Kids and pets frequently are seen together, but many pet owners fail to recognize warning signs that a pet is not always excited about the interaction. In a pet’s eyes, children are loud, unpredictable, erratic, and often rough. More bites happen to young children—often from the family dog—than any other demographic, but by taking a few precautions, you can help your two- and four-legged family members interact safely.

#1: Always ask before approaching a strange pet

Although the majority of dog bites in children are caused by familiar dogs, strange pets should be off-limits to your child. Instruct them to always ask permission before approaching a pet they do not know, since a tail-wagging dog can quickly become uncomfortable when an unknown child comes close. 

#2: Teach your child the correct way to approach a pet

Many people believe the best way to approach a pet is face-on with an outstretched hand leaning over their head. In the animal world, this movement and posture are intimidating. Instead, instruct your child to approach the pet by coming to their shoulder or side and to refrain from leaning over them. Let the pet sniff their hand or arm—ideally have your child turn their face away during this initial greeting—then once the pet has turned their head back, allow a gentle stroke on the shoulder. If the pet moves away at any time, do not let your child chase them to force the interaction.

#3: Let sleeping dogs—and cats—lie

One of the most common reasons children are bitten by pets is because the cat or dog is startled. Whether the pet is sleeping or focused on something or someone else, a child tripping, falling, poking, or petting them can startle them into defense mode. Teach your child to stay away from your pet if they are sleeping, relaxing, or otherwise engaged with something else.

#4: Never come between a pet and a high-value resource

Pets can be highly territorial when it comes to their resources, including toys, treats, beds, and people. When a child comes up to a pet gnawing on a favorite toy or tries to crawl into bed with them, they could be warned away through a growl, scratch, or bite. Teach your child to leave your pet alone when they are chewing on toys or treats, lying in their bed, using the litter box, or eating or drinking. Some pets are also territorial around people and may guard one person in the household, preventing anyone else from coming near. This can be a dangerous situation if your pet tries to prevent you from interacting with your child.

#5: Use barriers as necessary

Baby gates can be used to enforce safe spaces as needed. For example, if your pet needs a quiet place to relax without toys being accidentally tossed at them, or hearing the shrieking of an excited child interrupting their nap, use a baby gate to separate them from your child. Or, if you want to make dinner while your toddler plays in the living room behind you, install a baby gate to keep your pet away when you are unable to closely supervise their interaction.

#6: Never force affection or attention on a pet

Children are often overjoyed to see pets and may want to cuddle or pet them too much or too aggressively. In general, a pet’s way of saying “please stop” is to walk away, but children often follow behind to continue petting or playing. When a child does not understand that a pet wants to be left alone, the pet may escalate to scratching or biting to warn them off. So, teach your child that when your pet walks away, they should not chase after them. 

#7: Oversee fun training and play sessions

Positive experiences, like training and play, are a great way to strengthen the relationship between your pet and your child. However, pets can become too exuberant during play and accidentally hurt a child, so always oversee their play sessions, especially if your dog is larger than your child. Ensure you use toys your child can throw, rather than hold onto, so they won’t accidentally be dragged. When playing with your cat, use a fishing pole or wand-type toy to keep their claws away as they try to snag the toy.

When building a positive relationship between your children and your pet, focus on pleasant experiences. Leave potentially uncomfortable tasks, like nail trims and baths, to our Pet Resort at Stone Ridge team. Give us a call to schedule your furry pal’s grooming appointment.