by: Peta Gay Railton
Every family wants young children and pets to bond. But it’s important to maintain boundaries. Here are points to keep in mind while animals and young children get to know each other.
The onus shouldn’t be on the pet
We have an expectation a dog is not going to bite a child, it doesn’t matter what they do, and that’s just unrealistic. Dogs can be very stressed with children, yet are not allowed to bite, so that’s putting a lot of trust in the animal to consistently maintain their behaviour.
Supervision is essential with young children and pets
People need to be more cautious of children around animals. It’s quite freaky the way people let babies and small children hang around and even lie with—unsupervised sometimes—a dog. You should never, ever have your child around dogs unsupervised.
Yes, pets are often tolerant of children
You may think your dog is absolutely fine, but are you sure? What if your three-year-old grabs them? Especially older dogs that might be a bit sore; if your three-year-old grips a handful of fur and takes hold of the dog’s ear, and hurts it… What will happen then?
Introducing babies to pets
A number of activities can help a dog acclimatise to a new member of the household. Like pulling the dog’s fur, something a baby would try, until they become comfortable with the experience.
Yes, it is possible to teach your dog to accept a child—especially if you give treats all the time during the process. This way you can teach a pet to become used to a lot of things toddlers are going to do to them.
Mauling them and so on can become quite pleasant, and a bit of a game, rather than just waiting until it happens and then crossing your fingers and hoping the dog is going to be nice.
“How to tell your dog you are pregnant” is a useful book that’s worth a read.
Remember—children cannot interpret animal behaviour
A child up to the age of about four, and probably until they’re around 10 really, can’t tell what a dog is saying to them. The dog may be communicating, “I’m scared of you, don’t come near me.” But you know toddlers, they just keep coming—and their face is at head height!
Let’s talk cats
Cats can be great with children and will often lie limp while children do unspeakable things with them. I’ve seen cats on swings and going down slides. Cats that don’t like children are good at staying out of their way so, in many ways, they are a safer option for a child. You might get the odd scratch perhaps then the child would let go of the cat, negating the need to bite.