If you’re lucky enough to share your home with both four-legged and two-legged children, you likely have your hands—and hearts—full. Teaching kids and pets how to safely interact is an essential part of child and pet rearing. Whether you have pets but no kids, or kids and no pets, we are all responsible for keeping both populations safe. Since 50% of all dog-bite victims are children, taking steps to minimize these horrendous events should be the goal of every parent—pet and human. 

#1: Start socializing your pet early

One of the most successful ways to raise a well-mannered, tolerant pet is to provide plenty of socialization opportunities during their impressionable infantile weeks. Studies show that early, age-appropriate socialization correlates with calmer, better adjusted pet behavior. To minimize the risk of injury to a child, expose your puppy or kitten to as many other pets, people, and places as is safely possible while they are young. 

#2: Teach children to approach a new pet properly

Never allow a child to approach an unknown pet alone. Children should always ask if the animal is friendly and whether they can approach. If so, show the child how to approach the pet—first kneeling toward the side of the animal, never standing or hovering over them, and then allowing the pet to sniff their hand, always with their palms up. 

#3: Show kids the best way to touch an animal

When physically interacting with an animal, there are some things, such as tugging, pinching, pulling, or poking, that kids must never do, and should never be tolerated. Demonstrate how a gentle pet, pat, or scratch will make a pet calm and happy, but only when the pet welcomes the attention. Of course, young children will need time to learn these lessons and should be monitored closely when handling pets. 

#4: Reward pets during interactions with children

While teaching kids how to act around pets is important, the interaction is a two-way street. Don’t forget to encourage and reward your pet for positive interplay with children by offering small training treats, reassuring words, or a fun toy, depending on your pet’s preference. 

#5: Review pet body language basics with kids

Understanding body language is important in many aspects of life. With pets, understanding what they are trying to say can prevent a serious injury. These guides from the late, renowned veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin are the perfect tools for showing children how to detect an angry cat, a scared dog, or a pet who simply wants to play. 

#6: Instruct kids not to make abrupt changes around pets

Pets can react unpredictably to sudden movements, loud noises, and other unexpected changes. Not surprisingly, these behaviors are common in young children, who also happen to be more at risk for bite injuries. Insist that children do not behave in these ways around animals to avoid an unforeseen attack.

#7: Demonstrate when pets must not be disturbed

Ideally, children should wait for a pet to indicate they are ready to interact before they approach, but we know this doesn’t always happen. In some instances—when they are eating, chewing on a bone or favorite toy, sleeping, or caring for their young—pets must be left alone at all costs. 

#8: Involve children in pet responsibilities

Like children, pets require a lot of care. So, why not have your kids help out with the daily chores? They can help in numerous ways, from measuring food, to accompanying you on dog walks, to brushing the cat. But, do not allow kids to give pets any medications until they are old enough to do so safely. 

#9: Leave the pet clean-up to mom and dad

The responsibility for removing pet waste and cleaning pet elimination areas or cages is also best left to parents. Since pets can carry parasites, bacteria, and other pests that can be transmitted to humans, let kids help clean the dishes rather than pet-related areas. 

#10: Enjoy fostering the special child-pet bond

Kids and pets are two of life’s most precious treasures. With the right tools and preparation, putting the two together can create a wonderful bond that will be cherished for many years. Take the time now to prepare your pets and kids for a lifetime of safe interactions, and watch the magic happen! 

If you have questions about children and pet safety, or you are concerned about your pet’s behavior, Burlington Veterinary Center is here to help. Contact us today to consult with our veterinary team.