This is a partnered post.
In almost every case, bringing a pet into your family is a cause for celebration and years of wonder. To maintain the chances of this, you need to ensure that your children know how to behave around your pet.
To do so, as soon as they are old enough, extract four promises from your kids. These are for the benefit of you, your children and any animal you may be lucky enough to offer a home.
Promise 1: “I will respect the “back off” command.”
Teach your children one lesson first and foremost: “back off”.
As an adult, you’re more able to read how your pet is feeling. If you observe they are struggling with overt attention from a child, you should issue the command – and your children should know to immediately step away. Practice it a few times when your pet is calm just to make sure everyone is on board. This is obviously needed for dogs, but don’t think it doesn’t apply to other pets. Sometimes, we all need a breather.
Promise 2: “Our pet is not a toy.”
There is nothing wrong with a well-mannered dog sitting wearing a sombrero, so long as the dog’s okay with it. (And they will make it clear if they’re not!) But in general, your children should know not to pick up and handle any pet you have just for the sake of play.
Promise #3: “I know their tail is not a handle.”
This is a troubling behavior that no one is at fault for. Children see a tail and don’t see any harm in pulling it, or even using it as a handle – they don’t know better. Of course, any animal will find this a threatening behavior and react – perhaps violently – to the violation of their physical space. This the tail, even in petting, should be firmly established as an absolute no-go area, never to be touched. The more exotic your pet is – such as a fox, ferret, etc. – the more important this lesson becomes.
Promise #4: “I will respect this is a wild animal.”
You may be thinking that’s a bit harsh, especially for cats and dogs – can we call such domesticated creatures wild? Perhaps not in a literal, dictionary definition of the word, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a lesson kids need to learn.
It doesn’t matter if you have a common pooch or an unusual fennec fox pet – you have to respect them as a creature in their own right. Though legally pets are defined as objects which we own, no good pet owner is going to treat them like that. Your child has to learn to approach them with the same caution they would afford a wild animal met while out hiking; otherwise, it’s a recipe for misery.
There is no safe point, no day when you can ever afford to 100% forget this is an animal who doesn’t know the rules of polite society the way you do. The sooner your kids understand that, the safer and happier that everyone will be.