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Everyone knows that it’s necessary to socialize dogs and cats so they respect each other and their boundaries. In reality, this rule applies to all different types of animals – rabbits, birds, reptiles and so forth. This applies to another animal – man, more specifically (for this article), children. It’s essential that children learn to respect pets if everyone in the house is going to be happy – and safe.

child respect petsDifferent species require a bit of training and guidance before they can interact with another species without incident. When all is said and done, dogs and cats can do a great deal of damage to each other within seconds. All it takes is a mistimed hiss or a sniff too far. The old saying “fighting like cat and dog” has stuck around for a reason.

Well, despite the long history of canine/human cohabitation, the same is also true of human children. They don’t come with a mental toolkit and instructions on how to interact with pets or other animals. Children frequently hurt dogs and cats unintentionally. Tragically, those dogs and cats respond in the only way they know how: With teeth and claws. Inevitably, the animal is blamed for something that is really a parental oversight.

Teach your child to respect pets (and all animals)

There are two primary causes for children hurting animals and provoking an attack. The first cause is a lack of empathy for the animal. The child may not realize that the animal feels pain or fear, much as they do. The second cause is that the child simply does not know the correct way to interact with the animal. This is complicated by the fact that different animals require different levels of interaction. However, all animals deserve respect.

Model empathy and respect

Teaching children that animals deserve kindness and respect is something you can model in your own interactions with your animals. Don’t hit your pets and try not to shout at them, particularly when your child is around. Try to involve your child in the day-to-day care for the animals. A supervised session where the child brushes the family dog can do wonders for building a bond between them. Children can also learn about responsibility by helping you feed and water your pets. Show affection and respect when you play with your pets and teach your children to play with them calmly and gently. Make sure you teach things like: “Touch a cat like this, Junior. Definitely not like that.”

child-and-guinea-pig

Your child absorbs your attitudes and behavior to a degree that is sometimes unsettling, and will quickly observe and imitate the values and attitude you display towards your animals. When interacting with animals with your child, steer the conversation around towards how the animal feels, what they’re thinking. This is also useful when you’re watching an animal-themed movie or documentary, too, as children learn to respect pets and all other animals.

Try and be creative with this process. Who knows, you might awaken an interest in biology or medicine.

A related problem, particularly with larger dogs, is fear. To a small child, a large dog is enormous and looks like a predator, and humans are hardwired to be afraid of things with sharp teeth and powerful muscles. Introduce the two to each other, have the child give him a few treats. It is still possible for the dog to hurt the child by accident, however, and it’s necessary to keep a close eye on their interaction, unless the dog has been extremely well socialized. Just like you would watch your child around a body of water, so should you keep an eye on them to avoid any unnecessary drama.

Not like that, like this

Children have grips that are surprisingly strong, and don’t have the same level of motor control as adults. If a toddler has ever grasped your thumb (or face!) you’ll know that the level of strength they exhibit is disproportionate to their size. That level of force applied to the tail or belly of a cat or dog is going to provoke a violent response, unless your animal is a canine Gandhi or has a very high pain threshold.

Likewise, the way a young child pets an animal bears a closer resemblance to a series of fairly rough slaps than a gentle stroking motion. This is not your child’s fault. It is not out of a lack of respect for the animal. They are not trying to be mean. Quite the opposite. They just haven’t been made aware of how an animal prefers to be touched. Again, it’s important to model this behavior for your child, perhaps even taking their hand and showing them the appropriate spots and levels of pressure.

A good resource for this is Dog Tip: Safe Kids/Safe Dogs!

The sad fact is that fear or aversion to animals, particularly dogs, is often linked to early experiences with animals. None of us wants to deny our children the joy of a life lived in the company of animals, or punish an animal for something that is not their fault, so it’s vital to ensure that appropriate behavior and treatment of animals be inculcated as early as possible. Teaching your child to respect pets is more than a parenting task: it’s an investment in your child’s future quality of life.

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