Understanding What Actions Might Cause the Family Dog/Cat to React Poorly:
Understanding what can drive a dog to bite a child is pretty simple and straightforward. Using common sense and relating it to behaviours we may not appreciate from others will help.
Reason 1: Most people dislike it when others stick their grimy hands in their meal. Similarly, pets want to eat in peace.
Reason 2: We teach children that sharing is good, and we shouldn’t take toys from each other. It’s also rude to take toys from the family pet. Kids should be taught to leave the pet’s toys alone. Pets should also be trained to give up their toy for a reward or even a sequence of rewards. This will add a buffer, a level of tolerance (from your pet), in the event the child makes a mistake and takes a toy. That way, your pet will willingly give the child the toy instead of feeling possessive.
Reason 3: Personal space and respecting one’s boundaries is an important skill for kids to develop. Similarly, putting your face into a pet’s face or making them feel they are crowded and unable to extract themselves, can be irritating and/or alarming to the pet, especially when the pet has no control over the child’s behaviour.
Reason 4: Most people dislike being disturbed when they are resting or sleeping. Similarly, pets need a safe location where they can be away from kids and excitement. Kids should avoid bugging them in their “safe zone,” or any time they are sleeping or resting. If they call the pet from far away and the pet chooses to get up and come over to the child, this type of interaction is okay. But if the pet chooses to be left alone, they should be.
Reason 5: Most people dislike being handled roughly, and so do pets. Again, with training, pets may come to tolerate mildly rougher handling, so that they are not reactive when an accident occurs, but in general, children should be taught to be polite. Pulling ears and tails and poking the pet’s face should absolutely be discouraged!
Reason 6: It’s rude to climb on, step on, or otherwise invade someone’s personal space. It’s also rude to do the same things with pets.
Reason 7: Loud screaming can frazzle humans, imagine its effect on the more sound-sensitive dog, cat or hamster!
Reason 8: We often forget that even some friendly gestures, such as pinching a child’s cheeks, may be irritating to some. In general, dogs dislike being hugged, even by family members. You can tell by the expression on their face. It’s important for children to know the types of interactions their pet likes, and also to realize that other dogs may not have the same tolerance as their dog does.
With all of these DON’Ts, it might seem like kids can’t interact with pets at all.
In reality, they just need to be taught to be polite and kind to pets, instead of treating their companion like they are a stuffed animal. Parents should also teach their children to read the signs that their pet is fearful, agitated or anxious so that the child knows to back-off.
Even if the child is generally well-behaved and the dog is very tolerant, it’s essential for all interactions to be supervised. Accidents can happen in a split second.
Once the children understand that they should be kind to their pets, they can be taught appropriate games to play. Fetch, for example, where the dog willingly gives the toy and remains polite before it’s tossed is a fun option! Kids and pets love to learn tricks that result in rewards, such as yummy treats or bits of the dog’s meal/kibble.
Adults should ensure that the pet has lots of positive associations with the kids.
A Final Take-Home Message
The key is to teach both the dog and the children to be polite. Make sure your children interact with your dog the same way you want them to interact with you. Follow these simple do’s and don’ts and everyone will be safer and happier.
– Special thanks to Dr. Sophia Yin for her helpful tips and beautiful illustrations!