How to teach students about responsible pet guardianship
Pet guardianship is a great way for students to learn about responsibility. Caring for another creature can be one of the first nurturing and caring roles that children experience.
Thinking about the needs of another being and what it takes to care for it can teach a number of life skills, help foster independent thinking and develop empathy.
Here are some simple ways to teach responsible pet guardianship to students:
Research – investigating what a particular animal needs online or in books can help encourage your students’ interest in the differences between animals and their specific needs.
Guardians, not owners – encouraging students to refer to people who care for pets as ‘guardians’, rather than ‘owners’, provides the subtle message that animals have equal rights and needs. They aren’t ‘things’ like toys or gadgets, and deserve our kindness and care.
Think carefully before getting a classroom pet – a classroom pet can be a good way to teach students about responsible pet care, but it’s important to do you research first. Is your classroom an ideal environment for an animal? Who will look after your pet during the holidays, and what will happen to them if they require veterinary attention?
Talk about basic care for living beings – emphasising the importance of providing fresh food and water at the same time each day teaches students that pets are dependent on their human carers.
Age-appropriate chores – if you do have a classroom pet, setting each student the responsibility for a certain pet role, such as making sure Fluffy has fresh water or that the food bowl is washed and put away after lunch can give them a sense of ownership of a task and responsibility for its completion.
Non-verbal communication – all pets communicate in some way. For cats they may swish their tail when they don’t want to be approached or touched. For dogs the signals can be even more subtle. Teaching students to try to identify whether their pet is happy or sad can not only avoid bites, but help teach empathy. This video can be shown to students to help them try to identify some dog body language.
The importance of non-basic needs – dogs need more than just food and water. Rain hail or shine, dogs still need to get out and about. Teach students the importance of species-specific needs, particularly for popular pets like cats and dogs. Putting the needs of their pet first, even if they don’t feel like it sometimes, can go a long way in developing responsibility and empathy.
Learning about natural behaviours – all pets have different enrichment needs. Cats like elevated perches, hiding places and pouncing games. Ferrets like tunnels, dogs like different games, depending on what they’ve been bred for. Caring for a pet is about making sure their needs are met and their environment suits their personality. Help students choose a pet and research their natural behaviours, then come up with solutions to meeting these unique needs.
Pets can teach students so many valuable skills. Empathy and responsibility are important for growth and development, and caring for a furry (or leathery) companion can encourage these traits. Of course, when the novelty wears off, the ultimate responsibility falls with the adults – whether these are parents at home or teachers in the classroom!