Children and Pets: How to Keep Peace While Adding to the Family

Expanding the Family

Children and pets are a natural combination. Most people have fond memories of growing up with a pet. But just as children and pets can offer each other companionship, they can also feel threatened by the addition of a new family member. Therefore, before the newcomer-be it baby or pet-arrives, it is best to prepare the family by explaining what will change and what will not (your love), setting rules and limits and monitoring the interaction.

Bringing Baby Home

Babies mean new sights, sounds and smells, and they take the lion's share of everyone's attention. And all of these things may make your dog or cat feel threatened.

If you plan ahead, you can make the arrival of a new baby much less stressful for you and your pet. Begin by introducing scents, such as baby powder and lotion, before the baby's arrival. You can do this by using these products on yourself or on a small doll.

Once you have the nursery set up, allow your pet to gently inspect it. Install a baby gate and begin using it, or close the door when you aren't around so your pet doesn't have free access to this room. This helps establish boundaries before the baby arrives.

Once the baby is born, have your spouse or a familiar relative take a piece of baby clothing or a baby blanket home for your pet to smell.

Keep the homecoming a quiet event. Throwing a party or inviting a bunch of guests right away will only make your pet more nervous and excitable.

Have dad or a familiar relative carry the baby in so that mom can greet the pet. Only after your pet has settled down should you attempt to introduce the newcomer.

Keep the first meeting brief and supervised. It may help to have someone familiar hold your pet while mom holds the baby. Holding the pet provides a means of positive attention and safety.

It is a good idea to spend some special quality time with your pet once the baby has settled in for a nap. When the baby awakes and begins crying, provide reassurance to your pet to help alleviate any agitation at the new sound.

No matter how well the relationship seems to be progressing, never leave the baby and pet together unsupervised.

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Bringing a Pet Home

Bringing home a new pet is similar to bringing home a baby.

Establish a quiet, out-of-the-way place for your new pet and set boundaries for interaction. Just as your pet should not be allowed free access to the nursery, your child should not have free access to the new pet's "home."

Interactions should be supervised at all times and limited, especially during the first few months. Once the child and pet are comfortable around each other, invent games to play together, such as fetch or dangling a piece of ribbon for a cat.

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Toddler Years

The toddler years are the most difficult for child-pet interactions. The toddler is old enough to get to the dog or cat, but not old enough to handle pets responsibly.

The normal, sudden movements and high-pitched noises of a toddler may cause your pet to become overly excited or agitated. Therefore, it is important to continue watching interactions carefully. Many pets adore children and will withstand vast amounts of roughhousing, but it is best to begin setting limits on play.

Reading books about animals to your child can help your toddler understand that pets have feelings too. Take advantage of the enormous attention your child pays to your every move by using it as an example for acceptable behaviour around pets.

While your child is watching, gently rub your dog behind the ears or scratch your cat under the chin, all the while talking in a low soothing voice to your pet.

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Learning to Get Along

Once your children are past the toddler stage, they're old enough to learn how to act around animals. Teach kids not to bother family pets when they are sleeping or eating. They shouldn't pet a dog without asking permission and letting the dog sniff their hand first. And they should never chase or corner cats or dogs.

You may want to involve your child in the daily care of your pet. Small children can be taught to scoop food into a dish, or help brush a patient pet. If the pet is small enough to be handled, show your child how to properly pick up your pet.

Again, it is important to supervise these activities. It is also important to teach your pet how to behave. If your pet nips or reacts with a loud "ow," end playtime. Get it used to having things removed from its mouth.

Remove the food dish or a special toy during food or play time respectively, and then return it so that your pet will learn not to guard food or toys. If you have a dog, arrange for you and your pet to attend an obedience class to speed learning of proper behaviour.

By monitoring your children and pets, and creating positive ways for them to interact, you 

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Supervision is Essential for Success

No matter how calm your pet is with your child, or how well your child plays with your pet, it is important to supervise interaction at all times.

It only takes seconds for a child to be injured by a pet that has been accidentally startled or hurt.