Children and Pets

The birth of a baby or the adoption of a new child is associated with a great deal of anxiety, excitement, and stress for not only the family, but also the family pet. Some dogs and cats can have a difficult time adjusting to these changes, especially if this is your first child, but preparation and planning will help.

How is my pet likely to respond to the new arrival?

There are so many different variables that it is impossible to accurately predict the way that any pet might get along with children. However, there are considerations that give some insight into how your pet might react, such as:

  • How much exposure has your pet had previously to children?
  • How has your pet reacted when it has been exposed?

The most serious concern would be with a pet that has previously reacted aggressively or fearfully with children. If there have been prior problems, you should consult with a veterinary behaviorist to determine which situations have previously led to aggression, and the safest way, if any, to make the transition. If the pet’s previous problems were with a specific child, a specific age group or under specific circumstances, it may be possible to design a program that emphasizes safety and works to adapt the pet gradually to stimuli and situations that are similar to the previous situations in which the pet was aggressive to a child. A desensitization and counterconditioning program may improve or resolve the pet’s anxiety prior to the arrival of the child (see our handouts on ‘Behavior Modification – Desensitization and Counterconditioning’). In addition, there must be a means for physically and verbally controlling the pet so that safety can be insured when the child and pet are together.

The next most serious concern is the pet that has had little or no exposure to young children or babies. Without any prior experience, it is difficult to predict how the dog may react. A lack of early socialization to children may lead to some initial anxiety or fear associated with the sights, sounds and odors of the new child. If there are no unpleasant experiences when the child first arrives, and the first few introductions are made positive, there may be no problems. Even if a pet has shown no previous problems when interacting with children, keeping all introductions positive will help to get the relationship between your pet and your new child off to a good start.

One final concern is how your pet will respond to the growth and development of your child. As your child progresses from being carried to one that rolls, crawls, and begins to walk, and so on through childhood, some pets may have trouble adapting to one or more of these changes. Fear, dominance challenges, possessive displays, and playful behaviors could result in aggression. Anxiety or fear could lead to anorexia, compulsive disorders (e.g. flank sucking, acral lick dermatitis), or destructiveness (e.g. house-soiling, marking, chewing, digging). Remember, regardless of how your pet may respond, a dog and a young child should never be left alone unsupervised.

What can we do to prepare for the new arrival?

Behavior problems (destructiveness, house-soiling, compulsive disorders, increased demands for attention, generalized anxiety) may not develop directly because of the arrival of the child, but rather from the changes in the household associated with the new arrival. With nine months to prepare for a baby’s arrival, the best way to minimize problems and help the pet to cope is to make changes gradually so that they have been completed prior to the arrival of the child. Consider any changes that you may need to make in the pet’s schedule, housing, play, exercise or attention, so that adjustments can begin to be made well before the baby’s arrival. Design a daily routine of social times and alone times that can be practically maintained after the baby arrives (see our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Enrichment, Predictability and Scheduling’). Be certain that the program meets all of the dog’s needs for physical activity, social contact and object play / chew toys. Set up the nursery in advance and if the pet is to be kept out of the room, access should be denied before the child’s arrival. If your intention is to allow your pet to continue to enter the room when supervised, begin to accompany your pet into the nursery so that it can adapt to the new odors and new setup. The dog should be allowed to investigate the baby’s room, blankets, and new furniture, and praised or given a small food treat so that it can develop a positive association with each of these new cues.

For dogs, reviewing or upgrading obedience skills is essential so that you can safely and effectively control your dog in all situations (see our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Learn to Earn and Predictable Rewards’). Obedience training should be reviewed every day, in a variety of locations and circumstances. Practice each command in different rooms of the home, in the yard, while out on walks, and when visitors come to the home. Concentrate on those commands that are presently the least successful, using prompts and rewards to achieve success and then gradually shaping the response so that the pet stays for progressively longer times, comes from greater distances and will heel and follow even when there are distractions. Any existing behavior problems should be resolved before the arrival of your baby. Using a head halter will facilitate control and the learning of these tasks.

Is crate training advisable?

It also might be prudent to teach your pet how to be comfortably confined in a safe, secure and relaxing area. With new children in the home, unexpected visitors and the other disruptions that go with a changing household, it would be beneficial if the dog were able to be in another location without showing distress or anxiety. Start by teaching the dog how to settle on command (see our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Settle and Relaxation Training’) in a comfortable and out of the way location. Once the dog can do this well, try placing a baby gate on the doorway while you are also in the room but occupied doing other things such as watching television or reading. It might help to provide the dog with a stuffed chew toy to make the time more enjoyable. Once the dog can stay with you in the room for a long period of time, try sitting just on the other side of the gate. Finally, slowly move your chair down the hallway so that the dog can learn to remain calm and comfortable as you move away. Be sure to vary the time the dog is confined prior to be released, and only release the dog when it is calm and quiet, never when it barks and whines. The goal is for the dog to learn how to be comfortable in a separate, safe and secure location away from you while you are home. (Also see our handout on ‘Crate Training in Dogs’)

Are there more specific preparations that I can make as the time of arrival approaches?

Some pets might become anxious of, or fearful toward, any of the new and different stimuli associated with the sights, sounds, or odors of the new child. New activities associated with childcare can be practiced in front of pets so that they can become familiar with them. Tape recordings or videos of babies crying (see our handout on ‘Behavior Management Products’), holding a doll wrapped in a blanket, taking your dog for a walk beside a stroller or baby carriage, or even going through the motions of changing a diaper and applying baby powder will simulate some of the experiences to which your pet will soon be exposed. If there is any sign of anxiety associated with any of these situations, then more formal rewardbased training should be practiced and repeated until the pet exhibits no problems in the presence of the stimuli. By providing a favored chew toy, giving a food reward, or providing extra affection during these activities, your pet may actually learn to enjoy these new stimuli.

Once your pet shows no fear or anxiety in some or all of these situations, you may want to enlist the help of some friends or relatives with young children. Dogs can be taken for a walk while the child is rolled in the stroller or carriage. A baby can be carried around the home or nursed in the presence of the dog, and children should be encouraged to play at the opposite end of a room or yard from where the dog is situated. The dog must be well controlled, preferably with a leash and head halter, and given food rewards and/or play to keep the association positive. A wire-meshed or plastic basket muzzle could also be applied to ensure additional safety, especially when being exposed to new situations. By the end of the visit it may even be possible to let the dog interact with the child but only if it remains friendly and shows no fear or anxiety.

Is there anything special I should do for my cat to prepare for the arrival of a child?

For cats, the most important adaptation is to any changes that will be needed in the cat’s home. Although fear and anxiety to the sights and sounds of a new baby are possible, adapting to changes in the household are often the most trying for cats. For example, obtaining new furniture, altering the cat’s feeding, sleeping, elimination or play areas, and trying to keep the cat out of certain locations such as the crib, should all be considered before the arrival of the baby. To reduce the chances of the cat marking new furniture, the first few introductions to the new areas should be well supervised. Once your cat has investigated and rubbed against the new furniture, spraying is far less likely. Similarly, when the crib or cradle is first set up, the cat may wish to mark the area, or investigate, or even to sleep in the crib. Booby-trapping areas (see our handout on ‘Undesirable Behavior in Cats’) can teach the cat to stay away from the areas of concern well before the baby arrives; in many situations, synthetic pheromones (Feliway TM) can help keep the cat calm and prevent spraying.

Remember, each of these techniques are intended to help the pet adapt to changes in the household or lifestyle before the arrival of the baby. Once the baby arrives, there will be far less time to deal with the needs of the pet, and there will be additional variables to which your pet will need to adapt. Even if your pet does begin to exhibit fear or anxiety during this pre-arrival training, such anxiety will not be associated with the presence of the child. The cat will have no reason to develop animosity to the new child.

