The bond an animal and child can develop is like no other. It is amazing to watch it unfold! Having a pet does help teach a child responsibility but it is important to remember that proper care will fall on a responsible adult. The pet will still need one on one adult interaction. It is important to teach the child(ren) and the pet proper manners when around one another. Safety discussion should begin before the animal is added to the family. Even with the most trustworthy child and pet accidents can happen. Teaching your child and pet proper manners is essential.
Remember a healthy pet is a safer pet. Keep your pet up to date with yearly wellness exams, vaccines, and intestinal parasite screenings. Keep them on year-round flea and tick prevention. Keep them well-groomed with brushing, baths and nail trims.
Don’t assume that you can skip normal safety precautions just because a breed is supposed to be “good with kids.” Proper training and socializing are imperative to having a good dog. “Sit”, “stay”, “down” and “leave it” are vital commands.
Create boundaries for your pet. Example 1: Dogs are not allowed in the kitchen – and children must only eat food in the kitchen. This simple rule can save little hands and faces from accidentally being bitten because the dog was trying take the food. Example 2: Cats are not allowed in the crib / baby areas. Heat-seeking cats may want to cuddle up to the baby who (if young enough) can’t move away and have difficulty breathing.
Have an area strictly for your pet. Crates are great for dogs. It has the feel of a den that their ancestors would appreciate. The crate door is always open and when s/he wants alone time, s/he can relax in the crate until s/he is ready for more family time. Providing a safe area for your cat can be tricky. If you can provide them with their own room that is great. Otherwise, keep in mind cats love heights. Giving them a quiet area of the home where they can rest out of the reach of children is a nice alternative.
Don’t allow your dog on the couch (while you are holding the baby, or the child is sitting there) or in the child’s bed. Our Leader of the Pack article discusses pack mentality and alpha dog behavior. This article will be help you understand why you don’t want your dog to think they oversee the child(ren).
Already have an establish pet and expecting a little human? Be sure to read our article Introducing a New Baby.
Hopefully, you’ve taught your child to never approach and talk to a stranger (human) – they need to understand the same thing should be done with animals. Teaching your child(ren) the proper way to approach an animal is a life skill they will need forever. The proper way to approach an animal for review: A.) Ask the adult with the animal for permission before approaching. If the owner says it is okay.
B.) Reach out your hand with palm facing up and gently move it towards the animal and allow the animal to sniff before touching the pet.
Teaching your child proper ways to engage with a pet will keep both parties safe. Always pet an animal gently. No pulling or tugging. Never from behind. Do not touch the animal’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth, paws, tails or genitals. Don’t make loud noises or sudden movements around animals. Teach your child that it is not okay to hug or kiss pets – especially dogs. Hugs and face-to-face contact can be very threatening and a display of dominance. This type of affection is typically not appreciated by dogs from any human. The dog may be more inclined to play the alpha role with a child with a quick snap.
Teach children how to properly handle smaller pets – never squeeze tight, drop them, fall on them, or pick them up too fast. The front and back of the pet’s body always needs to be supported . Sometimes a child is just not ready to carry an animal and the pet is safer on the floor or in the cage.
It is not a good idea to allow young or small children to walk the dog. Even the best trained dog can’t resist a good squirrel or rabbit chase at times. Teach children to never bother animals while they are eating, sleeping, or tending to their young. Teach children to never take a toy or bone away from a dog.
Don’t allow your child to play tug-of-war or chase-me games with a dog. The dog will win, and this means the dog is in control. Again, refer to Leader of the Pack. Teach the child that the crate is the dog’s room and the perch is the cat’s bed. These areas are off limits. The pet cannot be touched when in these spots.
Teach children that if the dog is getting too rough or excited, they must stand still with their arms down at their side until the dog gets bored and calms down. An adult should always supervise interactions with a child and the pet. Teach older children to watch for these signs from a dog: turning head away from them, licking lips, yawning, walking away. If any of these or a combination of these are observed, the dog is very nervous and is not enjoying the activity. Walking away is the best gesture the dog can offer but if the child follows, the dog may resort to growling, snapping or biting.
Teaching children to love and respect pets can be one of the best lessons you can pass on to your children.