Many experienced pet owners might say that a house isn’t a home without a pet. However, if you have children living in your home or visiting regularly, it is understandable to have some concerns about introducing an animal into the family. Pet ownership has some great benefits. Not only has it been shown to lower stress levels and provide comfort and companionship, caring for a pet is also a great way to develop social skills such as compassion, understanding, and respect in the younger members of your family. These skills can benefit them in later life, helping them when dealing with humans and animals alike.

So, how can you teach your child to interact with animals? Here are our top tips.

Set a great example

One of the best ways to teach your children to interact appropriately with animals is to set a great example. Kids learn best by copying the behavior that they see every day so make sure that you display the traits that you would like them to pick up on. This can include how to approach animals and where to pet them, but should also include how to talk about them. Avoid negative connotation and instead focus on teaching your children that animals are as wise and deserving of respect as humans are.

Lay down the rules and explain why they are important

Dogs and cats are by far the most common varieties of household pets, and there are some general behavior ‘don’ts’ for feline and canine ownership that should be taught to your kids from the very outset of getting used to their furry friends. These will include:

– Don’t pull on your pet’s ears or tail however inviting they look.

– Don’t squeeze your pet, this can cause them to feel threatened and panic.

– Don’t get in your pet’s face with yours. This puts your face at risk if your pet feels threatened and lashes out with their teeth.

– Don’t make excessive noise. Screaming and shouting can scare some animals, while it may make others over-stimulated, causing their behavior and self-control to deteriorate.

– If you have a dog, don’t run away from him. Almost all dogs have some predatory instinct and running away may cause this to flare up, meaning his will chase you. Often this is good fun and great exercise, but it’s not ideal for small children who may be knocked over or for pets who have a strong predatory drive and may inadvertently cross over into aggressive behavior.

Show your child where is the best places to pet your animal

Not all pets like to be touched in the same place, and some children can start off very heavy-handed when it comes to making the first contact with an animal. The best way to teach a child how to pet a pet is by illustration. Show your kids where is the best location to start stroking your pet, and what force should be used.

Teach your children when not to interact with your pet

If your furry friend isn’t in the mood for human interaction, she will almost certainly exhibit some behaviors that should be interpreted as ‘back off’ signals. These can include fearful or aggressive body language or sounds. It is essential that you teach your kids to interpret these signals so that they can give your pet the space she needs, which will help keep both her and any humans in the home safe from harm.

Teach them to seek permission to interact with a pet

Before your child approaches any pet, they should always seek permission from the owner. This is especially true for kids that like to pet dogs that they come across while out in the park or on a walk. Some animals simply like their personal space and prefer not to be handled too much, especially by strangers. By seeking permission, your child is giving your pet the respect to decline the offer of attention, albeit by way of his owner.

Give your children responsibilities

Owning and caring for a pet is a great way to teach kids about the importance of fulfilling their responsibilities. Even very young children can help by filling up your pet’s bowls with food or water, playing fetch with them and joining you on walks. You should also explain the importance of veterinary visits to your child, and let them accompany you on routine visits.

If you are considering taking on a pet for the very first time and are still concerned about introducing him into a household with children, speak and contact Dr. Tapscott for further advice.