5 “Play and Learn” Tips with the New Family Pet

This post is written by Melissa & Doug guest editor Anna Ritchie.


“Mommy, can we get a puppy?”  How many parents have fielded this commonly asked question? In case you caved, don’t fret. While your house may be turned upside-down for a bit, there are some fantastic learning opportunities that you can sneak-in while your kids – and the new puppy – adjust.  (These tips aren’t puppy-specific, though; they can apply to cats, birds and yes, even gerbils.)

Tip #1: Picking the Perfect Pet

Whether you choose to adopt or purchase your family pet, be sure to research the top recommended breeds for kids (like the ones who won’t get annoyed if a little tyke pulls its tail).  Bring your child into the research process as well: Your local library will likely have many books on dog breeds and training, so choose a few with your kids to prepare them for what’s to come, and explore the different breeds together.  Better yet, dig into that stash of puppy stuffies, and develop some creative play prompts to prepare for the new addition. For example:

  • Ask your kid what type of dog they would be, and why
  • Have your child create their own pretend “puppy name” and explain why they chose it
  • Grab that face paint and your favorite accessories for a little puppy role play (a great time to practice training methods as well!)

Tip #2: Welcome Home, Pup

Dogs will quickly become another member of your family- but need a little TLC at first.  Use this as an opportunity to teach your child about caregiving (and explore some basic emotions). Some ways to prepare for the pup can be to:

  • Ask your child to verbalize how he or she thinks the puppy will feel their first night away from home;
  • Go shopping together for some supplies (toys and cozy blankets) that will make the puppy comfortable, asking your child to share what gives them the most comfort;
  • Start to develop a “game plan” for how the first day, and night, should go (i.e. where the puppy should sleep, ways to make it feel welcome).

Tip #3: Responsibilities Matter!  

The responsibility chart is really popular in our house- so the opportunity to add a new task (Take Care of Pet) was very welcomed. But I had a feeling a little seven year-old might not fully grasp what this responsibility entailed. So we grabbed some art supplies and made a list (yes, I have a fellow list-lover) to help us keep track of all the things we’ll need to get for the puppy, and what our ongoing tasks will be.


Talking through the list was one of the most eye-opening experiences of the day: Little Miss wrote down things (like cuddle with the puppy) that helped me shift my focus away from the “chore” aspect of the new dog,  and more towards relationship that we were about to create.


Writing Tip: When your kid’s making the list, try to allow them to progress in their spelling without interruption. Our teacher always reminds us that helping Little Miss learn storytelling and confidence in reading and writing is key; and that phonetic spelling is perfectly normal at her age. So, rather than correcting a word, ask your child to elaborate on what they’re writing.

Tip # 4: Lists and Organization

In addition to practicing our reading and writing, this exercise helped us explore the concept of “lists” and “bullet points”.  First we identified:

  • What are we trying to organize in this poster (what we need, and what to do)
  • How can we organize information in an easy-to-read way?

Little Miss then outlined certain steps with marker to further emphasize their importance (her own version of “bold”).

Tip # 5: Welcome Home, Pup!

Ease your kids into the new dog- and vice versa! The little ones will all be very excitable, which can lead to jumping and nipping from the puppy. We chose the spray water bottle route to help keep the puppy at bay – but whatever method you choose, ensure you bring the kids along for the ride. As an extra bonus, use this as a way to reinforce certain behaviors you try to enforce as a family.


What tips can you share for bringing a new animal into your home? Share with us on the comments, or on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram.

Items Used for “Learn & Play” Tips:


Anna Ritchie is a writer, stepmom, and marketer. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, Little Miss, and Sandy the pup.

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5 “Play and Learn” Tips with the New Family Pet