The bond between man and his best friend (whether it be a dog, cat, or even a hamster) is truly something to behold. All parents should definitely teach their kids the value of loving and respecting their family’s furry companions. That being said, animals don’t have the restraint and care of neighbors or family members. Accidents can and do happen when kids aren’t taught to be gentle and considerate enough with pets. Even though your dog may normally laze around and sleep all day, it isn’t impossible for him to run away or lash out if he feels threatened. Here are some important safety tips to remember when it’s time for you to bring home a new furry friend.
1. Don’t be rough
This is the number one rule to remember when handling animals at any age. What could seem fun and exciting to your child could actually be painful and threatening to your family pet. Neglecting to teach your toddler the importance of handling animals gently won’t only result in painful bites and scratches. It could also lead to your child not knowing how to handle delicate situations with enough patience and care when he’s older.
When it’s time for your little one to play with the family cat or dog, let them introduce themselves first by allowing the animal to sniff their hand. Make sure your child is only allowed to stroke your pet’s fur in safe places, such as the chest and back, and not too close to the eyes or ears. Remind your child not to tug harshly on fur, pull on the tail, or do anything other than gentle petting to ensure that your pet doesn’t feel threatened or scared. If your toddler is having a hard time handling real animals properly, practice first with a stuffed toy until he learns to be gentle enough.
2. Don’t run
It’s in a dog’s nature to want to chase fast-moving objects, whether they be stray cats or bicycle wheels. Your dog will easily go from relaxed and docile to energetic and aggressive if you allow your toddler to run around near him. Even if your dog has no intention of hurting your child, he could accidentally knock him over and cause serious head or body trauma while chasing him. If you want your toddler to run around the house, make sure to keep your dog behind a pet fence or any other safe area. You can also do things the other way around and let your toddler run outside while your dog dozes off indoors. Don’t just assume that hours of training will curb your dog’s tendency to run as his instincts aren’t something anyone can get rid of in just a day.
3. Always supervise your pets
Any accident will happen if you aren’t around to prevent it. Even if your baby and pet are simply going to sleep in the same room together, terrible accidents will happen before you know it. A bored or curious baby can agitate a sleepy pet by pulling on their tail and fur. An overly playful cat or dog can accidentally suffocate or knock over your child without you knowing it. To prevent anything serious from happening, never leave your child and pet unsupervised. If you’re too busy to watch over them in person, ask a companion to babysit or keep your child in a safe place.
4. Leave your pets alone when needed
Dogs know that they’re at their most vulnerable when they’re eating, pooping, or sleeping. Any sudden touch, sound, or movement could trigger their instincts and cause them to lash out. When it’s time for your dog to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom, keep your child in a separate place until your pet is ready to spend time with you and your little one again. If your dog is acting way too protective and hostile during his “alone time”, consider correcting his behavior or seeking help from an experienced trainer. This behavior could worsen as he grows older.
5. Be careful with new mother pets
Unlike humans, dogs can’t just calm down and accept guests after giving birth. Changing hormones and protective instincts usually cause new mother dogs to become more aggressive towards anything they perceive as a threat, including curious kids! It’s better to let your pet enjoy some alone time if she’s just given birth or if she’s in the middle of feeding and caring for her puppies.
6. Keep caring for your pet
A healthy pet with a good temperament is the best pet to keep around your child. Remember to have your dog vaccinated and dewormed in order to prevent infections, and to keep up regular grooming. Continue feeding, walking, and caring for your dog as usual so that he won’t feel neglected or resentful of your child. Dogs are just as capable of feeling depressed or lonely as humans, so do remind him of how loved and treasured he is in the family.
7. Get rid of animal waste
The stuff in the yard or in a cat’s litterbox will become a nasty source of disease if it makes its way into your baby’s mouth. You might also end up having to wash out nasty smells from your baby’s skin and clothes if he rubs or touches anything urine-soaked. Before anything else, get rid of full litterboxes and waste from outside and clean off any traces of urine from the floor or furniture. Litterboxes and newspapers should also be kept in a safe place and out of your baby’s reach.
8. Don’t force them to be friends right away
It takes time for pets to accept new guests into their territory. Your dog could become extremely protective or aggressive if he only sees your child as an outsider invading his home. You can begin introducing your pet to your newborn baby by letting them sniff blankets, shoes, and anything else with their scent. Be sure to do this outside of your house so that your dog’s protective instincts don’t get in the way. Once your dog has become familiar with your baby’s scent, it will become easier for him to get used to your baby’s presence. If your dog and baby prefer to ignore each other while they’re in the same room together, just leave things that way. Your dog will only be annoyed if you force him to bond with your child.
9. Set up a safe space for your pet
Like any other human being, both cats and dogs need a space where they can feel calm and safe. They also need time to destress and relax before they can play again. Instruct your child not to bother your pet if they’re sitting or lazing around in their designated hideouts. If you haven’t set up a safe space for your furry friend yet, simply set one up using a cozy bed or blanket. Make sure to set up your pet’s hideout somewhere where your child can’t reach or wander into.
10. Avoid the exotic
It might be tempting to expose your kids to unique pets, but you’re better off adopting a cat or dog instead. Chickens, piglets, ferrets, and other undomesticated animals aren’t safe for young kids at all. They can transmit germs and bacteria that your child's immune system can’t handle, as well as bite, claw, and scratch anything they deem a threat. Not only that, but animals that haven’t evolved to be cute and cuddly (such as lizards and hedgehogs) can pierce and poison kids in just seconds.