. In order to help, I suggested Lydia use these steps to engage her family in sharing more fully in the responsibilities and benefits of caring for Roscoe:
Make a List of Responsibilities:
Make and assign a detailed list of dog-related tasks. Match responsibilities to each person’s age, personality, and time restraints. Most importantly, supervise children during their time with the dog. Lydia proceeded to make a chart with boxes to check off every time Roscoe is walked, fed, watered, or has a play and training session.
Agree on Canine Manners:
Decide together how the dog should behave. For example, is he or she allowed on the furniture? What treats are allowed and when are they given? Make sure you all agree, so your dog doesn’t get confused, and everyone has the best chance of enjoying the dog. Lydia’s oldest child encouraged Roscoe to jump on him to play, but this kind of jumping frightened the youngest daughter. So Lydia scheduled a family meeting where they all agreed to help Roscoe behave in a manner that the whole family felt comfortable with.
Organize Supervised Activities:
Lydia signed up her whole family for a training class and spent five minutes each day with each family member practicing Roscoe’s homework. “One of the most important lessons we learned in class was to teach Roscoe to lie down on request. This has become a great way for our kids to have a sort of ‘off switch’ for Roscoe if they want to end a play session,” she says. Before long, a bit of healthy competition had crept into the house. “Every Sunday we have our own little training contests, including little prizes,” says Lydia. She also encourages her children to participate in local animal-related events such as charity dog walks. Lydia told me that while she had to front load a bit more effort, it has paid off in the long run now that the kids see how much fun it is to take part in Roscoe’s care.
“At this point I couldn’t imagine our family without Roscoe,” Lydia says. “Aside from being a great buddy to all of us, I think he really helped my children learn a better sense of responsibility, pride in a job well done, and a respect for animals and their needs. He has also encouraged us all to spend a little more time together doing something we all enjoy. We all now feel he is well worth the commitment.”