Photo of two children using an abacus, with the girl holding a Golden Retriever puppy

When we think of buying a new pet, idyllic walks in the countryside and playing fetch in the garden often distract us.

But owning a pet involves a lot more than ball games and cuddles, especially if you have children.

With the right steps, and careful consideration, introducing a pet into your family can be pretty straightforward. The relationship between a child and an animal can teach kids some really valuable lessons, such as respect and responsibility. But, key to this new relationship, is making sure they get off on the right foot from the beginning, and that the whole family is clear on the rules.

Think of what you can manage, not just what you want. Never let others pressure you into a pet that is too large or too much work

Which pet?

First of all, it’s important to know which pet is a good fit for your family.

Karen Wild, an expert in pet behaviour, says: “Think of what you can manage, not just what you want. Never let others pressure you into a pet that is too large or too much work.”

When it comes to dogs, there is much debate over which breed is best: some believe King Charles spaniels or labradors are perfect for families because of their friendly nature, but really there is no “easy breed”. All pets – cats, dogs, rabbits, even hamsters – have needs, so it’s important to know exactly what those needs are, and if you can make time for them all.

Preparing for your pet’s arrival

Make some ground rules… and stick to them. This can be anything from not allowing your pet to jump on the sofa, to not feeding it from the table. Establishing the dos and don’ts from the beginning, will make everything clear from the outset.

Also, it’s essential that your kids know what’s going on. As exciting as it is to keep the pet a surprise, they need to know what to expect and how to react. They should also be shown how to handle the animal, especially if it’s a smaller pet such as a rabbit or hamster.

Child holding a treat out for a dog, who's jumping up to eat it

Child holding a treat out for a dog, who's jumping up to eat it

Toddler cuddling rabbit in a yellow shirt

Toddler cuddling rabbit in a yellow shirt

Day one

When the day comes to introduce your new pet to your child, you should be there at all times to supervise. They’ll need to learn how to live with each other, and it’s up to you to teach them.

For small pets that need handling, you’ll have to take the lead and show your child first before letting them take control. Also, it’s important that your child feeds your pet and cleans its cage, as this helps them take on the responsibility of looking after something.

When walking the dog, try having two leads: a short one for your child, and a longer one for you. You’ll still be in control, but your dog will see the child as the walker and will learn to respect them too.

Going forward

As the kids grow up and your pet gets older, they can do even more together. Let your kids take the dog out alone when they’re ready, or encourage them to teach them tricks. This continued interaction and development will prove pivotal to a long, happy and healthy relationship for the entire family.