Pets and kids seem like a match made in heaven, but the communication gap between the two often causes accidents. Set your two- and four-legged children up for a successful relationship by teaching your children the best ways to interact with their furry pals. Here are seven tips from the Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs team to help keep your kids safe around pets.

#1: Teach children to respect a pet’s personal space

Kids aren’t well known for respecting personal space, including with strangers, and especially with friends or family. But, kids must learn the importance of respecting a pet’s personal space. For example, kids love to kiss pets, but pets seldom like a child sticking their face into their own face, and may give a quick warning bite. Most pets don’t appreciate their loved ones leaning over them or shoving their face too close, and when strangers act this way, a disaster may be waiting to happen. Teach your children to greet pets with a pat on the side of the head rather than kisses or hugs, and to always let the pet walk away if they don’t want to interact.

#2: Encourage children to ask before petting a strange pet

As you walk your dog around your neighborhood, you’ve likely had children run up to you and pet your dog without permission. They may ask if they can pet your dog, but usually only when they’re already petting them. Rather than inviting this situation, teach your children to ask permission before they pet a strange dog. If they receive permission, they should next ask where the dog best likes to be petted, which can help make the meet-and-greet go more smoothly.

#3: Teach children the pet-pet-pause interaction method with pets

When your children interact with any pet, they must allow the cat or dog to choose how much attention they want. Use the pet-pet-pause method to ensure your children do not dictate the interaction. Let your child pat the pet for three to five seconds, and then pause. If the pet stays or moves closer, asking for more attention, your child can begin again, but if the pet moves away, let them go.

#4: Teach children how to read a pet’s body language

Reading canine and feline body language can be difficult for adults, let alone young children. Begin with the basics. Teach them that a friendly, happy pet will approach with a loose, soft, body posture—with a cat, their tail will likely be up and arched in a question mark, whereas a dog’s tail will have a full-body wag, and both may point their ears forward. Also teach your children that a pet who is looking at them, but not staring hard, is likely approachable. On the other hand, they should know to leave alone a pet who has their ears pointed back or flattened against their head, their tail tucked, and wide, staring eyes.

#5: Always supervise children and pets when together

Since children can find bridging the communication gap with their pets difficult, always supervise their interactions, especially with young children. If you see your pet sending warning signals, based on their body language, or if your pet is sleeping, eating, or chewing on a high-value toy, you can intervene before your child approaches your pet.

#6: If you can’t supervise your children and pets, separate them

Crates and playpens provide safe spaces for pets and children to relax or play without worrying about potential altercations. If you can’t actively supervise your pets and children playing together, separate them. Shut your cat in a bedroom with a food puzzle, put your pooch in a crate with a long-lasting chew, and confine your child to their playpen or play area with an assortment of toys while you cook dinner or work in your home office.

#7: Avoid relying too heavily on treats

Snacks are a great way to make friends, but a nervous pet can become more uncomfortable when the treats are gone. All too often, a child will lure a dog close with a treat, and then try to pet the dog as they eat the treat, which can result in a warning nip. Instead, let the pet approach on their own terms without bribery, and then reward them for friendly behavior. 

Kids and pets are often found hand-in-paw, which is adorable, but they must be taught proper interaction. Unfortunately, this closeness can also allow parasites to easily jump hosts from pets to children. Keep your two- and four-legged family members safe from fleas, ticks, and intestinal worms by stocking up on prevention products for your pet. Contact our Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs team if you have questions about pet-child safety, or which parasite preventive is best for your family.