This post is sponsored by Responsibility.org as part of their Ask, Listen, Learn program. All opinions are mine, or that of our new dog, though really, most of his opinions center around treats.
Nora Ephron once said, “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” As the parent of an adolescent, I took that advice to heart and last month, my family rescued a dog.
He is our first pet, so welcoming a dog into the family means we have faced a bit of a learning curve. Thankfully, the four-year-old beagle we named Pascal is a very mellow guy. He has been very patient with us as we educate ourselves and get more comfortable with him.
After a few weeks of transition, we’re all used to each other and settling into a happy routine together. I knew that getting a new four-legged family member would have benefits, but I’ve been surprised at how this sweet pup with the floppy ears has been a parenting asset. I knew he would be good for teaching responsibility, but in addition that, his presence serves as a great catalyst for discussions about healthy choices with my daughter.
Healthy choices about food and drink are important
Making sure our pup has food and water is a top priority, of course. What I didn’t foresee was how it provided an opportunity to talk about being responsible and the importance of making good choices when it comes to food and drink, both for him and for ourselves.
We’ve covered things like why feeding the dog from the table is not okay, how chocolate could be very bad for him, and the importance of good nutrition. He only drinks water. My daughter recalled the Switchin Kitchen game about healthy choices from the Ask, Listen, Learn website.
We had a conversation about how humans, like dogs, need to put healthy items into our bodies for them to work their best.
As a parent, I’ve found my daughter is a bit more receptive to talking about healthy choices for others than she would be if I was talking directly to her about her choices. The same principles apply, of course, when talking about the dog and this is another opportunity to stress the importance of selecting healthy options.
Treats are fine – in moderation
If there’s one thing Pascal loves, it’s treats. (I think he’s in good canine company in this regard.) And who can blame our four-legged friends? I like treats, too. But our dog nicely illustrates a few key parenting points.
First, not all treats are safe for everyone. Humans may love chocolatey brownies as treats, but that delicious dessert is not safe for dogs. It affects them differently. Similarly, not all treats that are okay for adults are okay for kids. Some treats, like an occasional cocktail, are fine for grown-ups, but not fine for kids, whose brains are not yet fully developed and alcohol effects them differently than it does adults.
Second, when it comes to treats, moderation is key. Our always-hungry beagle may disagree with me, but it’s true that there really can be too much of a good thing. Knowing healthy limits is important, for him and for us.
Extra exercise isn’t a bad thing
My step count is a lot higher than it was pre-dog. Our new routine serves as a reminder to me and my child that healthy choices are easier when they’re part of a set routine and that being healthy can be also be really fun. Even better, healthy choices mean you feeling better, both physically and emotionally. That’s a definite win-win.
Fostering a strong bond and greater connections
Pascal is a very friendly beagle and as we’ve walked around the neighborhood, he is eager to make (and sniff) new acquaintances. Walking him has provided many more opportunities to talk to our neighbors. And we’ve found they’re more likely to stop and chat with us when we have the dog than we were out walking by ourselves.
Walking the dog also gives us more time together and chances to connect in an easy and relaxed way.
Telling your kid, “We need to talk” makes them about as receptive to what you have to say as Pascal is to the idea of bath time. Asking your kid to walk the dog with you, however, is far less ominous. Walks often lead to talks, and the stronger connection you have with your kids, the better.
Not every walk means a heart-to-heart, and that’s okay. The opportunity to connect is valuable, even if she doesn’t capitalize on it every single time. And I have these helpful conversation starters that I can use if I want to talk about underage drinking, with the knowledge that when conversations about alcohol go up, underage drinking rates go down.
We’ve also been helped by friends and family who have offered encouragement and help. They aren’t all dog people, but they’ve not only respected our choice, they’ve offered support. It’s a good reminder of the importance of true friends and the connections we have with them.
Authenticity is invaluable
Another benefit is that my daughter’s bond with our pup isn’t based on anything artificial. He loves her exactly as she is. She is enough for him, and she gets a tail wag, no matter what. That kind of acceptance and affection without conditions is so valuable, especially to adolescents.
Adding a dog to the family has also strengthened our connections with our neighbors. Pascal is always happy to greet, or sniff them, and they’re always happy to say hello. He’s like the new mayor of the neighborhood.
We are all grateful for our new family member for a wide variety of reasons. In addition to his unconditional love, these conversations and connections are ones that are at the top of my list.
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