Failing to teach a child how to handle pets properly can result in suffering on the part of the pet and, in some cases, injury to the child. Many children, especially very young ones, don’t realize that pets are living animals, not toys.
To prevent children and animals from getting hurt, it’s wise to teach children how to properly handle pets. When introducing a pet in a household that has young children, parental supervision is very important. Supervision is necessary until parents can be certain that a child is able to handle and interact with the pet in a responsible and humane manner. Initial supervision also allows the parent to make sure that the pet is safe for the child. This is especially true with children under five years of age.
Children must be taught how to show affection towards pets. Most children tend to “pat” animals rather than “pet” them and this could prove to be too rough for some pets. They must be taught to be gentle and not to push, prod, poke, or tease pets in any way. A child should be shown the proper way to stroke a pet, as well as the correct way to pick up a pet.
Whenever possible, children should be involved in the care, feeding, grooming, and training of the pet. Involving the children in the daily care of the pet instills a sense of responsibility in the child. It also teaches the child that the pet is dependent on him or her for good health. Parents can put up a list of daily pet chores that the children can check off once they have completed the assigned chore. At the same time, parents must make sure that these chores are being completed, since failure to do so can result in suffering on the part of the pet. The family veterinarian can be of considerable help in these efforts by discussing the importance of health care, grooming, and proper feeding with children.
Respect for a pet’s privacy must also be instilled. Pets should have a “private area” such as a crate or a specific corner of the house to allow them to get away from the kids from time to time. Children must be taught to respect this need for privacy and the existence of a private area.
Quick and sudden movements, loud noises, and yelling might startle or frighten animals. Children must be taught that animals prefer to be handled in a gentle and quiet manner. Otherwise, pets may become frightened and reluctant to be approached or handled, or worse, they may bite.
Before touching an unfamiliar animal, children should be taught to ask first for permission from a parent. Not all animals are necessarily friendly and some may even perceive a child as a potential threat. In fact, animal bites most often involve children. In the case of dogs, children should be taught not to stare directly at a dog, as this may be perceived as a threat.
Pets have been shown time and again to be valuable tools in teaching children respect, empathy, responsibility and gentleness—traits which stand them in good stead throughout their lives. The bond between a child and a pet lasts a lifetime and enriches their lives as nothing else can.
October 23, 2012 from the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association document library