What kid doesn’t want a pet to play with when growing up? Parents may be sceptical about getting their kids a pet and wonder how well they will adapt to it. However, they can have such a special bond and it’s important that parents know how to introduce them into kids’ lives in the best possible way.

Dr. Jo Myers, Veterinarian for Vetster, has shared some useful advice on how to create a strong relationship between your kids and their pets.

Vetster is a digital platform that connects licensed vets with pet owners virtually, with 24/7 online appointments.

little girl and cat

How to introduce your child to your pet

Firstly, it’s important that your pet and child both feel comfortable and safe. If you teach your children how to handle their pets and respect their boundaries, it will make the relationship so much smoother. Initially, as your pet is in new surroundings, allow them to approach your child first.

If your pet is asleep, your child should understand that this would not be a good time to approach as it could cause anxiety and disturbance to your pet. Teach your child how to be gentle and when it’s appropriate to pet them. Encourage your child to learn to understand the dog’s body language instead of forcing the dog to do what they want. “Can you get Sadie to come to you if you squat down on the ground?” for example.

How to build the relationship 

As a parent, it’s your responsibility to ensure your child understands how to handle a pet. Children are mimics, so remember that you’re their model for loving, respectful behaviour. Encourage everyone to get involved when it comes to your pet’s care – from feeding to going on walks and understanding the training techniques. Show your child how to do certain actions when it comes to pet care.

This includes tasks such as how to clean the pet, put on a leash and even petting correctly.  Remember to applaud your child when they do something good for your pet, such as stroking them. Also, correct them when they’ve done something they weren’t supposed to do – such as pulling the dog’s tail! When children understand that pets are living beings like them and not toys, it creates a stronger and more positive bond.

Pro Tip: Dogs and kids forge a bond more quickly when interactions occur on the dog’s terms instead of being forced, but it’s also true that responding favourably every time a dog solicits play can set the stage for problems down the road.  Make it clear to your child that they don’t have to play with Sadie every time she asks, just the same as how Sadie doesn’t have to play with them whenever they want.

girl and guinea pig

How kids can be gentle when playing with pets

What animal doesn’t like to play? Luckily for parents, most children love playing too. However, it’s crucial to understand when a pet wants to play. Remember they can’t speak so it’s important to look out for signs when your four-legged friends want some space or don’t feel like playing, it’s equally important to ensure your child knows how to play with their pets in a gentle manner.

Families should be encouraged to interact with their pets with fun games and activities. Not only is it a great treat for your pet but it provides mental stimulation with some animals, such as dogs. If you ever spot that your dog is over hyper, some family games will keep your dog occupied whilst releasing their stresses and anxieties.

Consistency is key. Assuming you want to teach your pet that it’s not okay to bite, understand that means it’s never okay to bite.  Allowing a puppy or kitten to bite at your child’s hands during play is confusing, so make sure to have toys and other things that are okay to bite on hand.  The same is true for other undesirable behaviours like jumping on people.  If something isn’t allowed, teach your children to be consistent about disallowing it.

Pro Tip: Giving a pet timely feedback on their behaviour is more effective when it’s delivered from the person involved instead of a third party.  In other words, it’s better for parents to teach their kids to disallow a dog from jumping on them than for the parents to intervene.

Importance of the bond 

There is extensive scientific proof which shows how animals can impact a child’s development positively. It aids children to show more visual attention when compared to children without pets and pets also teaches children how to be responsible and accountable. Therefore, it’s important to teach your child how to handle their pet correctly in order for them to have a long-lasting friendship with their furry pal.

If you’re considering introducing a new pet into your home or would like expert advice on your training and adjustment, Vetster’s licensed veterinarians can provide assistance.