Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and two dogs in New York City.
Teaching children to approach and interact with dogs appropriately is critical to helping them gain and maintain a positive view of animals. My daughter is 18-months-old and has two furry brothers who are both pugs. Her first word was “Dexter,” which is one of our dogs’ names. She calls every animal she sees—including squirrels, birds and cats—“doggie.” In New York City, there are so many dogs around that when she’s in her stroller we hear a cacophony of, “Doggie! Doggie! Doggie!”
I am concerned when I think about my daughter walking of her own volition, with the ability to approach all of these dogs on an up-close and personal basis. We are fortunate to have two loving and patient dogs, but I realize that not every dog loves being patted by toddlers.
Even before asking a pet parent the crucial question, "Is your dog friendly? Can my daughter pet him?" it's a good idea to observe both the dog’s and the pet parent’s body language. If the pet parent appears to pull the dog in the opposite direction from your child, it's best not to approach. In those instances, we say, “What a nice doggie! He looks busy. Let’s wave to the doggie!"
If the pet parent seems to be amused by my daughter, I’ll first ask them if it’s ok for my daughter to pet their dog. If the pet parent hesitates or seems unsure, I might suggest we wave to the dog instead.
If the pet parent says “yes,” we commence petting. I pet the dog along with my daughter to show by example where to pet the dog. I positively reinforce gentle petting and guide her away from patting or poking the dog on the face. Meanwhile, it's very important to watch the dog's body language—you want to see soft eyes, attention-seeking behavior and no stiffness. Don't overstay your welcome; encourage your child to let the dog go about their walk before he or she gets agitated.
When children are old enough, they can begin to ask pet parents themselves if it's okay for them to pet their dog. It's important that they know to ask before reaching for the dog. Ideally, children should not run up to the owner to ask—this might startle the dog.
Keri Matthews, a mom of two, has worked in the ASPCA’s licensing department for more than five years. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Tom, her children, Gabriella and Tommy, and their Greyhound, Clyde.
After our daughter, Gabriella, spent nearly a year feeling hesitant around our 80-pound mush of a dog, Clyde, she is finally comfortable interacting with him—their bonding has begun! It is a wonderful accomplishment for our whole family.
How did we finally get to this place? Warm weather has definitely brought these two closer. Gabriella loves to fill her water buckets and have Clyde sit next to her. She and her brother, Tommy, also enjoy having Clyde as a spectator when they’re on the swing set. Just for sitting through the bucket-filling and swinging, Clyde gets treats and extra petting—a win for all!
We have also incorporated indoor bonding activities, including having Gabriella “brush” Clyde. She also loves to fill his water bowl. Both kids love to choose which treat Clyde will receive for brushing, sitting, etc.
We do have our setbacks, such as when Clyde gets so excited about his treats that he accidentally forgets what “gentle” means when taking treats from Gabriella’s hand. In this situation, we ask Gabriella to put the treat in Clyde’s bowl and all is well again. We make frequent trips to the pet supply store, where Gabrielle enjoys shopping for items for Clyde ranging from toys to treats.
If your child and pet are slow to bond, hang in there! As in our family’s case, sometimes bonding just doesn’t happen right away. When it does, it’s there to stay, and the love and memories formed between a child and their pet will last forever.
Guest blog by Lauren Martin, a proud mom of three cats, one bunny, one son and one daughter on the way. Lauren works in the Legal Department for the ASPCA, has published articles on animal law, and has taught animal law at St. John’s University School of Law.
After 11 months of nothing but babbling, one winter day my son looked at me and said, “Cat!” Not only was I thrilled to hear my son’s first word. but I was also proud of the word that he picked. Since my childhood, I have always valued animals and have treated them with dignity and respect. I have worked to ensure the humane treatment of animals throughout my adult life, ultimately working as an attorney at the ASPCA. When I learned that I was going to have a child, I knew that I wanted to instill that same love and respect for animals in my child that I hold so dear.
