An Age-by-Age Guide To How Pets Can Teach Kids Responsibility

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When choosing a pet, make sure the temperament of the animal matches your family and lifestyle. Make it clear to the adoption agency or pet store that pet care for kids is important to your family. Pets can bring many years of joy if chosen correctly, and pet care can help teach children kindness and patience. For a fun activity, have your child use this printable to sort animals by identifying ones that make good pets.

More: How Pets Can Impact Kids’ Mental Health

Age 3 and Under

Children learn how to model positive behavior through parents guiding them to be kind and responsible pet owners. It’s important to tell children this age that pets are living animals and it’s never OK to pull their tails, pick them up without a grown up, or to go near them when eating. Young children under the age of three aren’t mature enough to care for a pet, but they can help an older sibling or parent with getting supplies or answering simple questions like, “Where do we keep the dog’s food?” If you’ve gotten a puppy, use this list to make sure you have the right supplies!

Preschool: Ages 4-5

Children this age can certainly pet their animals carefully from head down to tail. They can also drop a treat onto the floor for their cat or dog to eat. Children this age are far too young to feed or walk a pet, but they can assist mom, dad, or older sibling with these duties by holding onto the leash while they walk the dog. Sometimes there’s an extra loop on the leash that a child of this age can help hold. Print off this customizable pet care chart for kids to help keep track of your child’s duties!

Early Elementary: Ages 6-8

Kids this age are eager learners but still need the supervision of an older sibling or adult. Teaching simple tricks and commands, and playing fetch are all great ways for your child to care for his pet’s need for stimulation and attention. Children this age can also learn brush their cat or dog correctly (head to tail in the direction the coat is growing) with supervision. Small dogs can be walked on a leash in an enclosed yard with an adult’s supervision to give them the experience in a safe environment. Bigger dogs still need to be walked by adults but the kids can help.

More: Keeping Up with Your Cat’s Hygiene

Later Elementary: Ages 8-11

At age 9, most kids who have been taught correctly can walk their dog for short distances under the watchful eye of an adult. At age 10 and 11, depending upon the child, they can likely walk their dog solo. This is the age most kids can groom their pet, play with them, and the older of this age range can help pick up poop! Sure it’s gross but it’s part of pet care for kids! Teaching them proper hygiene before, during, and after is crucial and depends upon your individual child’s maturity. Kids this age can also help bathe their dog and be taught how to feed the family pet.

Middle School and Beyond: Ages 12+

A whole new world of responsibility opens as your child reaches middle-school age and beyond to the high school years. Kids this age are more responsible and can handle all pet care tasks with ease. Some kids this age start their own business caring for pets for neighbors while they are away by walking and feeding dogs or checking in on and feeding cats and other pets. Most kids this age have a good understanding of animal cues if taught properly by adults and if they have past experience with pets.

Still choosing a pet? Follow us on Pinterest for advice on everything from pets to parenting!

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