We have noticed that there are many photos floating around the internet of children mistakenly abusing animals. As parents, it is important for us to teach our children how to teach animals as it is for animals to learn how to treat children.
It is possible for both to live in a beautiful co-existence. We have a two part series about “Teaching Your Child to be Kind To Animals.” We decided to ask our friend, Katie O’Connor, Vet student and volunteer at the Muskingham Dog Pound in Ohio to give our global readership some tips and insight on having a pet in your family peacefully.

Are parents putting their children and the animal at risk?

  • It’s very important to never leave your child alone with the family dog. Most children cannot pick up the dogs signals showing that it is uncomfortable. You cannot assume a dog likes the same things us humans do. A big thing that kids like to do is hug the dog. Research shows that dogs hate hugs. Learning to interpret dog body language is key. Things to look for is licking of the lips, yawning, turning the head away, walking away, and whale-eye (when the whites of the eyes are visible). Learning when your dog is uncomfortable and giving him space can keep both the child and the animal safe. While some dogs are very tolerant of things, any dog can bite when left in an uncomfortable situation. Remember, dogs can’t talk.

We train our pets to interact with our children but should we be training our children to interact with other animals?

  • Absolutely. Parents often view their children’s action with the dog as cute. They believe that since the dog is tolerating the behavior at the moment that he will not snap at another moment. Just like humans, dog can tolerate only so much before they react. But unlike humans, dogs can’t speak and act out in a different way. Early signs that the dog is uncomfortable are usually not seen before it is too late. Teaching your child how to interact with animals could help prevent this. Bites can often be prevented by understanding what makes a dog feel uncomfortable and bullied. Leading the dog to bite in response. Many times this causes the dog to be surrendered to a shelter and quarantined and more than likely be euthanised.

You have worked at a Pound in the United States. Why is there such a high return rate of dogs from families?

  • In my experience a lot of adopters don’t give these dogs that have been living in a small kennel with little interaction and no owners for quite a while or never, the time they need to adjust to their new surroundings. Imagine wandering the streets lost then having unknown people trying to capture you then bringing you to a place that smells, is unfamiliar and so many other dogs barking around you. You’re confused and stressed. You sit behind a cage door with no way out for days or months and sometimes even years. When one day a family notices you and decides to take you home. Now you’re in a whole new place once again with people you barely know. These dogs are beyond stressed. They need to decompress. The first 30 days is going to be the hardest as your dog adjust and decomposes. Usually after that first month your dog is going to start showing it’s personality.
I have also experienced dogs being returned for the craziest reasons. A big one is when someone adopts a puppy then gets mad that the dog gets too big. I’ve seen dogs returned for using the bathroom indoors. On the first day home! The dog barks too much, he chased the cat, the spouse said no, are just a few others. No doubt, you’re shelter dog is going to come with some issues. Give him a chance. Teach him. Give him more than a week to settle in. In all, many adopters expect to adopt the perfect dog with no problems. That’s not going to happen, even if you don’t adopt.

Are there bad dogs?

  • In my opinion it’s not completely how the dog is raised. This can be seen with the dogs that come from dog fighting and become a great and trusting family dog. Every dog has its own personality and likes and dislikes. No matter the breed. A dog isn’t bad if it doesn’t like to be hugged by children. Dogs, especially a dog bred for hunting, isn’t bad for chasing small animals. It isn’t bad if it the dog becomes destructive in times of fear i.e fireworks. This is all in the personality. What is important is to focus on training for overcoming certain issues. Dogs are not robots, they are not perfect. No dog is good and no dog is bad, just like us. Look at dogs as individuals, not breeds.

What are some key rules that parents should teach their children about when interacting with dogs and cats?

  • 1) Be an example. Kids reenact behaviours that they see from others. Interact with your dog the way you want your child to interact.
  • 2) Set rules; don’t pull the dogs tail or ears. Don’t put your face in their face. This can be intimidating to the dog. Don’t hug the dog. It’s been researched that dogs hate hugs. While some dogs like hugs, it’s best to avoid this. Be careful with loud noises. Some dogs are a lot more fearful than others and loud noises can over-stimulate them.
  • 3) Dogs vary in where they like to be petted. Show your child where you dog is comfortable being petted.
  • 4) Know when you dog is not in the mood and limit child interaction with the dog. Teach your child the signs of discomfort in a dog.
  • 5) Ask first, then pet. Never let your child pet a dog they don’t know. Ask the owner first who knows the dogs personality.
  • 6) When the dog is eating, avoid the dog.
  • 7) Let the dog come to you.

Should a young child (under the age of 10) be solely responsible for an animal?

Can you give some tips to young families on how to research a pet to see if it is a good fit for the family and the family is a good fit for the animal?

  • Know that you are ready for a pet. Know if you are financially ready. What is your lifestyle? If you’re an active family it might be good to find a dog that has energy and can join you in your active lifestyle. If you’re family is more laid back avoid a dog that requires daily exercise and activities to keep him stimulated. Think about the physical maintenance of some dogs. Longer hairs dogs usually require regular grooming. Certain breeds require more medical care than others i.e English bulldogs. Dogs with floppy ears are more prone to ear infections. While dogs like Bloodhounds drool a lot. Age is important. Puppies are cute and usually the go to dog to get. Puppies require a lot of care, patience and training. Senior dogs hardly get adopted. While these dogs make great pets they usually require special care as they near the end of their life.

For our audience members who are inspired and want to get involved, what are some avenues in the community that families can get involved to help animals in need?

  • Volunteer at a local shelter/pound. Volunteering opens many doors to getting involved and helping. These dogs rely on volunteers to walk them and keep them active. Volunteers are extremely important in socialising dogs. The wardens cannot always do this. You’ll be apart of the people making a change for these helpless animals. The adoption center I volunteer at depends on its volunteers to interact with these dogs, hold fundraisers, and to network the dogs to get them adopted. One of the best feelings I’ve gotten by volunteering is helping a shy dog huddled in the corner with little hope to be adopted, to a more confident dog that now trusts people to pet her.
  • She went from little hope to being adopted to now living in a home with an amazing family. It makes you feel good to change the life of a dog. Volunteering makes you much happier. Of course there are times when it is hard but seeing the smile on a once terrified, sad dogs face makes it all worth it. I’ve been told many times “I could never do what you do.” I, myself thought this too. How could I go to this place everyday and see these sad faces behind a kennel door? Some that come in from abusive homes. After I started volunteering I said to myself that I could never leave this place.
  • There’s many times I’ve wanted to just stop and not come back, but when you think of those helpless dogs it’s just not possible. You can make a difference in so many lives. You feel needed and wanted, if not by humans then by the dogs. They depend on you.


What is “adopt don’t shop” and why is it so important?

  • Adopt don’t shop is a movement showing the importance of adoption. Millions of dogs are euthanized every year. Dogs are put down simply because the shelter has no more space for animals. When you buy a pet from a pet store you are giving money to those dogs and cat mills. Where they benefit purely out of the money. These dogs are housed in horrible conditions and usually come with extreme health problems. Puppy mills as defined by The Humane Society, “factory-style breeding facilities that put profit above the welfare of the dogs.” Shelter animals need our love and affection. Most of these dogs have been abandoned by their owners or saved from abusive homes. By adopting an animal from a shelter you are saving not just one life but two. That dog and another dog in need that can use that dogs kennel at the shelter.

Remember parents can teach their children to interact with animals.