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Family pets are important to many of us. Your child and family pet may have a good bond. They may play together, watch tv, and nap. You may have a dog or cat… or maybe you have a bird or hamster. Some families may only have a fish due to allergies and time constrains. Since this blog talks about my dog, Derby, I will focus this post on using the family dog to improve your child’s language skills.
A well trained family pet will know some basic commands like sit, down, come, and stay. I talked about the commands that Derby knows best in this post here and here. These are simple early verbs that your child can use to give directions to their favorite furry friend. It’s very motivating for a child to see the power behind his words. Model giving the simple one word command to your dog, and have your child imitate the command. I would recommend starting with a command that your dog is extremely reliable with like “sit.”
You can also work on receptive language skills by giving your child simple chores to do with your dog. Depending on their skill level, you could have your child give a treat to the dog, feed the dog, or get the water bowl.
Expanding language and vocabulary
Using commands to give directions to your family pet, also improves your child’s vocabulary. Often children have an abundance of nouns in their vocabulary. Working on commands will help give your child more verbs in their vocabulary. More verbs will help your child begin to expand their words into longer phrases such as “Derby sit” or “Derby come.”
In addition to verbs, you can also model different adjectives to help expand your child’s vocabulary and phrases. You may want to model adjectives like furry, soft, hairy, wet, dirty, muddy, or loud.
When you talk about what you are doing, you give your child language models. You can use simple dog care activities to teach sequencing to your child. “First I get the water bowl. Then I fill it up with water. Last I place the bowl on the floor for Derby to drink.” You can go back later and work on answering questions about what you did. “What did I do first?” I picked up the water bowl. “What did I do last.” I put the bowl on the floor for Derby.
An older child might have a chore to do for their family pet. This can be put on a visual schedule of their day. A typical schedule might have Brush Teeth, Put on clothes, Feed dog, Eat breakfast, etc.
If you have a dog that really likes to play catch, you have a good role model for turn taking. The child can throw the ball, and then learns to wait his turn while the dog comes back with the ball. This
You may have a opportunity to use your family pet to give your child choices. Should we feed Derby this box of treats or these crackers? Should we give Derby water or juice? Start at the level your child is at and move up a step. If your child is pointing, then you start at pointing to the box of treats and move up to pointing with a sound.
Check out this post here from the American Kennel Club for information on picking a good dog for a family. The above strategies can be modified for your families particular pet… cat, bird, even fish can be used to help promote language growth with your child.
Check out some useful items that may help you create a speech therapy routines between your child and family pet! (affiliate links)