Pets are part of the family, and as a parent, you are responsible for keeping your two- and four-legged kids safe. A pet can have a positive influence on a child’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development, helping your youngster learn about compassion and responsibility. However, the communication gap between kids and pets can potentially lead to an unsafe situation. Therefore you need to teach your two- and four-legged kids how to communicate and coexist safely and peacefully. Our Wales Animal Clinic team shares do’s and don’ts for keeping your kids safe around pets. 

DO teach children to respect a pet’s personal space

People need personal space, and so does your pet. When a group of dogs are playing together, they communicate and recognize each other’s boundaries. To assert their personal space, a dog exhibits—and respects—signs of welcome and rejection, which they communicate through a growl or snap. However, kids and pets do not speak the same language, which can lead to an unsafe situation. You must teach your child to understand your pet’s language. In addition, your youngster must learn to show your pet the same respect they would give another person, including the need for personal space. Your child’s heart may be in the right place when they wrap their arms around your pet and shower them with kisses, but pets don’t typically welcome such intense greetings, and they may feel trapped and threatened. To communicate that their boundaries have been violated, your pet may nip your youngster. To prevent your child from being injured, teach them to approach all pets slowly by gently patting their furry pal on the side of the body and always respecting their four-legged friend’s choice to walk away if they prefer to be alone.

DON’T allow your child to approach strange pets without asking permission 

Kids are naturally drawn to animals, and your child would likely enthusiastically greet every pet they encounter. However, in addition to teaching your child how to interact safely with your family pet, ensure they understand how to approach an unfamiliar pet. A child needs to understand that not all pets are comfortable being greeted by strangers. Teach your kid to ask permission before they approach an unfamiliar pet. If the owner gives your child permission to greet their pet, your youngster should ask them where the animal prefers to be petted to ensure the interaction goes smoothly.

DO show kids how to interact with a pet 

Children don’t instinctively know how to interact safely with an animal, and you must model appropriate behavior for them. Teach your child the following steps to interacting correctly with a pet:

  • Invite the pet over by patting your leg — Inviting a pet to come over to you, rather than approaching them, allows the animal to opt out of the interaction. 
  • Use the pet-pet-pause method — If a pet accepts your invitation, pat them gently for three to five seconds, and pause. If the pet stays or moves closer, you can pat them again. However, if the pet moves away, let them go.
  • Let the pet choose when to end the interaction — A pet’s comfort level can change at any time, and you must allow them to decide when they are no longer interested in the interaction.

DON’T underemphasize the importance of reading a pet’s body language

Children need to understand pet body language to recognize when an animal is content and comfortable and when they are better left alone. While reading a pet’s body language can be difficult, teach your children these basics:

  • Body posture —A pet who is comfortable, content, and willing to be patted will approach with a loose, soft, body posture. Alternatively, do not force an interaction with a pet who is cowering and hunched toward the ground because they are likely feeling scared or stressed. 
  • Ear position — When a pet’s ears are pointed back or flattened against their head, leave them alone. 
  • Lip licking — Lip licking actually signals that a pet is uncomfortable, not a sign that they want to lick your face. 

DO supervise children and pets

To prevent a potentially dangerous situation from escalating, you must closely supervise child-pet interactions. If you can’t actively supervise when your pet and youngster are playing together, separate them with a pet gate or by placing your child in a playpen. 

The bond between pets and children is something special. Follow these tips to help you ensure your two- and four-legged kids remain safe and happy. If you have any questions or need to schedule your pet’s annual wellness exam, contact our Wales Animal Clinic team.