We love our babies, and we love our fur-babies, so why can’t they just get along? While children who grow up with pets have higher self-esteem, empathy, immune response, and a host of other benefits, it’s not always smooth sailing, especially in the beginning. A new addition to the family - human or animal - upsets the delicate hierarchy of the home, even if only for a few days.
Kids chase, grab, or rough house with pets out of excitement, and they might not recognize body language and warning signs that the pet is saying, “Stay Away!” If a pet feels threatened or fearful they could scratch or bite. Luckily, this situation can be avoided by taking precautions to make sure both child and pet are treated with mutual respect. These tips will help ensure that your kids and pets get off on the right foot... or paw!
Introducing a new pet to the household
- Supervise interactions between child and animal.
- Put existing pets in a separate room temporarily to give your new pet a chance to comfortably explore their surroundings.
- Make introductions one at a time so the new cat or dog doesn’t feel overwhelmed or bombarded.
- Teach your kids that animals are not toys, and their space must be respected.
- Approach a dog sideways instead of head-on. Never rush towards a dog; always “ask” both the dog and the owner before petting the dog.
- Teach children to read animal body language and recognize signs of aggression. In dogs, this includes yawning, lip-licking, showing the whites of their eyes, tucked tail, raising their hackles, and growling. In cats, ears turned back, tail moving back and forth, dilated pupils, hiding, and hissing can all indicate “back off!” Showing kids pictures is a great way to help them learn animal body language.
- Use “time out” to separate a dog from a child when they aren’t practicing good manners. When the dog comes back into the room, have the child invite them with petting, play or a treat.
- Leave kids and pets together without supervision until you are confident they will interact politely and safely.
- Force two pets together, but give them time to come around. Being timid or unsure around a new animal is natural, so let them all adjust at their own pace. Don’t let a dog chase or corner cats — even if tails are wagging.
- Make sudden, quick or erratic movements around a new dog or cat. Don’t allow children to tease, disturb, or annoy an animal. Pulling their tails, chasing them, getting in their face, or rustling their food is not OK. Never force pet to endure mishandling as this can lead to a potentially dangerous situation.
- Punish your animal for potty accidents. If you catch them in the act, clap loudly so they know their behaviour is unacceptable, and take them to the appropriate potty spot - outside, or to the litter box. If the accident has already happened, ignore it. Your pet simply won’t make the connection no matter how much you rub their nose in it. Clean up with an enzyme-based cleaner so they won’t be tempted back to the same spot.
Introducing a new baby to current pet
- Slowly reduce the amount of attention you give your dog throughout the day (sorry, Fido) in anticipation of a new child. Just like an only child, dogs can get jealous at the arrival of a new baby.
- Change your cat’s environment slowly. Cats are sensitive to changes and loud noises. Play baby noises at low volume until the cat seems comfortable.
- Teach your dog to stay off the bed and furniture, and make sure they are comfortable with the basic commands like “down,” “sit,” and “stay,” even from across the room.
- Desensitize your dog to the smell, sight, and sound of children by walking them near a park.
- Bring home baby clothes from the hospital and let your pets smell them.
- Praise and reward every time your crew does something good with each other, no matter how small or simple. This will get them to think of each other as bearers of love and affection.
- Leave pets with small children unattended. Use a baby gate to separate the two if you can’t be there to directly supervise.
- Allow your cat access to the baby’s crib.
- Offer sticky, sweet hands when first petting a dog — fido may mistake it for food, which could potentially lead to a nip or bite. Make sure kids’ clothes are also free of food stains so the dog doesn’t jump up to get a taste.
As the leader of the pack, it’s your job to train both pet and child to respect each others’ boundaries. Always remain vigilant - watch for signs of stress, like decreased appetite, constant hiding, or aggressive behavior - and don’t hesitate to call in a professional if there is cause for concern. Animals — like humans — can get on each other’s nerves, so you may find you need to step in months after a new pet comes home. Be patient and flexible, and you’ll soon find everyone has enough space to live in harmony. With any luck, they’ll form a priceless lifelong bond that is truly the stuff of legends.
This is a guest post by Alejandra Roca from Redfin!