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Teaching kids pet etiquette

Kids love pets, however just as kids’ personalities differ, so do pets’ personalities. Some are friendly and some are not. While we hope that the pets we meet when out and about (or in a friend’s home) are friendly, that’s not always the case. Before a bad experience comes to pass, teach your child some basic rules about interacting with unfamiliar animals — when and how to approach them, when to stay away and how to interact. It’s all about respect and caution.

Child being introduced to dog

Ask permission

Your child (and you) should ask permission to interact with any pet before reaching out to touch or interact with it. “May I please meet your animal?” shows respect for the animal’s owner and for the animal. Most of the time, the owner will say “Yes,” but sometimes the answer is “No.” If the animal is a service dog, for example, the interaction may interfere with the dog’s very important job. If the owner is working on some training, she may prefer not to have the distraction.

Teach your children not to approach a pet if no owner is around. For example, if you regularly see a dog behind a fence on your walks together, but never the owner, respect that fence. Smiling at the dog is OK; approaching it is not.

Ask about likes and dislikes

Once your child has permission to interact with the animal, asking the animal’s name, likes and dislikes can help make the interaction positive. For example, a simple, “Where does she like to be scratched?” gives the owner the opportunity to tell your child that this animal likes scratches behind the ears but not on its back.

Sometimes the animal itself will let you know it doesn’t like something. If the animal gives any such indication, such as growling or barking, back off immediately.

Respect boundaries and time

Keep meetings between your kids and new animal friends short and sweet. This shows respect for the pet and its owner. Consider that they’re probably on their way somewhere, as are you and your child. If the animal seems to be hanging around for a while, just as you are, keeping the visit short is still appropriate. Friendly animal and owner or not, it’s not your pet, and “hogging” the animal’s time isn’t right.

In some instances, the owner might say, after a few good scratches, “I think that’s enough for now.” Your child must respect this request from the owner. And, as with almost everything else in life, saying “Thank you” is important.

Etiquette isn’t just about interacting with people; it includes interacting with animals, too. Learning some basic pet etiquette can make your child’s human-animal interactions positive ones.

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