What should be done when the baby arrives?

Progress gradually, avoid any situations that might lead to fear, anxiety or discomfort in the baby’s presence and make all associations and experiences in the baby’s presence positive. Maintain or even increase the amount and type of training, exercise, and play. When necessary use your pre-trained confinement area when you need to concentrate on the baby without interruption.

Even a curious and affectionate pet may have some problems adjusting to the new arrival. Jumping up in greeting when the baby is being carried, barking during the baby’s sleep or nap times, raiding the diaper pail, licking the baby’s face, or cuddling up to sleep against an infant who is still unable to shift position are just a few of the concerns and potential problems that pet owners may need to deal with. Keep your pet’s nails well trimmed. Supervise all interactions between the pet and baby. Keep the pet out of the baby’s room during nap and sleeping times. Ensure that your dog is well controlled and responsive to obedience training commands. For some dogs, leaving a leash attached (preferably to a head collar) is a useful way to ensure additional control.

The most important aspect of retraining is to reward the pet for obedient and relaxed behavior in the presence of the child. In many households there will be less time and energy available for the pet. While focused on the child, or attending to the chores associated with parenthood, the pet may be ignored, disciplined for approaching too close, or confined to a different area of the home. Your pet may still receive its play, exercise, affection, food and attention, but often not until the baby is finally asleep or is under the care of some other family member. Many pets soon learn that the presence of the baby is a time for inattention, confinement, or even punishment, while the absence of the baby is a cue for “good things” to happen. This must be reversed. Every effort should be made to allow the pet into the room for food, play or affection when the baby is present. Feed the pet when the baby is being fed, or have another family member give affection to the pet, play with the pet, or do some reward training (stay, go to your mat) when the child is in the room. Take your dog outdoors for play or a walk when you are taking the child out. The goal is to teach the pet that positives or “good things” are most likely to happen in the presence of the child and to avoid any negative association with the child.

What should be done if aggression arises?

Such behavior is very upsetting, regardless of its reasons. An immediate decision on whether to keep and work with the pet or remove it from the home must be made. Dogs targeting children may be motivated by fear, dominance, possessive, redirected, playful or predatory aggression. Such aggression (particularly predatory and fear) may arise immediately when the child is brought into the home, or may begin as the child becomes more mobile (e.g. fear, predation, possessive, play) or when the child grows a little older and begins to challenge the dog (fear, dominance, possessive, play). Cat aggression toward children can be fear-induced, redirected, territorial, or play/predatory. For most aggression cases, especially those directed toward children, the guidance and advice of a behaviorist is strongly suggested since it will be necessary to make an accurate diagnosis, determine the prognosis (the chances of safe and effective treatment) and guide you through a treatment program. Although some cases may be treated quickly and safely, most cases require extensive precautions to prevent injuries and a great deal of time, effort and commitment. Regardless of reason for aggression, biting dogs should be leashed (attached to the owner) preferably with a head collar, muzzled and closely supervised or crated in the presence of small children. Aggressive cats should be confined away from small children except when they are in a carrier, on a leash and harness, or well supervised and either calm or otherwise occupied with food or toys. For a discussion of specific types of aggression ask for our other handouts.

How can I teach my children to be safe around pets?

Although there are no rules that will guarantee safety, there are important guidelines that can be followed to reduce the chances of problems and the risk of injury. The first rule of thumb is to avoid doing anything to the dog that you might not want your child to do. This would include physical punishment, rough play, or teasing. Children must be taught how to interact with and handle their family pet including how to approach, pat or lift small pets. Wherever possible, play sessions and training should include the children with the supervision of a parent. This can begin from the time the dog is a puppy by attending puppy classes and obedience classes that include all members of the family. If the pet has not previously exhibited possessiveness of food or toys, the adults can practice with the children approaching the dog at its food bowl, patting and giving favored treats, along with teaching the give or drop command for favored treats. It may be best to use a leash and head halter during this training if there is any concern that the dog might resist or become anxious.

While your dog may appear to tolerate or even enjoy handling from people of all ages, you must teach your child how to meet, greet and handle animals. The child will be safest if taught to avoid hugging, tugging on the leash, collar or tail and handling around the eyes, ears and muzzle. Even if the dog is familiar it is best to avoid reaching toward the head or faceto-face greetings.

Children must also be taught that strange pets may not behave in the same way as their family pet. A simple rule is that the child should NEVER approach another family’s pet without being given permission and then to approach slowly and avoid reaching for the head and face. Children should be taught to avoid pets entirely if they are displaying any signs that might indicate fearfulness (shaking, ears back, tail between legs, crouch, trying to escape) or aggression (growling, showing teeth, barking, hair standing on end). Although most children would be tempted to run away from an aggressive dog, they should be taught to stand still like a tree, with the arms against the body, and avoid eye contact and yelling or screaming. If the child is on the ground they should curl up and cover their head and ears with their arms and fists, and remain still until the dog moves away. Any threatening dog or bite should be immediately reported to an adult.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

 

 

Children and Pets – Grief following Loss of a Dog

How do children react to pet loss and grief?

The death of a cherished pet creates a sense of loss for adults and produces a predictable chain of emotions. The stages of grief are typically denial followed by sadness and depression, then guilt, anger, and finally, relief or recovery. However, the effects on children vary widely depending upon the child’s age and maturity level. An individual child’s response to the death of the family dog depends on their ability to understand death and mortality.

What should I tell my child?

The death of a pet may be the child’s first experience with death and loss. It can be a valuable opportunity to teach the child how to express grief in a healthy way.

With all children, it is important to be as direct and honest as possible. Phrases such as “put to sleep” can be very frightening to younger children, who may develop a fear of going to sleep. Stories such as the dog “ran away” or “went to live on a farm” may leave the child feeling abandoned or else believing that the pet will return some day. Although it may cause the child some initial pain, it is far better to tell the truth, such as the pet “died” or “our veterinarian gave the pet a drug to stop its heart”.

Exactly what you should tell your child depends on the age of the child, their personality and emotional maturity, the relationship that the child had with the dog and the reason that the pet died. Child development experts advise us that children may have “magical thinking”, believing that they are responsible for things that happen in their lives, including a pet’s illness or death, or that if they wish hard enough their dog will get better.

If the pet is being euthanised, you should talk openly with your child about whether they want to be involved in the process. You should also allow the child to talk openly about death, so that you can understand it from the child’s point of view and provide reassurance as needed. Children may ask the same questions repeatedly. They also have fewer taboo subjects than many adults and may ask pointed questions that might seem morbid to adults.

It is important that you act as a good role model; if you shield your child from the emotions that are part of your own reaction to grief, your child may feel that it is more ‘grown-up’ to hide their feelings. It is also important to tell other adults who play a significant role in the child’s life (a favorite relative, teacher, neighbor, or school counselor) about the pet loss, so that they can offer support in this difficult time.

What is the typical reaction to pet loss and grief in different ages of children?

Two and Three Year Olds

Children who are two or three years old typically have no understanding of death or permanent loss. They often consider death as a form of sleep.

“Most psychologists agree that children should be told that their pet has died and will not return.”

Most psychologists agree that children should be told that their pet has died and will not return. The child may react by misbehaving, withdrawing or refusing to speak. The two or three year old should be reassured that the dog’s failure to return is unrelated to anything the child may have said or done. They should be told that this is a natural and expected event and that they were an important part of the pet’s life. Most children in this age range will accept a new pet with little fuss.

