Often, bites and scratches sustained by young children following an interaction with a pet dog or cat were "not seen to be coming" by parents. While we strongly recommend that all interactions between pets and children are to be supervised, it is also important to know what to watch out for, and intervene before an accidental bite/scratch happens. Below are four tips to consider when supervising your child's play time with the family dog or cat.
A pet that is happy to play and interact with your child will display loose, relaxed and wriggly body language. Stiffened postures, "freezing up", yawning and breath-holding are early signs that your pet is not comfortable with the interaction - you should intervene by removing the child and giving your pet some time out.
Actively discourage your child from:
- pulling at any of your pet's body parts (limbs, ears, tail etc),
- inappropriately prodding/jabbing your pet (eg putting fingers in dog's mouth etc),
- any attempts to climb up and ride on your pet,
- screaming or talking loudly at your pet.
There is a limit to every pet's patience and no pet should have to tolerate such antics.
If your pet starts to move away from a child, this is a sign that he/she does not wish to be bothered by the child and/or is feeling intimidated by the presence of the child. Respect your pet's need for space and ensure that your child does not follow or keep pestering your pet - give the pet some time out away from the child.
This is your dog's and cat's way of telling you that he is not comfortable with the interaction, and the child should be removed immediately. Do not punish your dog for growling (or your cat for hissing) in this instance, because this serves as a strong warning that your pet is not happy with the child interaction - rather than have him/her bite without warning. Failing to heed your pet's growling/hissing signals may see him/her escalating to snapping or biting.