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Unless you already have a menagerie, at some point almost every parent hears the dreaded words: "Mom, can we get a dog?" While putting your child in charge of another living creature will instill a sense of duty, make sure the level of care you expect is age-appropriate. A 4-year-old can certainly change water or scoop food into a bowl, but most kids aren't responsible enough to walk the pooch alone until around age 10. And no matter how much your child -- even a tween or teen -- promises to look after "her" pet, remember that the animal is ultimately your responsibility. --Deborah Skolnik
Copyright © 2005. Reprinted with permission from the April 2005 issue of Parents magazine. Updated 2009
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.