There is nothing cuter than a young child and the family dog curled up together, enjoying an afternoon nap.
The pet-child relationship is important for children as it provides kids the opportunity to learn about love, respect and care for other living creatures. It also teaches children about responsibility (grooming, exercise, feeding). However, in order to create this wonderful relationship, parents must teach their children how to behave around dogs and cats.
Key to a happy and harmonious relationship with pets is training. All family members, especially the children, should attend obedience classes. This will help everyone learn the proper training techniques, as well as help the dog to take commands from everyone in the household.
When children give dogs commands, there is a good chance the dog, no matter how well trained, will not obey. Dogs do not view children, especially the smaller ones, as authority figures. To help with this, ensure children are giving the proper command, but that they are also giving that command in a deep voice. Dogs tend to obey commands given with a more masculine tone.
Avoid Being Bitten
Dog bites usually occur between a child and dog that know each other. While most bites end up being minor, they can cause serious, even permanent, psychological damage to the child – who may now become frightened of dogs.
The best way to avoid dog bites is to teach children how to act around dogs. Many dogs instinctually equate the high-pitched squeals of children playing with the distress sounds of prey animals – therefore the dog may react by biting the child.
Teach children to be calm and to curtail squeals of joy when around a dog. Running, squealing and roughhousing children can also encourage a dog to jump and chew on a child’s arms, legs and clothing – this is how dogs play with each other. However, dogs must be taught this is not how to play with humans, especially children.
Pushing, kneeing and hitting the dog will not do any good as the dog will see this as part of the game. Children should fold their arms, close their eyes and after a few moments, slowly walk away. It is important that whenever a child moves away from a dog, that the child walks, not runs. A running child equals prey to a dog and triggers the chase response, which is virtually impossible to interrupt. Dogs and young children must also be never left alone together.
Even if your family does not own a dog, children still need to be taught how to approach them. And if you have a family dog, it is important to remind children, when they come upon an unfamiliar dog, this is different than the one at home and it needs to be approached as such.
Always ask the owner if it is ok to approach the dog. Once the all clear is given, approach the dog slowly, with arms at your sides. Running up to the dog can startle it and lead to the child being bitten.
Once close to the dog, let it sniff you. Slowly lift your arms to allow the dog to sniff your hands. Present a closed fist to the dog for more sniffing – this protects the fingers in case the dog gets spooked and tries to nip the child. Next, gently touch the side and then the top of the dog’s head. Never put a hand directly on top of the dog’s head. Once the pet is ok with being touched, slowly and gently pet it.
Never let the child bend down to hug the dog, not all dogs like this and again, it can lead to the child being bitten.
Children need to be taught how to read an animal’s body language, as this is their only form of communication.
Dogs with their tails up, ears back, fur standing up, and are barking, growling or showing teeth, are all signs the dog is to not be approached. Tell children that if they come across a dog exhibiting these behaviours, to not approach it, but to also not run away, scream or stare at it. Teach the child to walk away, slowly.
Cats do not smother children – this is an old wives’ tale. However, they can scratch. Keep the cat’s claws trimmed and teach your child to stroke the cat softly from its head to tail. Never try to roll a cat onto its back to rub its tummy.
If a cat has its fur standing up, a stiff tail, ears back, is hissing and has dilated eyes, do not bother this cat – it is not in the mood.