Do's and Don'ts to Help Kids and Pets Bond

Don’t Let Stress Escalate

Adults need to be aware of a pet’s body language during interactions with children and should be prepared to intervene if a pet starts to act nervous or anxious. It is also important to teach your child that your pet uses his body — ears, tail, face — to express his emotions, and that these communications should be respected. Ignoring early warning signs can lead to a scratch or bite for an unsuspecting child.

Regardless of how tolerant your cat or dog is, it is dangerous to force a pet to tolerate a stressful interaction. Keep in mind that whatever your child is allowed to do with her own dog or cat serves as her guide for how to act around other animals, many of whom may not be nearly as tolerant. So while your dog may let your toddler pull on his ears, your neighbor’s dog may snap at her for the same behavior. Supervise interactions between your child and any animal carefully, and be ready to step in if the pet seems uncomfortable or anxious.

Do Reinforce Positive Interactions

Teaching your child and your pet to interact calmly and safely with each other can be rewarding for everyone in your family, humans and animals alike. Structuring common interactions, such as greetings, petting and play, provides a routine for both your pet and your child. Rewarding these positive interactions encourages both your pet and your child to make good choices. Rewards also help teach your pet to associate your child with good things happening.

Rewards can also reinforce your child’s behavior toward your pet. Praise her for making good choices, like leaving a sleeping or eating pet alone, calmly inviting a pet to approach her at his own pace, or using gentle hands to touch a pet. Rewards reinforce good behavior in your pet and your child, and can help to ensure that the two of them will form a lasting bond.

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