What Pets Teach Kids

Lindsey ZimmermanSenior Dogs

I come from a long line of pet owners. Even before I was born, my parents had dogs, my grandparents had dogs and my great grandparents had dogs. My Mom preferred small dogs and my Dad liked big dogs, so we always had a menagerie of strays, rescues and family dogs hanging around the house.

With April 26 being National Kids and Pets Day, I began thinking about all the things my dogs have taught me throughout life. When we’re young, we just take our dogs for granted. When you get older, you realize the life lessons they have taught you without even realizing it.

  • Responsibility. When we turned 9, the dogs became our responsibility and we took it very seriously. We couldn’t wait to turn 9! For us it was a privilege, not a chore. I was in charge of feeding and bathing the dogs, and my brother was in charge of clean up. If I forgot to feed the dogs, my Mom would have me skip a meal too so I knew what it felt like. The whole family exercised the dogs, although we didn’t think of it as exercise at it was merely play time. I spent hours playing fetch with my dog (I developed a mean pitching arm) and because we had a small creek in back of our house, we always went swimming together. My favorite dog was named Rowdy and she used to snuggle with me and sleep by my side every night. I was never afraid of the dark because Rowdy was by my side! The dog used to love going down the slide on our swing set, but always gave my hiding places away when we played Hide & Seek!
  • Sharing. Whenever I would get a treat that was food, my dog would look longingly at it. Of course I had to share! This came in handy when I didn’t like my vegetables and snuck her the whole pile under the table!
  • Patience. We used to have a contest in our house to see who could get their dog to do the coolest tricks. I would spend hours teaching my dog to jump through the hula hoop, shake hands, give me 5, and roll over. I remember one of our family dogs would always start howling when the radio came on. Of course, my Mom called it singing.
  • Love. How I have loved all my dogs! When I was sad or sick, my dogs could always read my emotions and spent extra time with me. When all my friends were busy, my dog entertained me. However, when I was in trouble, she used to run as far away from me as she could as if she would get a scolding also!
  • I have never been bitten by a dog, but my Mom was attacked when she was a little girl and had to go through an excruciating series of rabies shots. Therefore, we were taught early on how to approach dogs we didn’t know and how to handle dogs that threatened our safety. Considering how many dogs there are in the world, this is a good lesson for every child to learn whether or not they have a dog.
  • Hugs and kisses. Every day when I came home from school, the dogs would be waiting by the mailbox eagerly waiting to greet me. Such enthusiasm! I would bathe them with hugs and kisses and they responded with lip smacks and jumps! Showing affection spontaneously is a very simple lesson dogs teach us!
  • Death. The old adage “the hardest part of owning a dog is saying goodbye” is so true! How I have cried and mourned the death of each of my dogs! Looking back, I realize how much it has taught me about the grieving process and learning to cope with loss.

As I have grown older I still learn things from my dogs every day. I now have two beautiful Labradors named Cuda and Shadow. They remind me to take time out of my busy schedule to play. To not be afraid to get dirty and just have a good time. To try new experiences. And to chase after things I want (although in my case it’s not squirrels).