Some parents may feel overwhelmed taking care of their human children and then furry children as well. It's true that children and pets are dependent on the adults in the house for their needs. Although parents are still primarily responsible for their pet's care, does this mean that children can't help out with the pet-care chores?Certainly not.
Helping out with the family's furry (and scaly, feathery, and slimy, if you have those) members has many benefits for your young family members. They learn to bond with them. They learn responsibility and to have a good work ethic. They learn some degree of selflessness. There are probably many more benefits, but those listed above are to name a few.
I am focusing on dog care since that is what I'm familiar with, but if you have cats or other animals, you can apply some of these ideas to those animals as well.
When is too young to start? Well, as the parents knowing your own children and furry babies, that is completely up to you. Use your judgment and common sense.
Some web sites that I browsed on this topic started their chore suggestions at age 4. My daughter, Taylor, however, has started to help out with our dog, Sydney, at age 3. She does simple chores for now, but they make her very proud of herself.
One of the topics that "Sydney & Me" touches on is how Taylor helps out with Sydney's care. At this point in her life, Taylor can't walk Sydney by herself yet -- Taylor can't even take herself for one yet for that matter -- but she likes to hold a part of the leash while my husband or I walk her. It makes her feel like she's doing the dog walking while I still have control if Sydney sees a squirrel and starts to make a mad dash for it. It seems like a minor chore, but it's the start of her learning how to do bigger Sydney chores in the future. Someday Taylor will be able to handle the dog walking on her own.
Per the above picture, Taylor's favorite chore is giving Sydney a treat after Sydney has gone to the bathroom outside. We have a special treat jar for Sydney, and the lid seals pretty tightly when closed. So, I open it for her (if she did it, who knows what would happen?), and Taylor gets a treat from it. She has seen me tell Sydney to sit before giving her the treat many times, so Taylor started to do this as well on her own. A child will have to be taught how to hold the treat so that the dog does not accidentally bite his or her little fingers as the dog takes the treat in her mouth.
I looked on a page called loveyourdog.com, which had this article on age-appropriate chores for children to help with dog care. It starts at age 4 and states chores through age 15. Keep in mind that these are guidelines. Again, as the parent, you know your kids and furry kids as far as how many of these chores are appropriate for your child. If you look at age 4 ideas, petting the dog may not seem like a "chore," but petting is important because it makes your dog happy. If your child isn't comfortable having the dog take a treat out of his or her fingers, you can do what this article suggests - let the child drop the treat on the floor and let the dog pick it up. Taylor started out doing that, but now she has learned how to put the treat in Sydney's mouth without her fingers accidentally getting bitten from it.
By age 9, children should be able to help their parents bathe the dog. By age 12, your child can teach your dog new tricks and learn how to give your dog a "checkup" (check for any obvious problems that may require an adult's or vet's care and/or first aid. For instance, your child may feel a bump on the dog that may indicate a tick or some type of injury. Or your child can spot any abnormalities in the eyes or ears. Show the child while the dog is completely without injury or problems what a healthy dog looks like. If they find something that could be out of the ordinary, they are not to hesitate to tell their parents. Finally at age 15, they should be able to do all of these things plus pick up poop in the yard.
Another web site called clean-organized-family-home.com has some other very similar suggestions in their article about pet chores for kids by age. Their suggestions start at age 2, which are playing with the animal with parental supervision and picking up the animal's toys. As the child grows older and more responsible, he or she will take on more responsibilities for the pets. By their mid-to-late teenage years, he or she should be able to do most of the chores that the parents can do (maybe some emergency situations will require just Mom and Dad though).
As with any chlid-dog interaction, NEVER leave a young child and animal alone together! Even if your child and dog have good temperaments, you just never know when something bad could happen. Don't put your child in a position of being vulnerable to an animal's attack, and don't put your animal in a position of feeling like he or she needs to defend him/herself by using aggression - thus possibly resulting in the animal being put down. As the parent, you are the "pack leader" and will need to lead the child and animal in building their relationship, and that may include being the buffer between a tragic disaster and no disaster.