Growing up with pets creates respect and responsibility toward other creatures. All children should have the opportunity to experience pet companionship from a very young age. It is the parent’s responsibility, however, to insure that the experience is positive for both child and pet.
Below are five ways to insure that your child learns how to care for and maintain safety around pets, while also creating appreciation and respect for animals:
Teach Your Child How to Feed an Animal
Children love giving food to animals. From bottle feeding to giving treats by hand, it tickles them when whiskers brush their skin. There are many ways to expose children to these opportunities. You can take your child to a petting zoo, where goats, sheep and Llamas will nibble grain from their palms, or involve them in the training of your house pet.
Encourage Activities That Include the Family Pet
Activities that involve the entire family, including the pet, help children gain lots of comfort being around the animal. A trip to the park with the family dog, or petting the cat on the couch during family games, creates a fun atmosphere for all. Pets love going places with their human companions and children often consider their pets as part of the family.
Encourage Participation in Pet Training Routines
When training your family dog, be sure to allow your child some involvement in the process. Most children aged 3 and up are able to participate to some extent. As they love feeding treats, this is a great way to also teach them how to communicate with the pet, creating a stronger bond between them.
Instruct the Child About Appropriate Greeting Procedures
Teaching children how to properly greet animals goes a long way toward overall safety. Proper greetings won’t be misconstrued as aggression by the animal. If a dog or cat feels that someone is threatening they will either have a fear reaction (bite, growl, snarl or lash out), or try to escape.
When young children approach their vocal tones are high and excited. They reach out with their hands and attempt to hug the animal or pat them roughly. Instead, they should be taught the following:
When greeting dogs remain still and allow the dog to approach and sniff first, keeping eyes averted and hands tucked under the elbows. After the dog has had a chance to “explore” the child, and chooses to remain within reach, the child can touch the dog, stroking from head to tail in the direction of hair growth.
When greeting cats, crouch low and stick out a finger. Allow the cat to sniff the child’s finger. If the cat wishes for more attention she will approach and rub on the child’s legs, or bunt her head against the child. Should the cat walk away, do not allow the child to run after as this will create a fearful reaction. As when greeting a dog, a direct stare can intimidate the cat, making her not want to approach the child. Instruct the child to look at the cat’s tail or feet, not her face.
Instruct the Child on Appropriate Safe Handling
Fingers and faces should never be close to the pet’s head region. Hugging should never be attempted as this can be threatening to many animals. Rough pats on either side of the abdomen are equally threatening.
A pet who does not feel threatened will tend to be comfortable in the child’s presence. A relaxed animal will give the child more confidence around the animal as well, making the situation safer for all concerned.
Take Your Child to Observe and Participate in Animal Themed Events
Besides teaching children how to handle and greet animals, taking them to events where they will see the animals perform encourages them to participate in animal related activities. Organizations such as 4H, Future Farmers of America and The Virginia Farm Bureau can offer information about how to become involved in agricultural activities. The American Kennel Club offers many types of canine events that offer special classes for children. Some of the AKC events are so much fun, such as Agility and Fly Ball, that children automatically want to become involved. Pet Expos are another fun event where children are exposed to many types of animals and also entertained by them. From reptiles and small pets, such as hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs, to birds, dogs and cats, Pet Expos offer something for every taste and budget. While at the Pet Expo your child may learn proper care and training techniques; sometimes they can also learn how to hold the animals.
The more a child is exposed to gentle, well-trained and healthy animals the more comfortable they become and the more they learn about being responsible and respectful of other creatures. All it takes is one bad experience to mentally scar a child, resulting in fear of animals. This phobia can manifest in numerous ways as the child matures, none of them positive.
As a general rule young children should never be left alone with pets as accidents can occur and result in injury. Always supervise interactions to insure proper handling so that your child and pet can be safe together, creating a life-long bond.
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