For many families their first "baby" is the furry kind, usually a dog or cat. Then along comes another baby—the human kind. What does a family do when their little one is so fascinated by the family dog or cat that they just will not leave the pet alone? What does a family do when safety for either the child or pet becomes an issue?
Roxanne Frue, a mom from North Carolina, says that safety became such an issue for their son, Will, that she had to make a tough decision to protect her family. "Will was fascinated by our dog, Raymond, from the start," Frue says. "Will always wanted to hug him and love him, but that wasn't really Raymond's style."
Frue first started having concerns when Raymond would give Will warning nips. "It was his way of saying 'stay away from me,'" Frue says. "It mostly just scared Will, but it raised our awareness."
One day, when Will grabbed the sleeping dog, Raymond bit him. Frue made the heart-wrenching decision to find the dog another home.
4 Tips for Training Your Pet
Dr. Jeff Feinman, a holistic veterinary healthcare practitioner in Connecticut, says that problems between a pet and a child may begin in the toddler stage. "When the baby learns to crawl and then to walk, it enters a new phase, and your pet's view of the child may change," he says. "A dog with a strong instinct to hunt small creatures may not immediately recognize this new, ground-level moving target as the same baby that days earlier was carried from place to place. Predatory behavior may be awakened in pet dogs that have never displayed any interest in hunting or any intolerance of your child."
Dr. Feinman offers this advice and tips on training your pet:
- Most dogs and cats are actually afraid of small children and are more likely to move away from them than approach them.
- Be vigilant when your baby begins crawling. Keep your dog by your side in a "sit/stay" position while the baby moves about. Reward its controlled response with caresses and calm words of praise.
- Cats are less likely to purposely hurt a baby or toddler, unless they are defending themselves. But even gentle cats and dogs can be provoked by toddlers and young children.
- When your baby becomes a toddler, take time to reassure your pet during supervised interaction. Remain watchful and teach your child to respect your pet.
6 Tips for Training Your Child
Sometimes pets need to be protected from children. A child can unintentionally injure a pet with his or her gung-ho playful or curious behaviors. Children may not fully understand how hurtful their rough play can be to a pet, especially a small dog. Dr. Feinman suggests these tips:
- A child should be taught to interact appropriately with pets from the time he or she begins to crawl and walk. Talk with your child. Teach him what not to do, but more importantly teach him what to do and how to interact in a safe manner.
- Demonstrate the correct way to gently pet the animal with your hand. Speak softly. Convey the importance of easy, loving touches.
- it's also important to teach your child the parts of your pet's body that are appropriate to touch.
- Teach your child not to disturb an animal while it is resting or sleeping, eating a meal, or playing with or chewing on a favorite toy or object.
- Teach your child not to chase a pet that runs away from them or to restrain a pet that is trying to get away. A child must be made to understand its own physical strength and the consequences of its behavior.
- Role playing is a fun way to teach your toddler appropriate behavior around your pet. A child can pretend to be a dog or cat while an adult mimics the child. Take turns playing each role and give your child lots of positive feedback for appropriate behaviors.
5 Safety Rules
Veronica Sanchez, a dog behavior consultant and professional dog trainer in Virginia, says that one of the reasons children are bitten more often than adults is because normal child body language and behavior are often frightening to a dog. She recommends parents teach their children the following safety rules:
- Walk, never run.
- Use a normal speaking voice—no yelling and screaming.
- Respect a dog's space; walk around—not step over—a sleeping dog.
- Keep their faces away from a dog's face. Most dogs do not enjoy hugs.
- Respect a dog's signs of stress. Children need to leave a stressed dog alone.
Sanchez notes that it is important to give your animal breaks away from children. "Just like people, dogs need quiet time," she says. The same is true of other pets.
When Nothing Works
If you've tried everything and your child continues to interact with your pet in an unsafe or dangerous way, it may be time to find your pet a new home. This can be a temporary arrangement until your child matures and develops more self control. "No pet should be made to suffer unnecessarily," Dr. Feinman says. "Every pet has his limits to its own tolerance and even the kindest, most reliably patient animal has a breaking point."