Four, Five, and Six Year Olds

Children in this age range grasp the basic concept of death but they believe that the pet is physically living somewhere else, such as in the ground or the sky. In the child’s mind, the pet continues to eat, drink and play, or is ‘sleeping’ in this new place, and may still return home in the future. These beliefs may have been shaped by the child’s previous experience with death or loss of a family member and the explanation of that event offered by adults or other children.

Children in this age group may believe that the dog died because the child was angry or had ill feelings towards the pet. Further, they may worry that if they become angry with another person or animal, they may cause the death of that person or animal. Some view death as contagious and begin to fear that their own death or that of others they care about is imminent. You need to talk about these feelings in a positive, non-patronizing manner. It is important not to be dismissive of these concerns; you should spend time exploring the child’s feelings and reassuring them that death and grief are a normal part of life. When discussing the child’s feelings, it is better to have several short informal talks rather than a long discussion.

Children of this age group often show their grief by disturbances in bladder and bowel control, eating, and sleeping.

 Seven, Eight, and Nine Year Olds

“The permanence of death becomes real to seven to nine-year old children.”

The permanence of death becomes real to seven to nine-year old children. Although children in this age group often believe that they will not die, some may develop concerns about the impending death of their parents. They also may become very curious about death and its implications. Parents should be ready to respond frankly and honestly to questions that may arise regarding mortality, either for the child or for others, including animals.

Several manifestations of grief occur in these children and may include withdrawal, over-attentiveness, and “clingy” behavior. The child may develop problem behavior at school or home, showing learning difficulties, aggression, or imaginary health problems. Some children may initially act as if the loss of the pet is inconsequential, but react with feelings of deep grief several weeks or months later. It is important that parents not dismiss the delayed feelings; the child should NEVER be told that they “should be over that by now” or that “it happened so long ago, I’ve almost forgotten it”. Rather, the child needs support and reassurance that what they are feeling is normal and natural.

Ten and Eleven Year Olds

Children in this age range generally understand death as natural, inevitable, and universal. Consequently, these children often react to death in a manner very similar to adults. Even though they appear to be reacting in an adult manner, they should be treated in a similar fashion to seven to nine year old children.

Adolescents

“Many adolescents exhibit various forms of denial, especially during the initial stages of grief.”

Although this age group also reacts similarly to adults, many adolescents exhibit various forms of denial, especially during the initial stages of grief. This usually takes the form of a lack of emotional display, meaning that teenagers may experience deep grief without any outward manifestations. It is important to encourage adolescents to discuss their feelings about death and not become emotionally apathetic about such a serious and important topic. An open and honest discussion with caring adults will have tremendous impact on how adolescents develop coping mechanisms as adults.

Young Adults

The loss of a pet can be particularly difficult at this age, especially if the pet has been a family member for many years.

“Young adults need the same opportunities to voice their feelings as any of the other age groups.”

Some psychologists say that loss of such a pet represents a “rite of passage” to adulthood. Young adults need the same opportunities to voice their feelings as any of the other age groups.

Summary

Young children usually cannot express their grief in words, mainly due to a lack of verbal skills. However, they can be encouraged to deal with their grief through drawings, play, or other activities such as planning a memorial for the pet. There are a number of well-written children’s books that deal with the subject of pet loss, that are readily available for purchase or at a lending library. Pet loss can disrupt the normal balance in a family and it can be helpful to solicit outside assistance.

“Professional bereavement counselors are available in most cities.”

Professional bereavement counselors are available in most cities. If you are having difficulty with grief over the loss of the family dog, please contact our veterinary hospital. We can provide assistance and contact numbers of professionals and pet loss support groups in our area who can help you and your family.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Ernest Ward, DVM © Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Children and Pets

The birth of a baby or the adoption of a new child is associated with a great deal of anxiety, excitement, and stress for not only the family, but also the family pet. Some dogs and cats can have a difficult time adjusting to these changes, especially if this is your first child, but preparation and planning will help.

How is my pet likely to respond to the new arrival?

There are so many different variables that it is impossible to accurately predict the way that any pet might get along with children. However, there are considerations that give some insight into how your pet might react, such as:

• How much exposure has your pet had previously to children?
• How has your pet reacted when it has been exposed?

The most serious concern would be with a pet that has previously reacted aggressively or fearfully with children. If there have been prior problems, you should consult with a veterinary behaviorist to determine which situations have previously led to aggression, and the safest way, if any, to make the transition. If the pet’s previous problems were with a specific child, a specific age group or under specific circumstances, it may be possible to design a program that emphasizes safety and works to adapt the pet gradually to stimuli and situations that are similar to the previous situations in which the pet was aggressive to a child. A desensitization and counterconditioning program may improve or resolve the pet’s anxiety prior to the arrival of the child (see our handouts on ‘Behavior Modification – Desensitization and Counterconditioning’). In addition, there must be a means for physically and verbally controlling the pet so that safety can be insured when the child and pet are together.

“Without any prior experience, it is difficult to predict how the dog may react.”

The next most serious concern is the pet that has had little or no exposure to young children or babies. Without any prior experience, it is difficult to predict how the dog may react. A lack of early socialization to children may lead to some initial anxiety or fear associated with the sights, sounds and odors of the new child. If there are no unpleasant experiences when the child first arrives, and the first few introductions are made positive, there may be no problems. Even if a pet has shown no previous problems when interacting with children, keeping all introductions positive will help to get the relationship between your pet and your new child off to a good start.

One final concern is how your pet will respond to the growth and development of your child. As your child progresses from being carried to one that rolls, crawls, and begins to walk, and so on through childhood, some pets may have trouble adapting to one or more of these changes. Fear, dominance challenges, possessive displays, and playful behaviors could Kingsbrook Animal Hospital 5322 New Design Road, Frederick, MD, 21703 Phone: (301) 631-6900 Website: KingsbrookVet.com result in aggression. Anxiety or fear could lead to anorexia, compulsive disorders (e.g. flank sucking, acral lick dermatitis), or destructiveness (e.g. house-soiling, marking, chewing, digging). Remember, regardless of how your pet may respond, a dog and a young child should never be left alone unsupervised.

What can we do to prepare for the new arrival?

Behavior problems (destructiveness, house-soiling, compulsive disorders, increased demands for attention, generalized anxiety) may not develop directly because of the arrival of the child, but rather from the changes in the household associated with the new arrival. With nine months to prepare for a baby’s arrival, the best way to minimize problems and help the pet to cope is to make changes gradually so that they have been completed prior to the arrival of the child. Consider any changes that you may need to make in the pet’s schedule, housing, play, exercise or attention, so that adjustments can begin to be made well before the baby’s arrival. Design a daily routine of social times and alone times that can be practically maintained after the baby arrives (see our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Enrichment, Predictability and Scheduling’). Be certain that the program meets all of the dog’s needs for physical activity, social contact and object play / chew toys. Set up the nursery in advance and if the pet is to be kept out of the room, access should be denied before the child’s arrival. If your intention is to allow your pet to continue to enter the room when supervised, begin to accompany your pet into the nursery so that it can adapt to the new odors and new setup. The dog should be allowed to investigate the baby’s room, blankets, and new furniture, and praised or given a small food treat so that it can develop a positive association with each of these new cues.

“Any existing behavior problems should be resolved before the arrival of your baby.”

For dogs, reviewing or upgrading obedience skills is essential so that you can safely and effectively control your dog in all situations (see our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Learn to Earn and Predictable Rewards’). Obedience training should be reviewed every day, in a variety of locations and circumstances. Practice each command in different rooms of the home, in the yard, while out on walks, and when visitors come to the home. Concentrate on those commands that are presently the least successful, using prompts and rewards to achieve success and then gradually shaping the response so that the pet stays for progressively longer times, comes from greater distances and will heel and follow even when there are distractions. Any existing behavior problems should be resolved before the arrival of your baby. Using a head halter will facilitate control and the learning of these tasks.

