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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

When my neighbor’s trio of towheaded boys was 2, 4, and 6 years old, her younger sister sent them the best Christmas gift ever – a puppy! The entire morning saw the kids abandoning their new electronics in favor of playing outside with the dog.

While her kids thought this new bundle of furry joy was the best gift ever, my neighbor (as well as all of her fellow Mommy friends) all saw through the puppy breath and puppy kisses to all of the downsides of dog ownership. Life was never going to be the same.

American humor columnist Erma Bombeck once observed, “Every puppy should have a boy.” It’s true. If you get a puppy, you could be saving a life. The ASPCA estimates that up to 4 million pets are euthanized each year, about 60% of which are dogs. www.aspca.org

Benefits of Pet Ownership for Children

There’s so much that a kid learns when it comes to taking on the responsibility of owning a dog. They learn compassion, affection, and being obligated to take care of chores like walking, brushing, and feeding their new fur-ever friend.

As my neighbor’s family quickly learned, there was so much more to giving kids a dog than just … giving them a dog. Fortunately they took control fairly quickly and efficiently set up a plan that allowed them to enjoy the new puppy without sacrificing its sense of security.

My own children are fascinated with the new dog next door, so much that we’ve considered adopting a puppy from the local shelter. When I asked my neighbor for advice, here are the tips she shared. If you’re planning to get a dog and have young children, maybe they’ll help you, too.

1. PREPARE – If she had known in advance about the new puppy, my neighbor says she would have prepared her kids by reading books to them. She also suggests practicing the right way to hold and pet puppies by using a stuffed toy first.

2. PICK UP – Dogs love to chew. Pick up all clutter, including small toys that could cause puppies to choke. Also pick up things like crayons. Even if it says “non-toxic” on the label, it doesn’t mean it won’t hurt your puppy.

3. PERSONAL SPACE – New situations can stress a puppy out. When you’re stressed, you probably like to go to your personal space and chill out. The new puppy is no different. Provide him with a kennel or dog bed where he can relax.

4. SUPERVISION – Don’t leave young children alone with the new puppy. If they panic and try to hold him up by his paw, tail, or ear for instance, the new puppy could bite or scratch out of sheer terror.

5. DEMONSTRATE – Never hand the puppy over to a young child without first having an adult demonstrate how to hold it. And always have an adult sit with the young child the first few times that they hold the puppy themselves.

6. TAKE TURNS – Try sitting on the floor in a circle, and pass the puppy to each child, one at a time, allowing them to hold it on their laps. Being on the floor means if they drop the puppy, there is less distance between their lap and the hard surface.

7. SCHEDULE – Keep your new puppy on a feeding schedule. Through the magic of the digestive system, this will put your dog on an automatic potty schedule as well. Because puppies have short digestive tracts, they’ll need to go about 20 minutes after eating, give or take a few minutes.

Assigning Chores to Young Children

When it comes to including young children in the new puppy’s care, make sure their jobs are age-appropriate. A toddler might do well at helping to brush the new puppy. They might be able to help refill food and water bowls with assistance as well.

However, leave the bulk of the feeding, watering, and walking to family members who are school-aged or older. The last thing you want is to spend Day 2 of new puppy ownership looking for a lost dog. Even a wireless fence can’t prevent a new puppy from escaping the back yard, for instance.

That’s because most petsafe wireless collar products are made for use with dogs that weigh at least 5 pounds, or have a neck size between 6” and 23” wide. If you have a small or toy breed puppy, then don’t even take the risk – save the walking duties for teenagers or parents.

About the Author:

Texas freelancer Melissa Cameron lives with her husband and two children on the outskirts of Austin. She learned firsthand how much responsibility comes with dog ownership when her children got their own puppy. Along with advice from neighbors, she used sites like http://www.doggyfence.com/ to keep everyone safe and happy. When she isn’t working or spending time with her family, Melissa enjoys knitting and yoga.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who are considering a new puppy.