It’s great for children to grow up with a pet. Not only can they both enjoy playing with each other, research has shown that children are less likely to suffer from allergies if they come into contact with pets before their first birthday.
However, owning a cat or dog is not without its hazards. Though not normally deliberately aggressive, a cat can leave a nasty scratch if put in a stressful situation such as being cornered by a child. It is very easy to blame dogs for bites but it is usually not their fault – if they feel vulnerable they will lash out. It is important to understand how to introduce a new dog or cat into a household with children, and how to teach your children to behave appropriately around dogs so that accidents are minimised.
Should I get a kitten or older cat?
If you are considering rehoming an older cat it’s important to try and find out if they are familiar with children or at least watch how they behave with your children before bringing them home for good. Some cats will be naturally inquisitive and playful and won’t cause any problems. However more fearful cats may become very stressed around noisy children who want to play. They may show this by hiding and avoiding the children or by being aggressive.
If you have very small children it may be better to consider getting a kitten. As they will both be together from an early age it’s easier to help kittens and children get used to each other and not be scared. However, kittens can scratch if they are picked up so it’s important that you supervise your children when they are spending time together.
Cats need a place where they can feel safe, so make sure that they have somewhere to hide away from the children. They may get stressed about children playing or making lots of noise so will welcome a quiet space where they can be on their own. Cats generally like to hide in high places so placing a box or bed on top of a cupboard or wardrobe where children can’t reach means your cat can get away and relax when they need to.
Should I get a puppy or an adult dog?
If you have very young children, then there are pros and cons to both.
✔ Puppies can be easily socialised and will therefore learn to accept small children and their behaviour.
✔ They will normally grow up to be best friends and will love to play together.
✘ It is normal for puppies to bite and scratch and jump up at first and this may be difficult if you have a toddler.
✔ Adult dogs have normally grown out of the biting/scratching phase. However, if they have not been trained properly at a young age then they could cause problems.
✘ They may also have not been socialised properly with children so may be scared if young children scream or handle them. This is often difficult to correct.
As a rule, be cautious when rehoming an adult dog if you have children unless you know the dog’s history and can be sure that they have been brought up or socialised properly with children.
Teach children to handle your cat or dog gently
It’s important that children are taught to handle them properly. Chasing them or grabbing them if they are running away will scare cats and lead to them scratching. Spend time sitting with your child and new cat and help them play together slowly and gently. Use plenty of treats and toys and show your child how to stroke them carefully. It’s best not to let very young children pick up cats as this is when scratches are most likely to happen.
Children growing up
If your pet has been brought up with a baby, things can start to change when they start crawling or walking. Don’t assume that your pet will be fine, make sure you are always in the room too if the pet and child are together. Young children are more likely to grab at pets, scaring them and making them scratch or bite. If this happens it’s best to keep the pet out of the way of the child for a while then gradually reintroduce them, making sure that play is always gentle. Even if your pet has adapted well to a particular stage in your child’s life you should be prepared for a change in the relationship as your child develops.
Involve your children with training
Involving your children in the training process enables them to have some control over the dog and to become their playmate. Coach children to use the correct command, for example ‘sit’ at the same time as you and then reward the dog when they do the correct thing. You can gradually whisper the word so that eventually the child will give the signal alone. Cats are just as intelligent and will often enjoy learning tricks. Using a training clicker and treat rewards you could teach your cat to lick their paw on command or fetch a toy. Children will often love this kind of interaction and it will give your cat some mental stimulation too.
A lifelong friend
Pets can be a loving lifelong pet for any child, helping them learn responsibility, patience and caring. As long as you make sure that children know how to be gentle around pets and give them space to be on their own, they will both be able to spend many fun hours playing together or snuggling up by the fire. By making the effort to settle your pet in properly when you first bring them home, they will soon be a happy new addition to your family.
Teach your children to behave calmly around dogs
It is important that children learn to behave properly around dogs to prevent accidents from occurring. When you first introduce a new dog or puppy to your home and family, make sure that you start by communicating to your children the importance of not treating their new pet like a toy.
Supervise all initial interactions and ensure that they give the opportunity to settle into the new space.
Watch out! If the dog is shying away, trying to hide or has their tail between their legs then they have had enough and should be allowed to escape to a quiet place.
Keep initial interactions short and positive. A positive first exercise is to sit your child on the floor and try to encourage your new dog to sit next to them so that they can stroke the dog gently or give it treats. If your dog gets over excited or starts scratching, biting or jumping up then the session should be ended.
Children should be taught not to handle dogs roughly. All interactions should be gentle. Screaming, waving arms and leaping about should be minimised, and never allow your child to hug or kiss a new adult dog that you do not know. This can be very intimidating for some dogs and can result in young children being bitten on the face.
Puppies especially tend to want to chew everything including children’s hands. Teach children to end all interactions if any chewing happens or is about to. If you have very small children, then ensure that they are never left alone with a biting puppy. Biting of hands can be reduced by ensuring that there are always plenty of chew toys for your dog to chew on instead.
When playing, children tend to jump and leap around and it can be difficult to teach your dog not to leap and jump back. Small children can be easily hurt and knocked over if a big dog jumps up at them so it is important to discourage this behaviour.
Teach children to stand like a tree without making eye contact or turn their backs when a dog starts jumping up. As soon as the dog calms down then play can resume.
How to Feed Dogs Around Children
Small puppies can be trained not to mind people interfering with their food from an early age. Give them half their ration and then when they are nearly finished add the other half to their bowl while they are still eating. This way they will learn that people coming close to their bowl while they are eating is a good thing.
A happy family pet is one that knows the boundaries.
Dog and cat breeds that are good with children
Smaller dogs such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniel get along with just about anybody including children, and gentle giants Bernese Mountain Dog are caring in their nature and perfect with kids. A Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds due to their love for kids, adults, other pets, and just everyone in general. Abyssinian and Burmese cats are reputedly the most loyal, affectionate and playful of cats. They are very active and inquisitive, making them a great companionship to children. Their intelligence means children can enjoy teaching these cats tricks and exploring with them in the garden.
How to relax pets around children
Some dogs have personalities which sees them to be overly excited or show behavioural issues, making it difficult to introduce them to children. Bob Martin Stay Calm Oil for dogs and puppies containing Valerian, Camomile and Ginger oils is a highly effective, daily supplement which naturally relaxes and calms timid or overly-excited dogs. The oil helps to ease stress in dogs displaying common behavioural issues such as excessive barking, chewing, shaking or generally being unsettled. Given regularly, the easy to administer solution will not only calm your pet, but also leave them relaxed and content.