Is crate training advisable?

It also might be prudent to teach your pet how to be comfortably confined in a safe, secure and relaxing area. With new children in the home, unexpected visitors and the other disruptions that go with a changing household, it would be beneficial if the dog were able to be in another location without showing distress or anxiety. Start by teaching the dog how to settle on command (see our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Settle and Relaxation Training’) in a comfortable and out of the way location. Once the dog can do this well, try placing a baby gate on the doorway while you are also in the room but occupied doing other things such as watching television or reading. It might help to provide the dog with a stuffed chew toy to make the time more enjoyable. Once the dog can stay with you in the room for a long period of time, try sitting just on the other side of the gate. Finally, slowly move your chair down the hallway so that the dog can learn to remain calm and comfortable as you move away. Be sure to vary the time the dog is confined prior to be released, and only release the dog when it is calm and quiet, never when it barks and whines. The goal is for the dog to learn how to be comfortable in a separate, safe and secure location away from you while you are home. (Also see our handout on ‘Crate Training in Dogs’)

Are there more specific preparations that I can make as the time of arrival approaches?

Some pets might become anxious of, or fearful toward, any of the new and different stimuli associated with the sights, sounds, or odors of the new child. New activities associated with childcare can be practiced in front of pets so that they can become familiar with them. Tape recordings or videos of babies crying (see our handout on ‘Behavior Management Products’), holding a doll wrapped in a blanket, taking your dog for a walk beside a stroller or baby carriage, or even going through the motions of changing a diaper and applying baby powder will simulate some of the experiences to which your pet will soon be exposed. If there is any sign of anxiety associated with any of these situations, then more formal reward based training should be practiced and repeated until the pet exhibits no problems in the presence of the stimuli. By providing a favored chew toy, giving a food reward, or providing extra affection during these activities, your pet may actually learn to enjoy these new stimuli.

Once your pet shows no fear or anxiety in some or all of these situations, you may want to enlist the help of some friends or relatives with young children. Dogs can be taken for a walk while the child is rolled in the stroller or carriage. A baby can be carried around the home or nursed in the presence of the dog, and children should be encouraged to play at the opposite end of a room or yard from where the dog is situated. The dog must be well controlled, preferably with a leash and head halter, and given food rewards and/or play to keep the association positive. A wire-meshed or plastic basket muzzle could also be applied to ensure additional safety, especially when being exposed to new situations. By the end of the visit it may even be possible to let the dog interact with the child but only if it remains friendly and shows no fear or anxiety.

Is there anything special I should do for my cat to prepare for the arrival of a child?

“For cats, the most important adaptation is to any changes that will be needed in the cat’s home.”

For cats, the most important adaptation is to any changes that will be needed in the cat’s home. Although fear and anxiety to the sights and sounds of a new baby are possible, adapting to changes in the household are often the most trying for cats. For example, obtaining new furniture, altering the cat’s feeding, sleeping, elimination or play areas, and trying to keep the cat out of certain locations such as the crib, should all be considered before the arrival of the baby. To reduce the chances of the cat marking new furniture, the first few introductions to the new areas should be well supervised. Once your cat has investigated and rubbed against the new furniture, spraying is far less likely. Similarly, when the crib or cradle is first set up, the cat may wish to mark the area, or investigate, or even to sleep in the crib. Booby-trapping areas (see our handout on ‘Undesirable Behavior in Cats’) can teach the cat to stay away from the areas of concern well before the baby arrives; in many situations, synthetic pheromones (Feliway TM) can help keep the cat calm and prevent spraying. Remember, each of these techniques are intended to help the pet adapt to changes in the household or lifestyle before the arrival of the baby. Once the baby arrives, there will be far less time to deal with the needs of the pet, and there will be additional variables to which your pet will need to adapt. Even if your pet does begin to exhibit fear or anxiety during this pre-arrival training, such anxiety will not be associated with the presence of the child. The cat will have no reason to develop animosity to the new child.

What should be done when the baby arrives?

Progress gradually, avoid any situations that might lead to fear, anxiety or discomfort in the baby’s presence and make all associations and experiences in the baby’s presence positive. Maintain or even increase the amount and type of training, exercise, and play. When necessary use your pre-trained confinement area when you need to concentrate on the baby without interruption.

Even a curious and affectionate pet may have some problems adjusting to the new arrival. Jumping up in greeting when the baby is being carried, barking during the baby’s sleep or nap times, raiding the diaper pail, licking the baby’s face, or cuddling up to sleep against an infant who is still unable to shift position are just a few of the concerns and potential problems that pet owners may need to deal with. Keep your pet’s nails well trimmed. Supervise all interactions between the pet and baby. Keep the pet out of the baby’s room during nap and sleeping times. Ensure that your dog is well controlled and responsive to obedience training commands. For some dogs, leaving a leash attached (preferably to a head collar) is a useful way to ensure additional control.

“Every effort should be made to allow the pet into the room for food, play or affection when the baby is present.”

The most important aspect of retraining is to reward the pet for obedient and relaxed behavior in the presence of the child. In many households there will be less time and energy available for the pet. While focused on the child, or attending to the chores associated with parenthood, the pet may be ignored, disciplined for approaching too close, or confined to a different area of the home. Your pet may still receive its play, exercise, affection, food and attention, but often not until the baby is finally asleep or is under the care of some other family member. Many pets soon learn that the presence of the baby is a time for inattention, confinement, or even punishment, while the absence of the baby is a cue for “good things” to happen. This must be reversed. Every effort should be made to allow the pet into the room for food, play or affection when the baby is present. Feed the pet when the baby is being fed, or have another family member give affection to the pet, play with the pet, or do some reward training (stay, go to your mat) when the child is in the room. Take your dog outdoors for play or a walk when you are taking the child out. The goal is to teach the pet that positives or “good things” are most likely to happen in the presence of the child and to avoid any negative association with the child.

What should be done if aggression arises?

Such behavior is very upsetting, regardless of its reasons. An immediate decision on whether to keep and work with the pet or remove it from the home must be made. Dogs targeting children may be motivated by fear, dominance, possessive, redirected, playful or predatory aggression. Such aggression (particularly predatory and fear) may arise immediately when the child is brought into the home, or may begin as the child becomes more mobile (e.g. fear, predation, possessive, play) or when the child grows a little older and begins to challenge the dog (fear, dominance, possessive, play). Cat aggression toward children can be fear-induced, redirected, territorial, or play/predatory. For most aggression cases, especially those directed toward children, the guidance and advice of a behaviorist is strongly suggested since it will be necessary to make an accurate diagnosis, determine the prognosis (the chances of safe and effective treatment) and guide you through a treatment program. Although some cases may be treated quickly and safely, most cases require extensive precautions to prevent injuries and a great deal of time, effort and commitment. Regardless of reason for aggression, biting dogs should be leashed (attached to the owner) preferably with a head collar, muzzled and closely supervised or crated in the presence of small children. Aggressive cats should be confined away from small children except when they are in a carrier, on a leash and harness, or well supervised and either calm or otherwise occupied with food or toys. For a discussion of specific types of aggression ask for our other handouts.

How can I teach my children to be safe around pets?

Although there are no rules that will guarantee safety, there are important guidelines that can be followed to reduce the chances of problems and the risk of injury. The first rule of thumb is to avoid doing anything to the dog that you might not want your child to do. This would include physical punishment, rough play, or teasing. Children must be taught how to interact with and handle their family pet including how to approach, pat or lift small pets. Wherever possible, play sessions and training should include the children with the supervision of a parent. This can begin from the time the dog is a puppy by attending puppy classes and obedience classes that include all members of the family. If the pet has not previously exhibited possessiveness of food or toys, the adults can practice with the children approaching the dog at its food bowl, patting and giving favored treats, along with teaching the give or drop command for favored treats. It may be best to use a leash and head halter during this training if there is any concern that the dog might resist or become anxious.

