We have all heard the saying that “dog is man’s best friend”. Generally, this is true. Most of us can recall heartwarming stories or remember times spent with our favorite pets. Time and time again, pets have become valuable members of our families, helping teach our children love, respect, responsibility, and gentleness. They can easily become inseparable companions and develop a lifelong friendship.
Plus owning a pet has plenty of benefits for children:
However, safety is important when bringing a pet into a household with children. So before you bring a new pet into your home, it’s important to prepare your children, your home, and yourself to make sure your household remains happy and stress-free. Here's are a few tips for a safe and rewarding start:
Be gentle. Children love animals, but they often try to squeeze or poke pets, and can tug on their fur or tails, which can result in pets trying to nip them. It is important to show children how to properly pet and stroke cats and dogs, and how to praise the pet when it behaves well. Monitor the pet’s body language to make sure that everyone is comfortable during each of these interactions.
Start training soon. Introduce your pet to children early and often, so they’ll have positive experiences. Dogs use their sense of smell to say “hello” and find out who you are. Have a child calmly approach the dog from the side and stop with enough room to allow the dog to willingly come to the child. This allows the animal to watch the child without feeling overwhelmed and greet the child on his or her own terms. By using a leash, you will be able to remove the pet from the situation if things get a little wild.
Avoid wild movements or loud sounds. Many children initially want to hug and squeeze dogs, but they need to remain calm. Sudden body movements can easily frighten a dog and cause them to protect themselves by biting or nipping.
Save treats and toys for later. Be mindful of toys, long-lasting food items, dog chews, or other objects that might turn a peaceful greeting into a rough-and-tumble play session, or upset a possessive dog that is still unsure of his/her new environment and might not leave a great first impression on young ones. Don’t interrupt a dog that is eating or sleeping. Startling a dog is a sure fire way to cause an issue. Tell children to give them space, and you can make introductions later.
Watch for cues. Some pets become excited when meeting children, while others may fear the unfamiliar smells and sounds. This can lead to aggressive behavior, so learn your pet’s warning signs and teach children to do the same. Scratching, lip licking or yawning can indicate stress in a dog. In cats, hiding, excessive grooming, or urinating outside the litter box can signify unease.
Always supervise children with pets. Even the nicest and most well-mannered dogs have been known to bite when their fur gets pulled, a child sits on him, a leg gets bent the wrong way, and more. To protect both the child and the pet, it’s best to always be nearby and watching the two together.
Always ask permission before approaching a dog that doesn’t belong to you. Children need to learn that not all animals are friendly and cuddly. This simple gesture can prevent unsafe situations from developing.
Introductions to your new pet should be an ongoing process, not a one-time encounter. Taking the time to educate your children and create the right environment will improve safety for everyone and maximize your chances for a loving, healthy relationship between your new pet and your children that will be a joy to watch for years to come. Best of luck, and enjoy!