Whether your child and family pet are just getting to know each other or are already on their way to becoming lifelong friends, the following tips will help to enrich their relationship, while keeping both pet and child healthy and safe:
- Teach your child to read your pet’s body language and identify signs that your pet wants to be left alone. You can learn more about your dog’s body language in our Canine Body Postures (pdf) article.
- Teach your child how to protect himself from an overexcited pet by demonstrating the basics of dog bite prevention, such as rolling into a ball, protecting hands and face and calling for help, rather than running or screaming if he’s chased by a dog. For more information, check out Dog Bite Prevention and Safety in the Pet Care section of our website.
- Teach your dog to respond to the word “Stop” and encourage your child to practice using that word when appropriate.
- Don’t let your child’s friends bring their pets into your home without adult supervision.
- Don’t let your pet play with your child’s toys—they may not be pet-safe. The reverse is also true.
- Don’t give your child balloons to play with around your pet, and don’t give your pet balloons to play with. Your pet may be frightened by the noise of a popping balloon and could choke on one if chewed. A child can burst a balloon and choke should she try to imitate the way a pet uses his teeth.
- Establish that your pet’s right to end a play session is just as important as your child’s right to do so.
- Teach your child to leave your pet alone when she retreats to a bed or crate that you’ve designated as a pet’s “safe spot.”
- Reasonable consequences should be set for a child who neglects his pet-care chores—letting your child determine the consequence is often more effective in changing his behavior.
- Never threaten to get rid of a pet if your child fails to perform certain duties. Kids may stop caring about the pet to keep from feeling vulnerable to the possible loss.
When your child and pet are first getting to know each other, create games that require your child to rely on words and toys rather than on direct physical contact with your pet. This will minimize the risk that your child or pet will be accidentally injured because one or the other is overexcited.
Teach both your child and pet rules for each game, helping each to have positive, controlled interactions with each other. For example, when playing a game involving dog treats or toys, teach your dog that he must sit before earning his reward—if he jumps up or grabs at it, he does not get the reward and the game ends. This is important because many dogs will jump up on or grab at objects that kids are offering and may knock over or accidentally bite the child in their enthusiasm. This can scare or injure the child, while at the same time teach the dog that he can get what he wants simply by taking it.
Show your child that he can get your pet to listen by using rewards. This will reduce his feelings of frustration.
If anyone gets upset during play, a brief time-out is effective for both children and animals. Establish safe areas where your child and your pet can spend time by themselves, separately, for a brief period. For pets, 30 to 60 seconds is a reasonable time-out period. One minute for every year of age is the general rule for children. However, you may wish to consult with your pediatrician to determine an appropriate time-out period.