While your dog may appear to tolerate or even enjoy handling from people of all ages, you must teach your child how to meet, greet and handle animals. The child will be safest if taught to avoid hugging, tugging on the leash, collar or tail and handling around the eyes, ears and muzzle. Even if the dog is familiar it is best to avoid reaching toward the head or faceto-face greetings.

“Children must also be taught that strange pets may not behave in the same way as their family pet.”

Children must also be taught that strange pets may not behave in the same way as their family pet. A simple rule is that the child should NEVER approach another family’s pet without being given permission and then to approach slowly and avoid reaching for the head and face. Children should be taught to avoid pets entirely if they are displaying any signs that might indicate fearfulness (shaking, ears back, tail between legs, crouch, trying to escape) or aggression (growling, showing teeth, barking, hair standing on end). Although most children would be tempted to run away from an aggressive dog, they should be taught to stand still like a tree, with the arms against the body, and avoid eye contact and yelling or screaming. If the child is on the ground they should curl up and cover their head and ears with their arms and fists, and remain still until the dog moves away. Any threatening dog or bite should be immediately reported to an adult.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB © Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

 

 

Dog Behavior Problems – Aggression – Children

What is the impact of canine aggression toward a child?

Dogs are a wonderful part of many children’s lives. However, fearful or aggressive dogs pose an enormous risk to a child’s safety. Children can behave erratically, move in unpredictable ways and make a host of loud and sudden noises. Children are often very interested in dogs and may want to touch them even when they are showing signs of fear or aggression. Children are at greater risk because they are at the same level as the dogs due to their height and because they are often interested in similar things (toys, food). Children may behave inappropriately towards dogs by pulling their tails, hair or ears. Most dog aggression towards children is fear based, though many dogs will also show aspects of food, possessive and territorial aggression as well. According to the CDC, 800,000 people seek medical attention for dog bites each year, half of which are children. Dog bites are most prevalent among children ages 5 to 9 and are more prevalent among boys. Children under 4 years old are most likely bitten in the head or neck due to their height. As children grow older, extremities become the more likely target. Children are most likely bitten by dogs they know; children under 6 are often bitten in circumstances involving food or possessions, while older children when approaching or invading a dog’s territory. This risk increases when living in multiple dog households. Family pets inflict two thirds of dog bites to children. In a retrospective study by Dr. Ilana Reisner, 66% of dogs had never previously bitten a child and 19% had not bitten a human. This shows that any dog may bite and biting may be a normal canine response to perceived threatening situations. Dogs and children do not know how to behave around each other instinctively. Steps must be taken to teach both dogs and children how to interact with each other safely.

How can I prevent my dog from being aggressive toward children?

The best way to address aggression toward children is to prevent it. During their socialization period (6 to 14 weeks of age), puppies are highly curious and impressionable. Making sure that puppies have numerous positive encounters with children of all ages during this period can help them cultivate a positive attitude towards children later on in life. Desensitizing them to being touched around the face and head and even tugged on gently will prepare them for the ways that they are touched by children. After 14 weeks of age, puppies become considerably more apprehensive of their surroundings and react more fearfully to threatening stimuli. It is important to avoid negative experiences during this time as much as possible. Avoid punishment techniques to make sure that dogs do not become fearful. Striking a dog can specifically cause a fear of being touched and may put children at a greater risk. Keep in mind that interactions with children outside of the home are not necessarily protective against fear and anxiety when later children occupy the home with the dog.

When choosing a dog for a family with children, take several factors into account. Consider breed and family history as well as the dog’s history of behavior around children. Try to spend time with the dog before adopting the dog into a house with children. Look for signs of fear, apprehension, or avoidance in the dog or in the children.

  • Make sure to have your dog spayed or neutered.
  • Avoid interacting with your dog in any manner that you would not want him/her to interact with a child (wrestling, rough-housing, punishing).
  • If your dog shows any signs of aggression, seek professional help immediately before these habits become ingrained.

How should dogs be introduced to children?

  • Never leave young children and infants alone with any dog.
  • Muzzle dogs when around children if they have shown any aggression in the past.
  • An adult should closely supervise all introductions between children and dogs.
  • Use of a head-halter and leash can be helpful for maintaining control of the dog and in preventing unruly, exuberant or aggressive behavior.
  • Avoid punishment for bad behavior or disobedience as this can greatly increase a dog’s fear and make them more aggressive.
  • If the dog finds the situation stressful or shows unwanted responses they should calmly and immediately be removed from the situation.
  • Make sure you have good verbal control of your dog (sit, down, come, drop it).
  • Have children give known commands to the dog if the encounter is going well. Ideally, these commands have been taught by positive reinforcement training which allows the dog to generalize and comply with commands given by a variety of adults and children.
  • Keep aggressive dogs safely separated from children.
  • See Children and Pets, Crate Training – Guide – How to Crate Train, Learn to Earn – Predictable Rewards, Teaching Calm – Settle and Relaxation Training, Training Products – Head Halter Training, and Muzzle Training.

What can be done if my dog is already showing some aggression toward children?

Keeping children safe throughout this process is the primary concern. Once a dog has shown any signs of fear or aggression around children, you cannot assume that he/she will be safe to leave with children. Even if the dog has had several positive encounters with children, an adult should closely monitor all interactions. Sometimes an individual dog will never be safe around children.

Desensitization

Desensitization should take place in a slow, step-wise fashion. The child’s safety must be preserved during this process. The goal is to expose the dog to the child in a comfortable setting and at the distance where the dog is showing no signs of fear. Watch for subtle signs of canine fear or stress: yawning, lip licking, trembling, crouching, ears down, tail tucked. Signs of aggression and potential for escalation to a bite include barking, hair standing on end, snarling, growling, or snapping. Give the dog basic commands (e.g., sit, down, shake) and reward these tasks with favored treats. Over several successive sessions, the dog might be able to move closer to the child. If the dog becomes agitated, fearful, tense, disobedient, or refuses treats, then back up to a distance where the dog is more comfortable. Once the dog is accustomed to the presence of the child/children, the children can practice giving the dog verbal commands as well. This process can be greatly facilitated by teaching relax and settle commands to help the dog remain calm. A gentle leader head halter can also be an invaluable tool during this process.

Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning is another excellent tool for helping dogs become more comfortable around children. The goal is to give the dog’s favorite treats whenever children come near. In this way, the dog will learn to associate children with getting tasty treats. When the dog is well acclimated, children can offer treats to the dogs whenever they approach. Remember to keep the child’s safety in mind. Start by exposing the dog to a child that is being carried by an adult. Only allow the child to interact directly with the dog once the dog is showing no signs of fear or aggression and is looking excited about the encounter.

How can children be taught to safely interact with dogs?

Children should be taught proper conduct around dogs starting as early as 18 months of age. Children should be positively rewarded for good interaction and immediately stopped if they are acting inappropriately. All interactions between children and unfamiliar, fearful or aggressive dogs should be monitored.

What should children be taught NOT to do?

  • Do not play with dogs that are jumping up or acting too unruly.
  • Do not disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping or caring for puppies.
  • Do not touch a dog you do not know without asking permission.
  • Do not touch a dog you do not know when there are no adults nearby.
  • Do not touch any dog that is showing signs of fear or aggression.
  • Do not pursue a dog that is moving away (moves away, crouches, growls).
  • No teasing, punishing or rough play with any dogs.
  • Do not touch a dog you do not know on the head.
  • Avoid waving hands near a dog’s head.
  • Avoid yelling, squealing or startling a dog.

