Kids and Pets – Harmony on Both Ends of the Leash

Kids and Pets – Harmony on Both Ends of the Leash

By Jill L. Ferguson

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 65 million dogs and more than 77 million cats currently reside in U.S. households. Many of those same households have or plan on having children. Old wives’ tales tell of babies and cats not mixing (cat’s steal babies’ breaths) and of jealous dogs attacking the new center of attention. While some pets may not be well trained and may attack humans, millions of pets interact peacefully and happily with people of all ages every day.

How can you ensure your household is a place where pets and people live harmoniously? By following these simple suggestions, adapted from an article in Modern Veterinarian Practice titled “Procedures for introducing a baby to a dog”:

First, even before the baby is born, make sure your pet is up on all of its vaccinations and that it is free from internal parasites. Then, begin preparing the animal for change by introducing the pet to the nursery and to baby smells, such as powder, lotion, etc. Animals suffer from stress when changes in their routine occur, so prepare the pet well in advance to get used to the idea of change. Try not to make any changes to where the pet sleeps and eats—places and things about which she or he may feel territorial. If possible, offer to baby-sit for a friend so your pet gets introduced to the concept of “baby” or “toddler.” You can even play a tape of a baby crying to get the cat or dog used to hearing this sound. Some experts even encourage role-playing in front of the pet before the baby is born, such as carrying a blanket-wrapped doll to a changing table and “changing” the doll, all the while speaking to the pet about what you are doing.

After the baby is born, bring his or her blanket or clothing home from the hospital before the baby comes home from the hospital to give the pet time to adjust to the smell. Then when you bring the baby home, spend time with both the baby and the pet together, in a quiet and controlled environment. Allow the pet to sniff the baby, who will be new and exciting for the pet. Depending on the personality of your pet, especially if your pet is an active canine, this may be done better if the animal is leashed. Remember that your pet probably won’t view the baby as a human being yet; some dogs may try to treat the baby as a puppy, using their mouths and paws to show who is dominant. This is why you should never leave the baby and dog together unattended, especially at the beginning of their lives together.

Your pet will get used to the baby rather quickly, but she or he still shouldn’t be left alone with an infant or a toddler, ever. Toddlers tend to use pets as “walking aids”, and some animals may not find this acceptable behavior from the child since it usually puts him or her in the dominant position over the animal. And also, “this will protect your child from an exuberant pet and protect your pet from an enthusiastic child,” according to printed material from the Humane Society of Ottawa-Carleton.

And if your child seems to sneeze or to have sinus problems or eye problems around the pet, it is best to see an allergist. Sometimes the “allergy” is caused by pet dander; other times, it is from a product.

And as your child grows, make sure she or he knows never to tease the pet with food, or to rush a pet head-on, which is threatening to the animal. And if you take a walk with both the child and the dog, do not attach the pet’s leash to baby’s stroller. The dog may take off after something and take the baby with him or her, or if your dog ever gets attacked by another dog while on a walk, the stroller and child might get into the middle of a dangerous situation.

One other idea about how to get your pets and new people to be one happy family: Beyond the basic obedience classes for pets, some areas offer “Four-legged Babies”(sometimes called Pets and Babies) classes, designed for expectant couples who want to help their “dog babies” and/or “cat babies” accept their new human baby siblings. Check with your local community centers or animal shelter for class availability in your specific area.

If you’d like to read more about raising children and pets together, the following books may be of interest to you:

* Child-proofing Your Dog by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson, published by Warner Books in 1994, is a short guide to preparing your older dog to accept an infant.

* Your Baby and Bowser by Stephen Rafe, reprinted and expanded by Alpine Publishing in 2004, is a 101-page guide for teaching your pets and children how to live harmoniously.

* Your Dog and Your Baby—A Practical Guide by Silvia Hartmann-Kent, published by Howln Moon Press in 1998, emphasizes anticipating and preventing problems between children and dogs, including example “action plans”, and how to create trust between the three of you.

Jill L. Ferguson is a writer, editor, public speaker and professor. She frequently writes about family issues. Her novel, Sometimes Art Can’t Save You, was published in October 2005 by In Your Face Ink (

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