Pets are vital family members, and children and pets are often raised together, but children must learn to interact properly with their pets, as they do with their peers. Caring for a pet teaches your kids responsibility, as well as the pet providing loving companionship. However, ensuring your kids are properly educated on the dos and don’ts of interacting with family pets, in addition to unfamiliar pets, is critical. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, children are the most common dog-bite victims, with most bites occurring during everyday activities with familiar dogs. Our Animal Medical Hospital of Naples team wants to ensure your kids are always safe around pets, so we have compiled these four tips.

#1: Teach your kids how to stay safe around unfamiliar pets

Children who are raised with pets often are curious and excited to meet new animal friends. However, interacting with an unfamiliar pet can lead to accidents or injuries to people and animals. Teach your child the following rules about their actions around unfamiliar pets:

  • Never touch or approach an unfamiliar pet without first asking the pet owner’s permission.
  • Never approach an unattended pet, or a stray animal.
  • Teach your child to walk quietly and confidently away from an animal who is growling or barking, or exhibiting other aggressive behaviors.
  • If an unfamiliar pet runs at your child, ensure they know they should stand like a tree, with their arms at their sides, making no eye contact or loud noises.
  • Teach your child to curl up in a ball, covering their head and face with their arms, should an animal ever knock them over.

#2: Teach your kids pet playtime safety

Teaching your kids how to interact and play with their pets is as critical as knowing how to play with their peers. Depending on your child’s age, they may not fully understand their pet’s preferences, so ensure you teach them your pet’s likes and dislikes by relating to their level. For example, most kids do not like their toys being taken away, or placed out of their reach, so apply this lesson by teaching them never to take a pet’s toy or tease them by holding the toy out of reach. Pets who are teased may become frustrated and knock down or injure the child when they try to grab their toy. Teaching your child to play safely will also decrease the likelihood that the child will become fearful of their pet. Children should also be taught these additional play-safety tips:

  • Never grab a pet’s tail or ears, or drag them around by any body part.
  • Do not treat pets like a jungle gym—children should never climb or sit on a pet, or expect them to play “horsey.”  
  • Never force a pet to play. Teach children that a pet who walks away from playing games, such as fetch or tug-of-war, is finished until they, not the child, wants to play again. 
  • Never allow children to get in a pet’s face, or exhibit aggressive play behavior, such as pretending to kick or grab a pet.  
  • Always go slowly, and handle pets gently during any interaction or play session. 

#3: Teach your kids to recognize a pet’s boundaries

Teaching the concept of boundaries can be challenging, because most children are used to 24-hour access to their parents and may expect the same access to their pets. However, teaching them the skills to respectfully and appropriately interact and approach their pet is essential. Teach them appropriate pet boundaries, including:

  • Never approach a pet when they are sleeping or resting in their bed or crate.
  • Never play dress-up with pets, because attempting to put doll clothes or other objects on a pet puts children at risk of injury if the pet becomes frustrated, or bites, because they are uncomfortable. Instead, let your child dress their pet in a simple matching bandana or bow so they see what makes their pet feel comfortable. 
  • Since most pets are uncomfortable, or scared, being hugged, teach children to gently pet or cuddle their pet, ensuring they don’t smother or put any body weight on the pet. 
  • Never allow children to stick their hands in a pet’s food bowl, especially when they are eating, because some pets are food-aggressive, and will bite or scratch if they feel their meal is at risk. 

#4: Always supervise young children and pets

You may be tempted to give your child the responsibility of caring for a family pet, but never give them too much responsibility too early. Ensure you never leave young children unsupervised around pets, whether or not your pet has shown any aggressive behavior. Accidents can happen, and well-behaved, calm pets, can react under certain circumstances. Also, be aware that teaching children to behave politely and safely around pets can take time.

Sick pets may show their discomfort with less-than-usual friendliness, or aggression. If you notice any sudden behavior changes in your pet, bring them to our Animal Medical Hospital of Naples for a veterinary exam. Our veterinarian may recommend blood work to rule out medical causes for your pet’s aggressive or changed behavior.

Teaching your kids to treat pets gently and cautiously will decrease the chances of an accident or injury. Consider enrolling your pet in an obedience or behavior training course to learn basic voice commands. Always allow your children to reward your pet’s calm behavior with a treat, so your pet learns to associate them with a positive experience. 

Call our Animal Medical Hospital of Naples office if you have any questions about teaching your children to behave appropriately and be safe around pets, or to schedule an appointment for your pet if they suddenly act differently.