Safe introductions of Kids and New Pets
We teach our children to look both ways when crossing the street, and not to talk to strangers; as adults and parents we also need to teach them the proper way to greet animals. A child’s eyes may light up when they see an animal and they may so thrilled to be around them that their first instinct is to run right over and start playing. Unfortunately, this is not the proper or safe way to greet many pets, so kids need to be taught how to properly approach them, especially new members of the family or strange animals. With a few simple tips and some practice we can keep our children and pets safe and happy.
Calm and Quiet is the Key
When kids are about to approach an animal, they should be aware of their voices. Screaming, shrieking and loud voices can be very disturbing and frightening to animals. This behavior often comes of as threatening to many animals; they may run or become defensive. Dogs and cats can become nervous and even aggressive if a child is yelling in a shrill voice, especially if they are also running towards them. So children have a much better chance of a positive response from their pets, if they can remain calm and keep their voices low and soothing. Parents, before introducing a new pet into the home,it is best to start teaching your children how to maintain a soft voice around animals by practicing for a few weeks.
When approaching pets, show your kids to approach your pet by coming towards them from the front or side, never by sneaking up behind and or grabbing them. Accidental nervous bites are often the result of approaching a pet from behind or startling them. Never approach an animal while it is eating, sleeping or has young near by. Never have your pet in a corner, this makes them feel penned in and they may become defensive. If this is the first time a child is meeting a pet, have the child sit on the ground with arms at their side and fingers curled in and let the animal get used to them for a while. Before any touching starts, let the animal become comfortable with the situation. When approaching another pet, children should be taught to always as the owners permission, let the animal come to them and slowly bring their hand up to pet. For stray, strange, or pets that do not have an owner present, it is best to teach children never to approach them.
Be Gentle and Patient
Because they may be so excited when they are around animals and are so eager to pet them children often don’t realize their own strength. Children should be taught that petting is good but pulling is bad, especially when it comes to tail, ears, and collars. Rough handling and jerky movements can scare pets and have them running for cover and quick, so show kids how to be slow and gentle. Kids have so much energy, but jumping up and down, running and stomping can be very frightening, save this play time for when your pets are in a safe location or be sure that they can get away if it is to much for them to handle. Teach children not to lean over pets as many animals find this threatening; most dogs would rather have a child sit alongside them, facing the same direction. This is more soothing and reassuring to them.
Read the Signs
Often times pet give subtle cues that they are scared, uncomfortable or need a break, teaching children to watch for some of these signs can help prevent a bite or injury. Besides vocalization (barks, growls, howls, etc.), body language can be a very visual cue, about how an animal is feeling. Teach kids what to watch for and read the signs.
Positioning of ears, eyes, tail, and stance are all good indicators for how a pet is feeling. For example, a dominate dog may stand with its head, ears, and tail erect making direct eye contact; while a submissive dog may have its ears and head down, with the tail low between the legs and no eye contact. Other body "signals" that most dogs give before reacting are raised hackles, stare downs, fearful threats, and defiant stances.
Time to Go
Always teach kids the importance of allowing pets to leave when they want, and to respect the limits pets set for playtime. Talk to kids and ask them to think about how they would feel if someone picked them up and wouldn’t let them go, help them understand how the animal may feel. For a good kid/pet relationship it is important that a pets boundaries are respected. While teaching children, be patient, you will probably have to remind them again and again about how to properly approach pets.
Recognizing these types of body language will help you take action and avert any injury to your canine or feline companion, children, or yourself.
Ears: Forward or back, close to head.
Eyes: Narrow or staring challengingly.
Mouth/Teeth: Lips open, drawn back to expose teeth bared in a snarl. Possible jaw snapping.
Body: Tense. Upright. Hackles on neck up. Completely Dominant position.
Tail: Straight out from body. Fluffed up.
Vocalization: Snarl. Growl. Loud bark.
Ears: Alert. Held forward or backward to catch sounds.
Eyes: Wide open. Staring, focusing.
Mouth/Teeth: Mouth closed.
Body: Rigid. Low to ground, ready to spring forward. Quietly sniffing the air.
Tail: Straight and low.
Vocalization: None (so the prey won't be alerted).
Ears: Partially back.
Eyes: Slightly narrowed.
Mouth/Teeth: Mouth closed, or slightly open in a "grin."
Body: Tense. Slightly lowered in a Submissive position.
Tail: Partially lowered.
Vocalization: Low whine or moaning-type bark