Children typically love to help out with the family pet. Even if you can't get them to clean their rooms, they will likely be happy to walk Fido. My son, Porter, has been accompanying me on pet sitting visits since he was one week old. As soon as he could hold his head up properly, I would put him in a forward-facing carrier on my chest while I walked dogs. At about six months of age, he began to want to hold the leash he could see stretched out in front of him. I let him hold the leash a couple of feet in front of the end where I had a firm grasp, and I think he was convinced that he was doing the job, himself. He'd giggle and coo during every walk. He is now eight years old, and I'll let him walk the family dog independently and very occasionally a client's dog, depending on the dog and the situation. Regardless, I'm an arms-length away in case an emergency arises. There are lots of tasks children can help with when it comes to the family pet, but walks are a favorite. One thing to remember is that our pets are completely dependent upon us to meet their basic needs. It's vital that parents make sure the most important tasks are being done, especially if they have been assigned to a child. Making sure the family dog gets food, water, and exercise is vital to his well-being.
so when is a child ready to walk the family dog?
Whether a child is capable of walking the family dog is dependent on a number of factors, all of which must be considered for the safety of the child and the pet.
• age of the child
• maturity of the child
• physical strength of the child
• size/strength of the dog
• energy level of the dog
• behavior of the dog
Each child/dog combo is unique, so you'll have to carefully consider your own situation. A two-year-old may be able to walk your senior Daschund who moves as slow as a snail with some supervision. On the other hand, even a tween may not be able to handle the energy and strength of a young Boxer.
It's important to consider what kind of a walker your dog typically is. Under normal circumstances, how does your dog walk? Has he been leash trained? Does he walk along the sidewalk next to you in a relaxed fashion, or does he dart here and there, veering under every bush to check things out? Does he pull on the leash? If your child is able to handle what your dog dishes out, then it's a go. The age of the child should always be considered, however. Even if your five-year-old can appropriately handle the family chihuahua, a five-year-old should not be navigating the neighborhood alone. Young children should always be accompanied by a responsible adult or older sibling.
What's even more important to consider is how your dog will behave in an unusual situation. What would happen if a squirrel suddenly darted across your path? Would your dog spring into action and pull you up a tree to get to it? Or what if you encounter another dog? Even if your dog gets along well with others, you never know who you'll meet. You might run into Kujo. Can your child handle those extreme situations that can happen in an instant? If not, you need to walk within inches of your child and pooch, prepared to take over, should the need arise.
I allow my eight- and six-year-old to walk our 11-pound , 9-year-old mixed terrier. She has quite a bit of energy even though she is getting on in years, but she walks fairly well on a leash, and when she gets excited about something enough to pull, the kids have the strength to control her. I walk with them, however, because I feel that A) they are too young to be out and about on their own, and B) they may not be able to handle a sticky situation, such as a brush with a not-so-friendly or off-leash dog. If we encounter a situation like that, I simply take over the responsibility of holding the leash until the unpredictable situation has passed.
If your child isn't ready to walk the dog independently, you can do as I do or even allow your smaller child to hold the leash with you. It can be a bit awkward for two people to hold the leash, but if it's safer that way for your situation, it's a great way to get your child involved in the task.
does it matter how a child holds a leash?
You may not think so, but it's important for the safety of the dog and the walker, regardless of age. A proper leash hold will allow your child control and will prevent the potential for injury or a loose dog. Below, you'll see a couple of common mistakes as well as the the best hold.
One of the most common ways children hold a leash is the wrist wrap-around position. It seems ultra-secure because it almost guarantees that the child won't let go of the leash. And therein lies the problem. The child really can't let go of the leash, something that is necessary in some emergency situations. Though it's important for a child to have a secure hold on the leash, there must be an escape, and the wrist wrap-around hold does not allow that.
The four-finger grasp is another common leash hold for a child. It is natural and easy, but has just the opposite problem of the wrist wrap-around hold. This hold does not allow enough security, as the leash can easily be pulled from the child's grasp.
The best way for a child (or anyone) to hold a leash is the thumbs-up hold, pictured here. It may seem a bit awkward at first, and it may not feel as secure, but rest assured that it is. Ask your child to give you a classic "thumbs up" gesture. The leash is grasped by the child's four fingers, then looped around the thumb. The thumb stays up to prevent the leash from being yanked from your child's grasp, but your child can quickly let go in an emergency situation. It's the best of both worlds, secure, yet safe.
With the proper leash hold, your child and dog can learn to walk well together. Though each child/dog combo has a unique set of circumstances and requires individual evaluation, there are some deal-breakers:
• Any child under the age of five should not independently hold a leash.
• A child of any age should not be allowed to walk a dog he can't control. This is true of adults, as well. If the dog can not be controlled on a leash, leash training is a must.
• Children under the age of ten should always be supervised when dog-walking.
• Children should never walk a dog who is aggressive toward other people or animals.
• Children should never walk multiple dogs at the same time.
• Retractable leashes pose many dangers and should not be used by children (nor is it my advice for anyone to use them)
When proper technique is used and your child can control the animal, dog-walking is a great way for your child to get involved in the family chores and bond with your pooch. It is a fun activity, and the exercise and fresh air will be great for both human and canine. So get out there and work together to ensure everyone is safe, secure, and happy!
How does your child help with the family pets?
This article, written by me, originally appeared as a contributor post on Brie Brie Blooms. It has been posted here with minor changes with permission.
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