My son came home from the hospital to find that he had four “brothers and sisters” in the form of three loving cats and one adorable bunny. I wanted a love for animals to be a core part of my son’s values from the very beginning. From the start, I carefully introduced him to my animals and taught him to be gentle. I taught him not to pull the cats’ tails or ears, and I taught him not to chase our bunny (bunnies are at the bottom of the food chain, so being chased conjures some fearful thoughts!). But above all, I have tried to teach my son that animals matter. Together, we greet all of our animals each morning and give them love and attention each day. When my son and I take walks in our neighborhood, we are sure to give attention to all of the friendly dogs who are out taking walks, and in fact, my son often sits at our front window calling for Coco, our neighbors’ sweet Shih Tzu.
I believe that kindness to animals will never be something that my son needs to be taught as he gets older. It will be a core part of who he is as he journeys through his life, and I hope that the world will be a bit more humane because of him.
Guest blog by Alicia Meulensteen, a mom of two who works in the Development department at the ASPCA.
Play dates: your little guy or girl, a friend…and your pet? Playtime for three is not always welcome by friend or feline. Here’s how I ensure everyone has a good time during play dates:
My son Sam is three-and-a-half and our cat, Polly, is approaching 14. Sam is getting to an age where he wants to have his friends over more often. So far, these children tend to fall into two camps when it comes to meeting our cat: They either can’t get enough of her or they are frightened of her— especially if they have never interacted with a cat before.
In both scenarios, I find an introduction with treats for the cat gets everyone comfortable. For an excited child, it slows them down and prevents them from approaching the cat with a loud voice or really animated movements, both of which make the cat—a somewhat cranky senior kitty—a little nervous. Placing a treat on the floor lets the more timid children approach the cat on their terms, but they do not actually have to pet her or get too close.
Sometimes I’ll provide the cat dancer toy so kids can play with her without using their hands. A short, supervised time with kitty is usually enough to satisfy everyone’s interest, and then child and kitty both move on to something else. If anyone gets too carried away with the cat, or I can see her cornered, she’s airlifted out of the situation to safety. The key for cats is to designate a safe place where they can get out of reach of inquisitive or persistent little hands.
I realize dogs are a little different. Some dogs may jump up and knock over a little one in the process; dog toys and kid toys are easily confused, too! My neighbors have three little kids and two dogs, and often they just move the dogs upstairs when friends are over to avoid the issue altogether. For helpful pet tips, check out our guide to teaching dogs to behave around children as well as our cat behavior section.
How do you keep your pets safe during play dates? Tell us in the comments!
Guest blog by Emily Schneider, a proud mom of two feisty yorkies and a two-year-old living in the Garden State. Emily works in media and public relations for the ASPCA. Find her onTwitter orFacebook.
I’ve heard one too many stories of pet parents saying, “My dog is really friendly; he loves kids,” followed by utter shock and disbelief when their dog nips or bites a child. They wonder, “How could this happen? My dog has never bitten a child before.” In that situation, it’s natural to feel mortified, and all you can do is apologize profusely and scold your dog for behaving poorly.
That was me a few years ago, when my dog had a negative interaction with a child who was fortunately left unharmed, though maybe slightly traumatized and wary of dogs. When I had my son Jaden, I wasn’t confident since we had several close calls when our dog Mikey acted up around kids. My husband was also worried and wondered whether having a dog like Mikey was a good fit for our family. Gulp.
Did you know that 50 percent of children in the U.S. will be bitten by a dog before their 12th birthday, and that the majority of dog bites are from a dog the child knows? In conjunction with National Dog Bite Prevention Week May 18-24, here are some tips I’ve implemented so my son and dogs can live in harmony:
Keep dog and kid toys separate. It’s easy for your dog to confuse his toy with a child’s toy because they look similar. Separate the two to avoid problems—I keep my son’s toys in his room, and bring out a few toys for the dogs to play with in the living room.
Always supervise playtime. Even if your pets are good with kids, it’s important to keep an eye on your child and pet because accidents happen when you least expect it.
Time flies when you’re changing diapers, cleaning dirty bibs and washing a million pieces of a bottle—all on virtually no sleep. My son is a toddler now, and he’s feeling very independent—now that he can run, drive his toy car, and say, “my toy!” And while my husband and I consulted animal behavior experts to address Mikey’s issues, it’s important as parents—especially if you have both—to be extra mindful when your child is interacting with your pets or other dogs.