Thursday, April 2, 2009

Kids and Pets CAN Live Together!

One of the most frustrating phone calls and emails we get are the ones that start with "My dog isn't tolerating my child" or "My cat scratched my toddler." Sometimes I just want to respond with some fairly unkind words.

Most problems between children and pets can be blamed, quite clearly, on the parents. Most parents have unrealistic expectations of the relationship between children and pets. And often, parents miss several warning signs along the way before a nip or a scratch happens. Here are some that I think are the biggest:

1) Dogs and cats are animals, not toys or pillows or stuffed animals. No matter how well you train your dog or cat, no matter how much you personalize them, they are still animals, and will react with instinct when they feel threatened, scared, or lonely. Don't expect dogs or cats to respond to situations like rational adults. Your dog or cat will not just "take it" indefinitely. Would you? Try this - for 2 weeks, don't correct your child if he or she hits you, kicks you, pulls your hair, throws something at you, takes your favorite things, or screams in your face. I bet at the end of the two weeks, you be growling and snapping, too. And you expect your dog or cat to put up with that for years.

2) Children are, well, children. If your child hits a sibling, what do you do? Get rid of the sibling for telling you or defending himself? No, you teach your child not to hit. It's the parents' responsibility to train the children to respect the dog or cat, to teach them that the pets have feelings and boundaries. If you don't teach your child those boundaries, then don't blame your pet when he or she teaches your child.

3) Growling and hissing are GOOD things! These are the most visible and easily recognizable warning signs that pets can offer us. If your child gets too close to your dog when she's eating, and she growls, HURRAY! There is a space between the uncomfortable behavior and the bite, and your dog is giving your child a chance to back up. If you punish your dog for growling, the growling will eventually go away, and the bite will come immediately.

4) Dogs and cats are constantly telling us how they feel. We just miss it. And it's our fault for missing it.

There are lots of ways to learn about what your pet is telling you, and trying to tell your child. And there are lots of ways to teach your child how to treat a pet. If you don't do any of these things, and your dog or cat eventually can't take it anymore and responds like a dog or cat, it's your fault.


Doggone Safe
Humane Society Youth Bite Prevention
Selecting the Right Pet for Your Family
Teaching Kids to Play With - and Care For - Kitty

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