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Posted on 04-26-2017

Training Tips Thursday: Kids And Pets

**The advice in this blog is not intended to replace training with a professional. All comments and opinions are that of Aleta McHardy, who is NOT a professional trainer**

Seeing it From Your Pet’s Point of View

We’ve all seen the videos and pictures that circulate social media depicting kids laying on or riding dogs, picking up cats, taking their pet’s toys and so on. Every time I see a video or photo like that I can’t help audibly groan. While the captions typically convey how cute the behavior is or how sweet the dog is, the photograph tells a different story.

Most pets don’t like to be hugged, picked up, or sometimes even petted by small children. Often times pets are actually trying to avoid the situation, but because the animal doesn’t move away, it is misinterpreted as acceptance. Wide darting eyes, lowered head, or looking away are clear signs that they’re not enjoying the experience.

If your dog is showing you signs of avoidance and you ignore them, they will escalate to a bite in order to get their message across. A stiff tail or body, hard stare from the eyes, and a tight-lipped mouth are giant red flags telling you to back off! If your pet is a cat, it will have dilated pupils, pinned ears, or could even hiss to try and communicate their discomfort. Ignoring the small signs of anxiety or distress in your pet’s behavior, will ultimately lead them to take matters into their own hands.

Take My Word For it, I Was THAT Kid

It may seem hard to believe, but I was bitten by A LOT of dogs as a child. It wasn’t because I was around bad dogs; I just wasn’t supervised and would get into their personal space inappropriately. I was bitten in the face by a neighbor’s black lab when I was 5 years old. In this situation, I had gone over to the dog and hugged his face because I felt bad for him. Fortunately, there was no lasting damage to ME, however, the dog was euthanized because of it.

In another example, a friend’s schnauzer had just had puppies and I wanted to hold one of them. You can probably guess what happened next. These situations could have been avoided if I had been properly educated about how to interact with dogs. Every time a dog bit me, I wasn’t being supervised while around them.

Fortunately, I have been able to learn from my childhood mistakes and take the time to educate myself on how to appropriately interact with a variety of animals. I can now say that I’ve never been seriously injured by an animal while on the job at Sugar House Veterinary Hospital.

What Interactions Are Appropriate?

Obviously it is wonderful for children to have pets, whether it is a guinea pig or a dog. That doesn’t mean our pets should tolerate rough handling. It is important for the adults to be in charge of the primary care of pets and allow children to learn by example and guidance. Learn how to recognize if your pet is becoming uncomfortable with your child’s attention. It is the parent’s job to recognize and prevent a problem. Unfortunately family pets, not necessarily strange animals, cause most animal bites.

Here’s The Deal

Injuries to kids are commonly from dog bites, but any animal with teeth has the capacity to bite. When it comes down to it, allowing children to interact inappropriately with pets is a lose-lose situation. Kids have been maimed and killed by dogs that were likely showing clear signs that something was wrong. If you are experiencing issues with your children interacting with your pets, please seek professional help. Here is more information from our website about preventing dog attacks, and also check out the ASPCA’s information on Cat Aggression

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