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SELECTING THE RIGHT PET
FOR YOUR KIDS

Picture of Family Walking Dog The key to creating a true family pet who is gentle, loyal, and loving to both animals and people is to treat the animal as a beloved family member and to provide the training and care he deserves. It's not enough to get a pet for the kids. A pet is not a temporary playmate for children, but a lifelong family member who depends on the entire family, especially adults.

How Old Should My child Be before We get a Pet?
Although many experts recommend a child be at least six years old before a pet is brought into the family, you are the best judge of our child's maturity. At the very least, your child should exhibit self-control and understand (and obey) the word NO. If you think your child is ready for a pet, first introduce her to friends' well-behaved pets so you can observe your child's behavior around them.

Should We Get a Young Animal or an Older One?
Many families with young children choose a kitten or puppy, believing these pets are safer, easier to train, and more adaptable than older, larger pets. But this isn't always true. Because puppies and kittens are fragile, require extra time and care, and are prone to play-related scratching and biting, they may not be appropriate for a household with young children. Adopting a friendly, calm, adult animal who has a known history of getting along with young children may be the best choice for your family.

What Kind of Dog Is Best with Kids?
The truth is, all dogs have the potential to bite, and a dog's breed is only one of many factors that affect temperament and behavior. The best dogs for kids are those who receive proper socialization, humane training, exercise, and attention; who are given adequate food, water, shelter, and veterinary care; who are neutered/spayed; and who are safely confined.

How Should My Child Interact with Pets?
To protect both your child and your pet, it's critical that an adult supervise all pet-child interactions. It's also important to help your child see the world through your pet's eyes. Ask your child how she would feel if someone poked at her eyes or pulled her ears. Help your child understand that:
  • Pets need space and may not always welcome human attention, especially when eating, playing with their toys, or resting.
  • Pets may become upset by too much petting or stimulation. Teach your child to heed warning signs (such as hissing, lip curling, retreating, and growling) that indicate her animal friend wants to be left alone.
  • Tell your child to get permission from an adult before touching another pet. Explain how some pets may feel threatened when stared at, cornered or hugged.
  • Animals in pain may lash out or bite anyone who tries to touch them. Teach your child to leave an injured pet alone and to notify an adult immediately.
  • Teach your child appropriate behaviors around dogs.
  • Dogs contained in yards or cars may try to protect their territory if approached. Teach your child not to tease or get close to them.
  • Dogs may become overly excited and dominant during games such as tug-of-war or wrestling, possibly injuring a child in the process. Instead teach them to play fetch with a ball or Frisbee.


How Can I Help My Pet Feel Safe?
Provide pets with a place of their own where they can retreat from children. Don't put your pets in situations where they feel threatened. Pets live longer, healthier, and safer lives when kept indoors with the family.

How Can My Kid Help Care for a Pet?
Allowing children to help care for a pet teaches responsibility and instills a feeling of competency and accomplishment. Choose tasks appropriate for the age of your child. Caring for a pet is a great way to teach strategies to help children manage their responsibilities. Sit down with them and make a list of all the activities involved in the animal's care. Divide it into daily, weekly and monthly responsibilities. Assign different activities to each family member, taking into account each child's age and level of ability.

How Can I Teach My Kids to Take Good Care of Pets?
The best way to teach your children how to be responsible pet caregivers is to be one yourself. As soon as you bring a pet into your family, set up and enforce rules regarding proper pet care. Teach children how to properly pick up, hold, and pet the animal. These simple lessons are essential to helping kids become responsible caretakers. Ultimately, your children will learn how to treat animals and people by watching how you treat the family pet. They'll study how you feed, pet, and exercise your companion animal. And they'll pay close attention to how you react when a pet scratches the furniture, barks excessively, or soils in the house. Frustrating as these problems are, getting rid of the pet isn't just unfair to the pet and your children, it also sends the wrong message abut commitment, trust, and responsibility. When faced with pet problems, get to the root of the problem. Contact your veterinarian, animal shelter professional, or dog trainer to help you resolve your pet issues so you can keep the whole family together.


HOW OLD SHOULD YOUR CHILD BE?

TODDLERS Whatever animal companion you choose, children under the age of four require almost constant supervision. Toddlers may be safer around an adult dog who is calmer, better trained and past teething. The same would go for cats.

AGES 5 TO 8 The middle childhood years open up more possibilities. Children within this developmental period often enjoy caring for larger rodents, such as guinea pigs, or welcome the opportunity to share an affinity for fish with a parent or older sibling. They can help with the actual cleaning of their pets' cages. With direction and supervision, they may be able to help with grooming and, perhaps later on, some feeding and walking responsibilities.

AGES 9 TO 12 During this period your child's focus will begin to shift from family to friends. Extracurricular activities such as clubs and sports, along with more complicated schoolwork, will compete with your pet for your child's time and attention. Here again, you will be called on to pick up the slack when your child is unable to meet the animal's needs.

TEENAGERS Teenagers are capable of all aspects of pet care and may be able to take on the more sophisticated care requirements of tropical fish and birds. But competition for their time will become even more intense that it was during childhood. Going off to college or living away from home is not far in the future. In fact, there's a very good chance that a cat acquired by a teenage child may eventually play with your grandchildren!
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