Exercising Family Pets

Involving Children is Fun and Beneficial

Whether you live in an apartment or a house, have a large breed dog or an indoor cat, you've got plenty of fun options when it comes getting kids to help exercise the family pet.

Nationwide pet insurance offers tips for families with pets, with advice for teaching children how to help groom, exercise, and ensure home and food safety for pets.

Daily Dog Walks

Labrador retriever with tennis ball

Dogs of all sizes can profit from a daily walk. If you’re unable to walk the dog around a neighborhood, a backyard or even driveway are good places to start. Most dogs will be happy to walk in circles if it means getting outdoors with their small companions. Even on a cold winter day, walking indoors up and down a hallway can be entertaining for a dog and child.

It’s fun for children to take charge and guide dogs on a leash; just make sure to supervise so that your child knows how much restraint to use. Dogs will resist if too much pressure is applied to their necks.

Also, make sure that your dog is well-behaved on a leash before handing the reigns over to a small child. A good dog should display patience when on a leash.

Dog-Training Classes

Dog training classes are available in group settings at specialized training facilities and at pet stores. You can also hire a private training to come to your home if you prefer.

Involving your child in dog training classes is a win-win situation: Not only does your dog benefit from behavior modification and the socialization he'll receive, your child will also learn to take responsibility with the dog and benefit from the bonding that takes place with the dog during these training courses.

Dog Parks

Boy plays with dogs

Many urban and suburban communities have dog parks, often separating small breed dogs from the larger ones. These parks are usually safe for families, as the rule of thumb requires all dogs to be socialized and typically does not tolerate any aggressive canine behavior.

Kids can practice their ball-throwing skills with Fido in the safety of a dog park. Not only will your dog get a workout, so will your child.

Tip: When your dog lays down mid-play, it’s usually a sign that he’s getting tired and it’s time to call it quits. Dogs can also become overheated and dehydrated playing outside for a period of time.

Playtime with Cats

Pet stores now offer a wide variety of toys for cats that will keep them entertained for hours. Some of the best toys for cats include:

Cat plays with toy
  • Interactive dangling toys
  • Toy mice (the noisier, the better)
  • Scratchy boxes
  • At-home treasures

Kids can have fun dangling interactive toys, like those with feathers or fur on the end of a plastic rod or toy mice with feathers or rattles, to simulate a cat's natural hunting instinct. Scratchy boxes offer a good scratching solution for your cat, hopefully eliminating the urge to scratch your couch and manicuring their claws at the same time. You can also sprinkle some catnip on the scratchy box to entice your cat.

One thing kids and cats have in common: Playing in empty boxes, messing around with paper balls made out of crinkly paper and amusing themselves with empty paper towel cardboard inserts. You can find these free treasures at home.

Toys to avoid: Anything with ribbon or string. These are frequent culprits for an emergency trip to the ER, possibly leading to choking or foreign body ingestion, which can require surgery.

Remember to make play time a safe time: Even the friendliest family pets can become irritated when a young child pokes or prods too much. The typical response is growling, hissing, scratching or even biting. Always be within close proximity when young children and pets are playing together so you can supervise everyone’s behavior.