What should children do around unfamiliar dogs?

  • Ask permission to touch unfamiliar dogs.
  • Give the dog a chance to approach, see and sniff them before touching.
  • Let the dog come to them instead of reaching for the dog.
  • Pet the dog only on the back and sides.
  • Speak to them in a calm voice.
  • Back away if the dog looks nervous, moves away, freezes, snarls, growls or attempts to bite.

What should children do around familiar dogs?

  • Give simple commands and praise the dog for compliance.
  • Give treats (as permitted) when approaching the dog.
  • Command the dog to settle and relax in order to keep them calm (these are good commands to teach any dogs who live with children or are highly energetic).

What should children do when confronted by an aggressive dog?

  • If an aggressive dog approaches, stand very still and stay quiet “like a tree.”
  • If knocked over, roll in a ball and lie still, “like a rock.”
  • Immediately tell an adult about what happened.

What is the takehome message?

Dog bites are serious: dog bites to children are particularly disturbing. We expect our dogs to act like Lassie and our children to enjoy a carefree relationship with dogs. The CDC reports that injury rates for bites were the highest among children age 5 to 9. Evidence also suggests boys are more likely to be bitten than girls. Children under the age of 4 were most likely to sustain bites to the face or neck. More children are bitten by a familiar dog than a strange dog. We must do a better job of preparing our children how to act around dogs. We must also train and socialize our dogs to expect the unpredictable things children do.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM, Theresa DePorter DVM, DECAWBM, and Lyssa Alexander DVM
© Copyright 2012 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Children and Pets – Infants and Dogs

One of the most common questions asked by an expectant parent or grandparent to a veterinary healthcare provider is how to introduce the family dog to a new infant, particularly if the dog has not been exposed to children before. The vast majority of dogs readily accept infants after an initial period of adjustment and curiosity. However, there are rare but highly publicized incidents involving serious injury of an infant by the family dog.

Is there any way to predict if a dog will harm an infant or young child?

There are three types of behavior in dogs which parents should be particularly concerned about:

1. Dogs that have already shown aggressive tendencies towards babies or children.

2. Dogs that have demonstrated aggression toward adults.

3. Dogs that have a history of predatory behavior (i.e., they chase and kill squirrels, birds, cats, goats, sheep or other mammals).

If you have a dog with any of these behaviors, you need to consult with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist for advice on if and how you should introduce your dog to your new child. A visit to an animal behaviorist doesn’t mean that you have a “bad” dog’; it is simply a method to make this major adjustment easier for you and your pet and to prevent any harm to a newborn child. Many behaviorists require a referral from a veterinarian.

My dog is well trained and has never shown any aggressive tendencies. Is it still necessary to take precautions?

Fortunately, most dogs look upon a baby with curiosity and interest and will show no signs of aggression or other negative behavior. However, some dogs may perceive an infant as a strange mammal or even a potential item of prey.

“Dogs that have never seen a baby probably do not view them as human beings.”

Dogs that have never seen a baby probably do not view them as human beings. To help prevent accidents, even with a normal, non-aggressive family dog, some basic precautions should be taken.

What are these basic precautions?

The dog should be properly obedience trained, ideally through a formal training class. For best results, obedience training should have been part of the dog’s early upbringing. In all cases, training should begin long before e the baby is born.

In order, the steps that should be followed are:

1. Make sure that the dog will obey basic sit, down, and stay commands in a distracting environment.

2. Simulate activities that will occur once the baby is present in the house.

3. Introduce the dog to the scent of the new baby before bringing the infant home.

4. Bring the new baby into the house while the dog is confined.

5. Allow the dog to see but not get near the baby.

6. Allow the dog to approach the baby.

7. Allow the dog to roam freely through the house in the presence of the baby.

Why and how should I make sure the dog obeys basic commands?

Because the parents will want the dog to be quiet and under control when the baby is near, the dog should sit or lie down on command, and remain that way unless permitted to get up. It should be taught to “stay”, remaining calm at all times. The commands “sit” and “stay” should never be associated with punishment.

If necessary, begin by teaching your dog to sit and stay for food rewards, such as a piece of dog biscuit or carrot. Gradually, substitute praise or petting for treats. For specific instructions on training your dog, see “Puppy training – Sit, Down, Stand and Stay”, and other related handouts our Behavior Series.

How do I simulate activities associated with a baby?

After the dog has proven that it can remain seated while you do other activities, you should begin simulating activities that will occur when the baby arrives in the home. While the dog is in a sit/stay position, carry around a doll wrapped in the blankets that the baby will use, rock the doll in your arms, let the dog look at the doll while remaining in a sit/stay position, pretend to diaper the doll, etc.

“…to get a recording of some of the sounds that are commonly made by babies.”

To accustom the dog to the new noises, you may even want to get a recording of some of the sounds that are commonly made by babies. After a time, get other people to engage in these activities in the dog’s presence, and provide rewards for sitting and remaining calm. A firm “no” with an immediate “sit, stay” command is appropriate if the dog begins to get up when it should not. If the dog fails to follow instructions, it may be time to revisit training. At no time should you berate the dog with threats or hit it for getting up. The idea is to avoid associating punishment with these activities. You and the dog should look at these practice sessions as games and not as discipline exercises.

How can I introduce my dog to the scent of the new baby?

After the baby is born but before bringing her into the house, some of the infant’s clothing or blankets should be brought home to allow the dog to become familiar with the baby’s scent. Initially, the dog should be permitted to sniff and smell the items as much as it wishes. Later, you should have the dog sit and stay as you pick up and put down these items, carry them into the baby’s room, etc.

What should we do the first time the baby is brought into the house?

When the mother returns from the hospital, the dog should be allowed to greet her without the baby present. This may require confining the dog to a separate room or crate until the mother can put the baby down for a few minutes. Only after the dog has greeted the mother and calmed down should the baby be presented to the dog. Sometimes it is a good idea to keep the dog and baby separate for several hours, while allowing the dog to sniff more items of clothing and become aware that the baby is in the house. This way, the dog can begin to get used to the baby being in the house and adjust to the new sounds and odors without actually being close enough to investigate it.

Exactly how should I introduce the dog to the baby?

“Best time to introduce a baby to a dog is when the dog is calm and the baby is quiet.”

The best time to introduce a baby to a dog is when the dog is calm and the baby is quiet. Ideally, at least two people should help with the introduction: one to control and reward the dog and the other to hold the baby. If you have conditioned the dog properly, food rewards should no longer be necessary.

Depending upon the personality of the dog, the person holding the baby may be sitting or standing. The dog should be on a leash in a sit/stay position and is rewarded with petting or praise. In most cases it is best to bring the baby to a dog in a sit/stay position as opposed to allowing the dog to run over to the baby.

Gradually, dog and baby are brought closer together. The dog should be allowed to see the baby but must remain in a sitting position. As long as the dog is quiet, it should be allowed to remain nearby until it is necessary to move the baby or the baby becomes restless and noisy. Such introductions should be repeated several times during the first day.

The dog may eventually be brought close enough so it can smell the baby, but not close as to be able to bite. This is generally a distance of two to three feet. Do not be tempted to allow even the friendliest dog to lick or come in direct contact with a baby during these first few introductions. Injuries can occur at rapid speed so it is better to use caution and proceed slowly the first few days. You must use your own discretion as to when it is appropriate to let the dog sniff the baby closely. If after several introductions the dog is not unduly excited and can be verbally controlled, the procedures can be repeated without a leash under close supervision.

When can I allow my dog the freedom of the house?

The first step is to allow the dog to wander freely while you are holding the baby.

