Selecting The Right Pet for Your Family
For many kids, the family pet is their best friend-a companion who not only provides unconditional love, but who also teaches them about friendship, responsibility, loyalty, and empathy. While most family pets are cats and dogs, other animals can be wonderful additions to your home. Rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, small birds, and fish can make great family pets, for instance, as long as they receive the specialized care they need. Even though these animals are smaller than a cat or dog, they require just as much attention and care.
The key to creating a true "family pet"-one who is gentle, loyal, and loving to both animals and people-is to treat the animal as a beloved family member and to provide the training and care he deserves. It's not enough to get a pet "for the kids." A pet is not a temporary playmate for children, but a lifelong family member who depends on the entire family, especially adults.
Although many experts recommend a child be at least six years old before a pet is brought into the family, you are the best judge of your child's maturity. At the very least, your child should exhibit self-control and understand (and obey) the word "no." If you think your child is ready for a pet, first introduce her to friends' well-behaved pets so you can observe your child's behavior around them.
- *Pets need space and may not always welcome human attention, especially when eating, playing with their toys, or resting.
- *Pets may become upset by too much petting or stimulation. Teach your child to heed warning signs (such as hissing, lip curling, retreating, and growling) that indicate her animal friend wants to be left alone.
- *Other people's pets may feel and display discomfort if your child touches or even approaches them. Tell your child to get permission from an adult before touching another pet. Explain how some pets may feel threatened when stared at, cornered, or hugged.
- *Animals in pain may lash out or bite anyone who tries to touch them. Teach your child to leave an injured pet alone and to immediately notify an adult.
- *Some dogs get excited and may even become more dangerous when children scream and run. Teach your child appropriate behaviors around dogs.
- *Dogs contained in yards or cars may try to protect their territory if approached. Teach your child not to tease or get close to them.
Although certain pet-care activities must be handled by adults, you can still include your children by explaining why and what you're doing. For example, when you take your pet to the veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, explain to your child how the operation not only reduces pet overpopulation but can also make your pet healthier, calmer, and more affectionate. Also involve your children in pet-training activities, which not only make your pet a more well-mannered family member, but also teach your child humane treatment and effective communication.
Ultimately, your children will learn how to treat animals and people by watching how you treat the family pet. They'll study how you feed, pet, and exercise your companion animal. And they'll pay close attention to how you react when a pet scratches the furniture, barks excessively, or soils in the house. Frustrating as these problems are, "getting rid of" the pet isn't just unfair to the pet and your children, but it also sends the wrong message about commitment, trust, and responsibility. When faced with pet problems, get to the root of the problem. Often a veterinarian, animal shelter professional, or dog trainer can help you resolve pet issues so you can keep the whole family together.