After writing the “Chores Shmores” post, I heard from a number of parents asking whether or not “Pets” should be included in a chore list:
(This post was originally written in 2016 and updated in 2022)
Why didn’t you mention “Taking Care of Pets” as a chore in the examples you gave? Wouldn’t that count as a good chore? – Wanda
Hey Dr. Renee, my son wants a cat, what do I do? – Rachel
I really want our children to take more responsibility for our dogs, can I assign this as a chore? – Christy
I have found that in 90% of the families I have talked to about pets,
it’s the mom or dad who take care of the animals.
Even my wonderful daughters, who fed the dogs on their assigned nights (one had odd days, the other had even days), still needed occasional reminders to feed the dogs. And they had been doing it for years…
It’s awesome if you have a child who is responsible and understands that pets will die if they are not fed, or could get diseases if they are not exercised, cleaned, and cared for.
However, the frontal cortex of the brain, the executive function part that helps us know what to do and when, does not fully develop until around the age of 25-30.
Most kids are simply not capable of remembering to
take care of a pet,
or even a plant, daily.
“Taking Care of Pets” is one of my family’s daily chores, but most often it does not happen without a friendly mom-reminder.
If you agree to a pet on the condition that your child will take care of it and you have no desire whatsoever to take care of or keep the pet, you have a few options.
The key is to set up the conditions before bringing the pet home. If you already have the pet, pick a calm time and introduce the conditions since things aren’t working as originally planned.
These conditions could include having to find a new home for the pet if the child doesn’t take responsibility. This seems to be much easier with fish or hamsters than it does with larger pets (dogs, cats, bunnies). You could also find someone (friend, neighbor) who wants to ‘try out’ a pet.
If things aren’t working according to plan, you can follow through on the ‘give away’ (or share the pet for a week or two). Often learning that their pet will be given away can be highly motivating. Please remember, your child’s brain isn’t fully developed yet! This motivation will last for a while and then you’ll have to remind your child to follow through again.
All of that being said,
YES you can include your pets in daily chores.
As I mentioned above, my daughters fed and provided clean water for our dogs daily. When they were younger, they helped me get the food and put it in the bowls. As they got older, they could do all of it on their own.
They also loved to ‘train’, play in the backyard, and walk our dogs -sometimes with each other, without me. I encouraged this as our dogs loved to walk and needed the exercise to get rid of energy.
My older daughter had a hamster that she earned the right to adopt and bought with her own money (cage and all).
Occasionally she needed reminding to clean the cage, even though it was her job. She knew, and we occasionally reviewed the responsibilities of owning a hamster. If she decided not to clean the cage, we would have had to find a new home for her hamster. Fortunately for her (and the hamster!), she was responsible. She only needed a few rare mom-reminders to make sure her hamster was well fed, watered, and in a clean environment.
It’s up to you.
You can certainly add “Taking Care of Pets” to your chore list. Since they are living beings, you obviously need to be more diligent with follow-through than a chore such as “Picking up Toys.”
As long as you know what you are getting into, set the limits, and follow-through, you shouldn’t feel angry or resentful about having to take care of a pet you didn’t want.
As for the rest of us …
WE were the driving force for having a pet and our children just get the benefits of being included and learning responsibility.
Check out Chores Shmores to read some of the age-appropriate chores your children could/should be doing!
CLICK HERE to be notified when I teach my next class on How to Get Your Child to Cooperate and Complete Chores.