Kids & pets: They’re Good For Each Other

by Valerie Masi, Best Paw Forward

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Research shows that kids who have pets are healthier, more social, and compassionate.

I have personally seen dogs give children confidence, motivate their work ethic, and challenge them. It is important for parents to teach children to respect and care for their pets.

From the time my grandkids were three years old, they were helping me feed and clean up after their dog— including helping me find landmines in the backyard. I taught them as soon as they could walk how to move through a pack of dogs with confidence. My older granddaughter became confident with the dogs quicker than the younger one. I love watching them develop their confidence and skills with the dogs. I watch them mimic my behavior and communicate through training, and I feel so proud of them.

On the other side, I have watched my “granddog” fall in love with his girls. It was love at first sight. When my first granddaughter came home from the hospital, Bo jumped up on the bed and gently curled up next to the baby, and that began his commitment to those kids. He stayed by their sides through their crawling phases, whining and nudging them with his nose to direct them away from danger. He stayed close by while they were learning to walk, offering them support when needed. He’s so protective that we have to keep him in the house when the kids are in the pool. The first time he saw them there (and every time since), he whined, jumped in the pool and tried to pull them to the side of the pool to safety. My Mastiff Fiona also knew right away that these new babies were to be watched over and guarded from harm. Even when my oldest granddaughter jumped off the couch right on top of this sleeping giant, Fiona was startled but she contained herself and did not react with aggression. All the dogs tolerated being dressed up and the silly games the kids play with them.

My cat even learned to love them— when they curled up on the couch to watch a movie, the cat would run to be a part of the cuddle time.

This cat tolerated the girls carrying her like a rag doll until they mastered the correct way to carry a cat. Cats tend to be less tolerant than most dogs, but this cat instinctively knew these babies belonged to us and to be patient and love them, no matter what mistakes they made as they were growing and learning.

It’s never too early to teach your children how to care for, love and respect all animals. Don’t have higher expectations for your pets than your children! It is important that both are taught to respect each other.Teach your children how to train your dogs to help establish the proper hierarchy in the “pack” dynamic. If the children are too young to learn to train, you can walk with them in front of you, then pass through the dogs, asking the dogs to move out of the way. This will help your dogs understand the baby is above them in the hierarchy and not one of their siblings. Prepare your pets for a new baby coming into the family with baby sounds, and let the dog smell everything that comes into the house, so he becomes comfortable with the baby smells.

Teach your children how to appropriately brush their dog or cat’s coat—this is something kids always want to do. They should also learn what foods are poisonous to pets, since children tend to walk around dropping food as they go. You should also teach your dogs to always “leave” food that is dropped so they don’t immediately eat everything that falls to the ground. This training will also prevent dogs from going into food-guarding behavior.

The way animals behave is not how all animals will react with children, so it is important to never leave your young children alone with your pet. Parents need to keep a close eye on both animals and children and teach both to be mutually respectful of each other.

Valerie Masi, owner of Best Paw Forward, can be reached at 760-885-9450 or visit www.bestpawforwarddogtraining.com

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