“The dog should not, however, ever have access to the baby in unsupervised situations.”

The dog should not, however, ever have access to the baby in unsupervised situations. A baby gate should be put on the entrance to the baby’s room or the dog should be confined to areas of the house where it does not have access to the baby in the absence of the owners. The dog should be allowed as much freedom in the house and interaction with the adults as possible. Initially, when the parents prepare to play with the baby in the dog’s presence, they should also interact with the dog in some manner. They might say, “Let’s go see the baby,” or ask the dog to sit and pet it or give it a reward. Again, food rewards are not necessary every time the owner asks the dog to sit or stay but occasional food rewards will help keep its interest and obedience levels high.

No one knows when a dog understands that an infant is a person. Most dogs adjust to the infant within a few days, while others may take several weeks. After the dog becomes used to the child’s sounds and movements (it begins to pay little attention to these activities and is not excited or nervous when they occur), the parents can begin to relax their vigilance in the presence of the baby. This depends on the dog’s history of aggression, especially predatory or hunting behavior. It is less likely that an unfortunate incident will occur if the dog is non-aggressive, relaxed and relatively uninterested in the baby under supervised circumstances. If you are concerned, you may keep baby gates on the baby’s bedroom door or put up additional gates throughout the house to prevent access to the child.

“Exercise caution and always err on the side of safety.”

The general rule is not to leave a baby, especially under three years of age, alone with any dog. Obviously, only the family can make the decision if and when to leave an older child and dog alone and under what circumstances. Exercise caution and always err on the side of safety.

Most incidents of dogs injuring babies occur within the first few hours or days of the infant’s presence in the home or when a dog unexpectedly comes upon a new baby or child in an unsupervised situation. It is believed that predatory or hunting behavior is the motivation for the majority of attacks on infants.

To get used to the infant, the dog must be gradually exposed to the infant over time. There is simply no safe way to rush this process. Initial contacts must be supervised and made enjoyable or rewarding for the dog so it does not associate negative events or punishment with the baby. With close supervision and patience, most pets bond with the infant in a special way that benefits them both. There is nothing more rewarding than watching your two- and four-legged family members playing and growing together!

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Ernest Ward, DVM

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Children and Pets

Children and Pets

Children and Pets

Children and Pets

The birth of a baby or the adoption of a new child is associated with a great deal of anxiety, excitement, and stress for not only the family, but also the family pet. Some dogs and cats can have a difficult time adjusting to these changes, especially if this is your first child, but preparation and planning will help.

How is my pet likely to respond to the new arrival?

There are so many different variables that it is impossible to accurately predict the way that any pet might get along with children. However, there are considerations that give some insight into how your pet might react, such as:

  • How much exposure has your pet had previously to children?
  • How has your pet reacted when it has been exposed?

The most serious concern would be with a pet that has previously reacted aggressively or fearfully with children. If there have been prior problems, you should consult with a veterinary behaviorist to determine which situations have previously led to aggression, and the safest way, if any, to make the transition. If the pet’s previous problems were with a specific child, a specific age group or under specific circumstances, it may be possible to design a program that emphasizes safety and works to adapt the pet gradually to stimuli and situations that are similar to the previous situations in which the pet was aggressive to a child. A desensitization and counterconditioning program may improve or resolve the pet’s anxiety prior to the arrival of the child (see our handouts on ‘Behavior Modification – Desensitization and Counterconditioning’). In addition, there must be a means for physically and verbally controlling the pet so that safety can be insured when the child and pet are together.

“Without any prior experience, it is difficult to predict how the dog may react.”

The next most serious concern is the pet that has had little or no exposure to young children or babies. Without any prior experience, it is difficult to predict how the dog may react. A lack of early socialization to children may lead to some initial anxiety or fear associated with the sights, sounds and odors of the new child. If there are no unpleasant experiences when the child first arrives, and the first few introductions are made positive, there may be no problems. Even if a pet has shown no previous problems when interacting with children, keeping all introductions positive will help to get the relationship between your pet and your new child off to a good start.

One final concern is how your pet will respond to the growth and development of your child. As your child progresses from being carried to one that rolls, crawls, and begins to walk, and so on through childhood, some pets may have trouble adapting to one or more of these changes. Fear, dominance challenges, possessive displays, and playful behaviors could  result in aggression. Anxiety or fear could lead to anorexia, compulsive disorders (e.g. flank sucking, acral lick dermatitis), or destructiveness (e.g. house-soiling, marking, chewing, digging). Remember, regardless of how your pet may respond, a dog and a young child should never be left alone unsupervised.

What can we do to prepare for the new arrival?

Behavior problems (destructiveness, house-soiling, compulsive disorders, increased demands for attention, generalized anxiety) may not develop directly because of the arrival of the child, but rather from the changes in the household associated with the new arrival. With nine months to prepare for a baby’s arrival, the best way to minimize problems and help the pet to cope is to make changes gradually so that they have been completed prior to the arrival of the child. Consider any changes that you may need to make in the pet’s schedule, housing, play, exercise or attention, so that adjustments can begin to be made well before the baby’s arrival. Design a daily routine of social times and alone times that can be practically maintained after the baby arrives (see our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Enrichment, Predictability and Scheduling’). Be certain that the program meets all of the dog’s needs for physical activity, social contact and object play / chew toys. Set up the nursery in advance and if the pet is to be kept out of the room, access should be denied before the child’s arrival. If your intention is to allow your pet to continue to enter the room when supervised, begin to accompany your pet into the nursery so that it can adapt to the new odors and new setup. The dog should be allowed to investigate the baby’s room, blankets, and new furniture, and praised or given a small food treat so that it can develop a positive association with each of these new cues.

“Any existing behavior problems should be resolved before the arrival of your baby.”

For dogs, reviewing or upgrading obedience skills is essential so that you can safely and effectively control your dog in all situations (see our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Learn to Earn and Predictable Rewards’). Obedience training should be reviewed every day, in a variety of locations and circumstances. Practice each command in different rooms of the home, in the yard, while out on walks, and when visitors come to the home. Concentrate on those commands that are presently the least successful, using prompts and rewards to achieve success and then gradually shaping the response so that the pet stays for progressively longer times, comes from greater distances and will heel and follow even when there are distractions. Any existing behavior problems should be resolved before the arrival of your baby. Using a head halter will facilitate control and the learning of these tasks.

Is crate training advisable?

It also might be prudent to teach your pet how to be comfortably confined in a safe, secure and relaxing area. With new children in the home, unexpected visitors and the other disruptions that go with a changing household, it would be beneficial if the dog were able to be in another location without showing distress or anxiety. Start by teaching the dog how to settle on command (see our handout on ‘Training Dogs – Settle and Relaxation Training’) in a comfortable and out of the way location. Once the dog can do this well, try placing a baby gate on the doorway while you are also in the room but occupied doing other things such as watching television or reading. It might help to provide the dog with a stuffed chew toy to make the time more enjoyable. Once the dog can stay with you in the room for a long period of time, try sitting just on the other side of the gate. Finally, slowly move your chair down the hallway so that the dog can learn to remain calm and comfortable as you move away. Be sure to vary the time the dog is confined prior to be released, and only release the dog when it is calm and quiet, never when it barks and whines. The goal is for the dog to learn how to be comfortable in a separate, safe and secure location away from you while you are home. (Also see our handout on ‘Crate Training in Dogs’)

Are there more specific preparations that I can make as the time of arrival approaches?

