National Kids and Pets Day is April 26 and is a day to celebrate the bond that pets and children share. According to the official National Kids and Pets Day Facebook page, “Teaching children to show compassion toward animals leads to them showing compassion toward one another, which will help to make this world a kinder, better place for all living beings.”
In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of teaching kids how to act around pets, and pets how to act around children, and tips on teaching your children how to be responsible pet owners.
1. Teaching Your Kids How to Be Around Dogs
Many pet owners began their lifelong love of animals as children interacting with their family pets. Children and pets share an enthusiasm for life and an inquisitive nature that adults do not always embrace. This sets the stage for years of playtime and companionship. However, some of the behaviors that come naturally to children can be distressing to pets. Making unexpected movements, using their “outdoor” voices, and running from place to place can cause stress to animals. In general, it is a best practice to teach your children to be calm, relaxed, and speak at normal volumes when in the presence of pets, whether at home, at a friend or family member’s house, or in public.
Additionally, children should be taught how pets like to receive physical affection and things they do not like. Children will need continual reminders about how to act around their pets, but the effort will be worth it overall, as you raise children who respect and live harmoniously with animals in their life. Here are some important things to teach children about how to act around animals:
- Always touch animals gently with a flat, open palm on the pet’s back or front shoulder.
- Tummy rubs and ear scratches are also welcome if the pet is relaxed and offers those spots for petting on its own.
- It is never ok to step on, stand on, lay on, sit on, or try to ride the pet no matter their size.
- Keep fingers away from the pet’s mouth and eyes.
- Never pull on an animal’s ears, tail, or fur.
- It is never ok to hit or kick an animal.
- Do not take the pet’s toys, treats, or food away from them.
One particularly confusing concept is that most animals do not like to be hugged or held tightly. Hugging is regarded as an act of love to a human, especially a child, but it is an aggressive act to a dog. If you look at photos of humans hugging dogs, most of the dogs are leaning away or turning their faces away to stop the hug. Hugging is a major contributor to bites, as dogs without an escape route from an overzealous hug have no other way out than to bite.
2. Training Your Dogs How to Act Around Kids
When bringing a new dog into a house where children already live, the puppy or adopted dog will require training to learn how to act safely and calmly around children. Similar to how kids move around when they are playing, puppies also make unexpected movements and run full force from activity to activity.
Enrolling your puppy or newly adopted adult dog in a basic obedience class will help you teach basic skills like sit and stay that can help you keep an overzealous dog from accidentally knocking down a child. Teaching the Settle command is a terrific way to train a dog to be calm when overstimulated. You can also teach them to go to a certain place, like a dog bed or their crate. This is important if you need to interrupt their Zoomies or if your child has friends who are entering or exiting your home. The off/leave it command is also important for dogs who live with children so that you can prevent your dog from eating things that children drop on the floor, whether food or toys that pose a choking hazard to pets.
Teaching “no bite” and bite inhibition (soft bite) is also an essential part of puppy training. Although you will teach the puppy not to bite any of the humans in the house, this training becomes more important when toddlers and small children are in the house. Because small children are closer to the puppy’s size, they are at risk of a bite to the face instead of their ankles if the puppy nips them playfully. A small puppy nip is painful and scary to a small child, but a large puppy who has not been taught not to play bite can cause significant injury.
3. Kids and Pets Meeting in Public
Children and dogs share similar reactions when meeting in public when playing at the park, or on walks: sheer excitement. The parents of the children and the dog owners can help contribute to a safe meeting by taking some precautions.
Parents should teach their children to never approach a strange dog without asking permission of its owner. Once permission is granted, they can slowly approach the dog, with their arm close to their body and the back of their hand facing the dog. Depending on the dog’s reaction, they can then pet the dog gently on the dog’s back or front shoulder.
The dog owners should train their dogs to sit and wait when meeting a new person. Once they are calm, they can “say hello” and approach the new person, giving them a sniff without jumping on them.
Both the parents and the dog owners should stop the meet and greet if either the dog or the child shows signs of stress. It is perfectly ok to move on and not interact with each other if the situation is not comfortable for everyone involved, including the dog.
4. Teaching Your Kids to Be Responsible Pet Owners
Children can learn to be lifelong responsible pet owners from growing up with animals in their homes. With continual supervision and mentoring from their parents, children can learn how to be their pet’s best friend and playmate. They can help with feeding and grooming responsibilities and learn about how to train a pet by doing these activities side by side with parents.
As a parent, it is extremely fulfilling to watch your children develop a love and compassion for animals and the knowledge about how to best care for them. The next generation of pet owners is being born and growing up right now, and National Kids and Pets Day is a beautiful way to celebrate the bond that they share.