Homework, reading, projects and extracurricular activities can be exciting and exhausting for kids. Even though school is back in session, kids still have responsibilities at home, especially when it comes to caring for pets.
"The No. 1 way to get your kids to care for the pet is to include walking and feeding them in their list of chores," says Kathleen Thometz, who has three dogs and is a mother of four kids ages 12 to 20. "My kids get allowances and are very good about walking the dogs."
*Learning and Sticking to Routines
"Keep kids involved by building strong relationships with the pets," says Sherry Woodard, animal behavior consultant for Best Friends Animal Society, explaining that parents and kids can enjoy daily routines with their pet.
The daily interaction is a chance for the whole family to spend time together and learn how to care for the pet.
Mealtime is a key area where kids can be involved.
"Dogs need to be fed two times per day," says Erin Askeland, training manager and behavior expert at Camp Bow Wow, the nation's largest doggy day care franchise. Askeland notes that kids will need to feed the pets before heading to school and again at dinnertime.
*Kids Can Train the Pet to Eat
"The parent can lure the dog or cat into a sit, showing the kids how to give the food right when the pet is in the position you want," says Woodard. "The pet can be hand fed their meals as they are asked to 'sit,' 'wait,' 'stand calmly' and 'follow their person.'"
Walking is great exercise for the child and the pet.
"There are days that it will be rainy and yucky, but you still have to take your pup for a stroll," says Askeland. Dogs need to be walked twice a day, for at least 30 minutes per walk. "You might be tired after school, but you are still going to have to take your dog out and get them exercise."
*Even Cats Can Go on Walks
"Adults need to help with teaching and supervise when cats go on walks. This means parents have another opportunity to spend quality time with the kids," she says, noting some cats can be harnessed for walks.
Though walks are fun, there is a less glamorous side: Kids need to learn to carry bags and pick up their pet's waste.
"Although it is not a fun job, it is a basic part of being a responsible pet 'parent,'" says Askeland.
Much like cleaning their room or picking up their toys, kids typically aren't enthused about cleaning up after a pet.
Tidying up is often easier and faster when done as a family, especially if it becomes a game.
"You can time the cleaning chores and the winner gets something they want, (like a) favorite snack or more video game time, more TV time (or) points toward an outing," says Woodard, reminding parents to check for quality work to help kids improve their cleanup skills.
*Kids Caring for Pets at Every Age
Woodard provides the following suggestions for a timeline:
--Ages 4-7. Kids can help their parents daily by learning how to care for, clean, feed, walk and train the pet.
--Ages 8-12. At this age, kids can start taking over duties. Parents should be nearby and ideally will want to enjoy this time with their kids.
--Ages 13-plus. Kids in this age group, who have been helping their parents care for pets, can often do most tasks without adult help. "Bathing may be easier with help from an adult depending on the behavior of the pet," says Woodard, explaining many kids over 13 like to teach new adults and other kids how to care for pets, which builds and reinforces their skills.
--All ages. Take video of kids at all ages interacting with the pet. "They can see themselves and be proud," says Woodard.