Some pets might become anxious of, or fearful toward, any of the new and different stimuli associated with the sights, sounds, or odors of the new child. New activities associated with childcare can be practiced in front of pets so that they can become familiar with them. Tape recordings or videos of babies crying (see our handout on ‘Behavior Management Products’), holding a doll wrapped in a blanket, taking your dog for a walk beside a stroller or baby carriage, or even going through the motions of changing a diaper and applying baby powder will simulate some of the experiences to which your pet will soon be exposed. If there is any sign of anxiety associated with any of these situations, then more formal rewardbased training should be practiced and repeated until the pet exhibits no problems in the presence of the stimuli. By providing a favored chew toy, giving a food reward, or providing extra affection during these activities, your pet may actually learn to enjoy these new stimuli.

Once your pet shows no fear or anxiety in some or all of these situations, you may want to enlist the help of some friends or relatives with young children. Dogs can be taken for a walk while the child is rolled in the stroller or carriage. A baby can be carried around the home or nursed in the presence of the dog, and children should be encouraged to play at the opposite end of a room or yard from where the dog is situated. The dog must be well controlled, preferably with a leash and head halter, and given food rewards and/or play to keep the association positive. A wire-meshed or plastic basket muzzle could also be applied to ensure additional safety, especially when being exposed to new situations. By the end of the visit it may even be possible to let the dog interact with the child but only if it remains friendly and shows no fear or anxiety.

Is there anything special I should do for my cat to prepare for the arrival of a child?

“For cats, the most important adaptation is to any changes that will be needed in the cat’s home.”

For cats, the most important adaptation is to any changes that will be needed in the cat’s home. Although fear and anxiety to the sights and sounds of a new baby are possible, adapting to changes in the household are often the most trying for cats. For example, obtaining new furniture, altering the cat’s feeding, sleeping, elimination or play areas, and trying to keep the cat out of certain locations such as the crib, should all be considered before the arrival of the baby. To reduce the chances of the cat marking new furniture, the first few introductions to the new areas should be well supervised. Once your cat has investigated and rubbed against the new furniture, spraying is far less likely. Similarly, when the crib or cradle is first set up, the cat may wish to mark the area, or investigate, or even to sleep in the crib. Booby-trapping areas (see our handout on ‘Undesirable Behavior in Cats’) can teach the cat to stay away from the areas of concern well before the baby arrives; in many situations, synthetic pheromones (Feliway TM) can help keep the cat calm and prevent spraying.

Remember, each of these techniques are intended to help the pet adapt to changes in the household or lifestyle before the arrival of the baby. Once the baby arrives, there will be far less time to deal with the needs of the pet, and there will be additional variables to which your pet will need to adapt. Even if your pet does begin to exhibit fear or anxiety during this pre-arrival training, such anxiety will not be associated with the presence of the child. The cat will have no reason to develop animosity to the new child.

What should be done when the baby arrives?

Progress gradually, avoid any situations that might lead to fear, anxiety or discomfort in the baby’s presence and make all associations and experiences in the baby’s presence positive. Maintain or even increase the amount and type of training, exercise, and play. When necessary use your pre-trained confinement area when you need to concentrate on the baby without interruption.

Even a curious and affectionate pet may have some problems adjusting to the new arrival. Jumping up in greeting when the baby is being carried, barking during the baby’s sleep or nap times, raiding the diaper pail, licking the baby’s face, or cuddling up to sleep against an infant who is still unable to shift position are just a few of the concerns and potential problems that pet owners may need to deal with. Keep your pet’s nails well trimmed. Supervise all interactions between the pet and baby. Keep the pet out of the baby’s room during nap and sleeping times. Ensure that your dog is well controlled and responsive to obedience training commands. For some dogs, leaving a leash attached (preferably to a head collar) is a useful way to ensure additional control.

“Every effort should be made to allow the pet into the room for food, play or affection when the baby is present.”

The most important aspect of retraining is to reward the pet for obedient and relaxed behavior in the presence of the child. In many households there will be less time and energy available for the pet. While focused on the child, or attending to the chores associated with parenthood, the pet may be ignored, disciplined for approaching too close, or confined to a different area of the home. Your pet may still receive its play, exercise, affection, food and attention, but often not until the baby is finally asleep or is under the care of some other family member. Many pets soon learn that the presence of the baby is a time for inattention, confinement, or even punishment, while the absence of the baby is a cue for “good things” to happen. This must be reversed. Every effort should be made to allow the pet into the room for food, play or affection when the baby is present. Feed the pet when the baby is being fed, or have another family member give affection to the pet, play with the pet, or do some reward training (stay, go to your mat) when the child is in the room. Take your dog outdoors for play or a walk when you are taking the child out. The goal is to teach the pet that positives or “good things” are most likely to happen in the presence of the child and to avoid any negative association with the child.

What should be done if aggression arises?

Such behavior is very upsetting, regardless of its reasons. An immediate decision on whether to keep and work with the pet or remove it from the home must be made. Dogs targeting children may be motivated by fear, dominance, possessive, redirected, playful or predatory aggression. Such aggression (particularly predatory and fear) may arise immediately when the child is brought into the home, or may begin as the child becomes more mobile (e.g. fear, predation, possessive, play) or when the child grows a little older and begins to challenge the dog (fear, dominance, possessive, play). Cat aggression toward children can be fear-induced, redirected, territorial, or play/predatory. For most aggression cases, especially those directed toward children, the guidance and advice of a behaviorist is strongly suggested since it will be necessary to make an accurate diagnosis, determine the prognosis (the chances of safe and effective treatment) and guide you through a treatment program. Although some cases may be treated quickly and safely, most cases require extensive precautions to prevent injuries and a great deal of time, effort and commitment. Regardless of reason for aggression, biting dogs should be leashed (attached to the owner) preferably with a head collar, muzzled and closely supervised or crated in the presence of small children. Aggressive cats should be confined away from small children except when they are in a carrier, on a leash and harness, or well supervised and either calm or otherwise occupied with food or toys. For a discussion of specific types of aggression ask for our other handouts.

How can I teach my children to be safe around pets?

Although there are no rules that will guarantee safety, there are important guidelines that can be followed to reduce the chances of problems and the risk of injury. The first rule of thumb is to avoid doing anything to the dog that you might not want your child to do. This would include physical punishment, rough play, or teasing. Children must be taught how to interact with and handle their family pet including how to approach, pat or lift small pets. Wherever possible, play sessions and training should include the children with the supervision of a parent. This can begin from the time the dog is a puppy by attending puppy classes and obedience classes that include all members of the family. If the pet has not previously exhibited possessiveness of food or toys, the adults can practice with the children approaching the dog at its food bowl, patting and giving favored treats, along with teaching the give or drop command for favored treats. It may be best to use a leash and head halter during this training if there is any concern that the dog might resist or become anxious. While your dog may appear to tolerate or even enjoy handling from people of all ages, you must teach your child how to meet, greet and handle animals. The child will be safest if taught to avoid hugging, tugging on the leash, collar or tail and handling around the eyes, ears and muzzle. Even if the dog is familiar it is best to avoid reaching toward the head or faceto-face greetings.

“Children must also be taught that strange pets may not behave in the same way as their family pet.”

Children must also be taught that strange pets may not behave in the same way as their family pet. A simple rule is that the child should NEVER approach another family’s pet without being given permission and then to approach slowly and avoid reaching for the head and face. Children should be taught to avoid pets entirely if they are displaying any signs that might indicate fearfulness (shaking, ears back, tail between legs, crouch, trying to escape) or aggression (growling, showing teeth, barking, hair standing on end). Although most children would be tempted to run away from an aggressive dog, they should be taught to stand still like a tree, with the arms against the body, and avoid eye contact and yelling or screaming. If the child is on the ground they should curl up and cover their head and ears with their arms and fists, and remain still until the dog moves away. Any threatening dog or bite should be immediately reported to an adult.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB © Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.