As a parent, responsibility is one of the most important character traits you can ever teach your child. It seems that every parent has a different method of instilling responsible living in their children, many of which are effective. One approach to teaching responsibility, though, is as close as the family pet.

Daily Needs:

There are several ways that having to take care of a pet can improve the responsibility of children. One of the most important aspects is simply having something that relies on them for daily needs. Whether it’s a dog, cat, hamster, or bird – almost any pet (with the possible exception of fish) needs food at least once a day and clean water available at all times. This duty can be placed on a child as young as 7 or 8, with parental supervision. Explain to them why this part of pet care is so important, and most times they will respond with eager, responsible care.

Weekly Needs:

If your child is a little older, and ready for a little bit bigger responsibility, they could also be put in charge of taking the dog for walks, cleaning the cat litter box, or scrubbing the hamster cage once a week. Have them help you with grooming the pet, whether bathing, brushing, etc.

In General:

Once your child reaches the age of 10 or 11, they will usually be ready for complete responsibility of a pet. At this stage, they have learned that having a pet (and being responsible) means keeping to a certain schedule, and feeding the cat every morning-even if they’re tired and don’t want to get up. Or when they have to walk the dog in the rain, it will teach them that responsibility isn’t always pleasant, but they still have to accomplish certain tasks. This will help in schoolwork, chores, and even reach into their adult life.

One reason I am such a firm believer in pet care as responsibility training, is because I experienced it as a child myself. My sister and I raised and showed rabbits when we were 10 and 12 (yes, there really are rabbit shows!), and we were completely responsible for the rabbits’ care. Cleaning cages, feeding, watering, grooming, preparing for the shows-we had to do it all. And we enjoyed it!

I also had a Sheltie mix named Toby around the same time, that I took care of and brought to obedience lessons. Toby took to the obedience classes so well that once we finished the advanced course, the instructor asked me to come every week to demonstrate a properly trained dog. Was I excited? Yes. Did caring for and training my dog help me learn responsibility? You bet! (Of course, I also became the official obedience trainer for all future family dogs).

It’s amazing how something as simple as a family pet can be such a tool for teaching your children to be responsible. Lessons they learn when feeding the dog or cleaning out a cage will stay with them, and help them be responsible adults.