Displaying a love for animals, especially dogs and cats, seems to come naturally to most children. For the most part, having a pet (or interacting with one) can be a fun, positive experience for all involved. However, it’s important to ensure the safety and wellbeing of both kids and pets to build a lifelong foundation of love and respect.
Approaching an Animal
When approaching an unfamiliar dog, make sure your child knows to always ask the owner first before petting. If the owner gives permission, the child should offer their hand, palm up, to be sniffed. If the dog seems accepting, your child may stroke their shoulder or chest.
Cats can seem slightly less predictable than dogs, and their body language isn’t always readily obvious to humans. In general, kids should know to let a cat come to them for affection. A cat who’s hissing, lashing their tail, has ears flattened, or one who walks away should be left alone.
Safety at Home
For children, the majority of dog bites and other animal-related injuries are from pets they know. It’s important to make sure your kids are familiar with the following rules:
- Don’t approach a pet while they’re eating, sleeping, or playing with toys.
- Never tease a pet by pretending to take toys or food away or by pretending to hit or kick them.
- Never pull a dog or cat’s ears or tail; don’t try to climb on or “ride” a dog.
- Hugging and kissing are not signs of affection in the animal world, and many pets simply don’t like these behaviors.
When it comes to children, one thing is certain: they’re always watching our every move (whether we realize it or not!). This makes our interactions with the family pet a wonderful way to lay the groundwork for a healthy relationship between kids and pets:
- Set a good example. Treat your pet and other animals with visible kindness. Make them a part of the family by including them in activities and taking time each day to make sure they get plenty of exercise, playtime, and affection.
- Let your child help. Assigning age-appropriate tasks will help cultivate a sense of empathy and responsibility in kids.
- Always supervise interactions. Young children and pets should always be supervised when playing together. Even the most trustworthy pet can behave unpredictably.
Kids and Pets
When it comes to teaching a child about animal safety, it’s important to take their age and developmental level into consideration. For example, it’s not reasonable to expect a very young child to understand the nuances of dog or cat body language, but they can learn that when a pet walks away from them, it means the animal is done playing.