Today I’d like to talk to you about a troubling sentiment that I hear quite a lot from new dog owners. It came to mind because of a conversation that I recently had with a client. This individual was explaining to me how they needed to get some training for their dog, who was aggressive toward cats, because they went to an adoption event and their daughter had to bring home a kitten. Those were their exact words: “She just had to have a kitten.” As soon as I heard that, my immediate thought was, “No, she didn’t. She didn’t need to have the kitten.”
Instead, this person had allowed their daughter to get a kitten. Furthermore, they had made a bad choice by bringing a cat into their home when they were already aware that their dog had obedience and aggression issues. This person was trying to do the right thing by finding a trainer for their dog. But this incident still shows an all-too-common problem: kids making decision about the family animals.
Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I love kids! In fact, I have four daughters myself, and my wife and I love them more than anything. We do as much as we possibly can for them. They go to dance camps and theatre camps and science and math events. That’s because we want our daughters to grow up with great experiences: we want them to meet a lot of people, see a lot of things, and come into contact with a lot of cultures. We want to raise well-rounded kids who turn into conscientious adults, so we’re constantly asking ourselves how we can give our kids more meaningful responsibilities.
One thing that we’ve never done and will never do, however, is allow our kids to make decisions regarding our animals. There’s a good reason for this. Our kids don’t remember to take showers unless we remind them! Sure, our ten-year-old can make grilled cheese and pancakes by herself, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she can make decisions about the life of an animal. As much as we’d like to teach our kids to make responsible and positive choices, they are not in a position to call the shots about the animals. And they certainly shouldn’t be deciding which animals we bring into the house.
At the end of the day, I’ve never seen a family where the child—whether they’re five, nine, or fourteen years old—is actually the owner of their dog or cat. That responsibility almost always falls on the parents first, with the kids far behind. For that reason alone we can’t let our kids make the decisions about which animals we bring into our house, the things we do with the animals, or the way we choose to train the animals.
Having input from the kids, on the other hand, is awesome. When we got our puppy, we had input from our daughters about whether or not we should get a dog and what we should name it. But at the end of the day, they didn’t make the final decsiion. Ultimately, it is the parent’s home, not the ten-year-old’s home. That means that ultimately, this animal is the parent’s pet, not the ten-year-old’s pet. The parent is responsible for making sure that your dogs and cats—and turtles, birds, fish, or whatever other pets you may have—are healthy, safe, and well cared for. You can’t pass this buck on to your kids. It’s simply too much responsibility to expect a young child to care for the welfare of another living creature.
I hope that this post has called your attention to the incorrectness of this mindset. I’m not trying to call anyone out, but just to bring light to a thought process that I come across too frequently in the dog training world. It’s that simple: we do not need to allow our kids to make decisions about our animals. It’s up to us as parents and owners to make sure that our dogs and other pets are safe and happy.