Virtual character is a significant application in the research field of technology-enhanced learning. In this study, the concept of animal companions, 'non-smart' virtual characters, is proposed as a way to encourage students to promote effort-making learning behaviours. The two underpinning design rationales are first discussed followed by the description of the development of a practical application, the My-Pet v2 system. A preliminary experiment was conducted to examine the system usability in terms of cognitive, affective and time-on-task characteristics. The results reveal that participants in the group using a complete version of My-Pet v2 showed better quality of effort-making learning behaviours. Some implications and future research directions are also discussed.