They’re cute. They’re weird. They will make messes. And they’ll completely capture your heart. The same can be said of their pets.

Having a pet is a big responsibility, and when your new pet is also your child’s first pet, you may wonder who needs the most training! Still, the bond between a girl and her pet is well worth the effort it takes to build it, so help her become her pet’s “person” with these five pet principles:

Puppy

1. Set the Rules

Different animals need different things: some thrive on cuddles, while others can be hurt if handled too much. Knowing what foods can be dangerous to pets, what areas of your home may be off-limits, and what behaviors are okay or not is an important part of making the commitment to care for a pet. Establish rules that will ensure the health and happiness of both your child and her pet, and make sure your child knows and follows them.

Dog toys

2. Tidy Up

A simple truth: pets will make messes. Pet hair, food crumbs, bits of chewed toys, soil tossed from potted plants, and even messier messes—these things and more will need your child’s attention. Keeping people messes under control is important, too: any toys or clothes left on the floor may be fair game for chewing, scratching, or even marking in the eyes of your pet, and excess clutter can cause anxiety in some animals. But your child is not off the hook if her pet has its own, closed habitat: aquariums and filters, gravel, cages, bedding, and food and water dishes all need to be kept clean and tidy.

Walk dog

3. Get Organized

Animals thrive on routine: regular meals (same time, same place, same dish), exercise, and opportunities for play—even morning and evening rituals—are all important for your pet’s health and well-being. A family’s busy schedule can make establishing and keeping a pet routine challenging, so help your child take ownership of her animal’s care by letting her set an alarm to remind her of important tasks, make a fun chart to track her progress, or keep a dedicated pet calendar to log her pet’s schedule and care.

Show pets kindness

4. Show Kindness

With some animals, like dogs, it is especially important for your child to be firm and in control: a dog will think of your family as a pack, and that pack must have clear, human leadership for a dog to feel secure. But dogs—and all animals—should be treated kindly and with patience, and they often learn better with encouragement and praise. Firm does not mean harsh, and enforcing the rules does not mean yelling, hitting, neglecting, or ignoring a pet. Help your child understand that she is the person her pet relies on and that it is important to treat her pet—even the less snuggly ones—with kindness.

Reading a book.

5. Never Stop Learning

Learning all about your pet is incredibly fun, and there is always something new to discover. Reading up about her cat’s breed or her fish’s native waters, watching videos about how to train her dog or bird, or exploring the best food and habitat choices for her pet can make your girl’s first pet experience even more rewarding. And every pet has its own personality, likes, dislikes, ways of communicating, and other funny or charming idiosyncrasies—giving your child that much more to learn and love.

Adapted from Me & My Dog: The Care and Keeping of a Girl’s Best Friend, by Maxine Rock. American Girl Library, Pleasant Company Publications, 2001. All rights reserved.