Who let the dogs out…a catchy tune comes to mind. And dog owner responsibilities. I bet that is not what the Baha Men are singing about. But if you are a dog loving family man just get the beat, forget the lyrics – which I don’t know anyway – and get inspired. There are fun ways to make sure the dog is taken care of and it involves the whole family.
So you got Buddy the labrador for your grade-schooler Jack who always wanted to have a dog. Buddy and Jack certainly would make great playmates, but Jack would need some help with the other needs of the dog. Look no further, the older children can clean up or fill up Buddy’s empty food and water bowl. Or tidy up the dog area. Or give Buddy a bath. Dividing up the task is an excellent opportunity for giving children a sense of shared responsibility.
Shared responsibility for the dog also ties family members closer together for the many bonding opportunities it presents. A young boy in my neighborhood walking his dog in the morning when school is out or during weekends is one example. Sometimes in the afternoons it is the Dad, and at other times I see both Dad and son talking animatedly while walking the dog together. Then I see the boy playing with his younger brother and the dog out in the yard. I am sure these boys will long remember these treasured moments with Dad and dog together.
Specific tasks can be assigned depending on age, capability and availability. Little boy, little work, my mother used to say as I was growing up with seven boys in the family. Identify tasks and assign: the dog needs food and water, clean-up of the dog dish, the dog bed and sheets, the dog house or crate, pee breaks, toilet routine, grooming, exercise, even play. Make a schedule and checklist of tasks and the corresponding “champion” or in charge and post it on a spot clearly seen by everyone. Think refrigerator door. Or kitchen announcement board. Also include the schedule for vet visit for your own reminder. You can monitor compliance and make it even more fun by having a roll call of champions when you need to.
A critical aspect of shared responsibility and ownership of a family dog is discipline. It is easy to give in to Jack if he wants to cuddle with Buddy on the couch. Or laugh when Buddy jumps on the dining table and shares a bite of your son’s meal. Or do nothing while Buddy romps and jumps all over the house with the boys. No amount of saying no to everything Buddy does that you do not approve of will get him trained if the rest of your family gives Buddy a free-for-all. Children get confused with mixed messages and grow up learning the wrong things. So do dogs. Professionals on dog training and psychology tell us that conflicting responses to a dog’s behavior will confuse the dog and set him up to fail.
And so we hear of woof stories where the dog takes over the pack — the family. It is important then that an adult or parent, maintain the role of pack leader. The pack leader sets the guidelines on how the dog should be trained to behave or how the family members should react to Buddy under given situations. Everyone in the family should be on board and comply. Having a dog is more fun when approached as a team effort to make sure Buddy is well taken care of, well-behaved and a happy member of the family. You do not have to worry about who lets the dog out – or in.