Adding a new pet to your household is an exciting time. Ideally, you choose the perfect fluffy addition, bring her home, and she completes your family. But, the reality is that teaching your new pet and kids to live together peacefully may take some work. A new puppy who is learning to navigate the world may be hesitant around boisterous kids, and an adult dog who is not used to being around children may be nervous. Start planning before you bring your new pet home, and use these seven tips to successfully introduce her to your family.
#1: Choose your new pet carefully
Although adopting the first fluff ball who tugs at your heartstrings may be tempting, spend time choosing a pet who will be a good family fit. If you are often home, and have time to devote to potty training, walks, and obedience, a new dog may be the perfect pet. Choose a family friendly breed known for tolerating kids’ antics, such as a Labrador retriever, golden retriever, or beagle. If you have young children who may have trouble understanding that a new pet needs personal space, stay away from anxious breeds, such as dachshunds, Siberian huskies, and weimaraners. Although these breeds can make great pets, they do better in households with older children.
If you are constantly on the go with soccer practice, swim lessons, and baseball games, a cat may be a better choice for your family. Although most new kittens love attention, they require much less training time, and can be left alone for longer periods, since they don’t need to be let outside every few hours.
#2: Teach your kids to read your new pet’s body language
Your new pet can’t tell you when she has had enough, but her body language will communicate her anxiety. Teach your kids to recognize your pet’s warning signs, to stave off a potential disaster. Stressed dogs display signs such as:
- Lip licking
- Tense body
- Furrowed brow
- Flattened ears
- Tight mouth
- Whale eyes (i.e., the dog showing the whites of her eyes when she turns her head away, but keeping her eyes on the threat)
Your cat may communicate that she is running out of patience with these signs:
- Tail twitching
- Ear twitching
- Flattened ears
- Wide eyes with dilated pupils
Teach children to watch for indications your new pet needs time alone, and to give her some space for a while.
#3: Create a safe zone for your pet
Your pet needs a place to get away when she is feeling overwhelmed. Create a safe haven in a quiet back room where she can escape to relax. Ideally, place your dog’s crate in this area, so she forms positive associations with her crate, and will naturally go there when she needs a break. Leave the crate door open, and place a cozy bed and her favorite toys inside. Ensure your pet has access at all times, and let your kids know they should not bother her when she is in her safe zone.
Cats often feel most secure when they are elevated above the household hubbub, and can watch from afar. Place a cat tree or perch in a quiet room, where your cat can escape and observe your family from a safe distance.
#4: Place food and water out of the way
People most commonly put their pet’s food and water bowls in the kitchen, which isn’t the most pet-friendly location. Like their safe zone, pets like to eat in a quiet location, where little hands are not reaching for their food. Place your pet’s food and water away from the household chaos, or close off the kitchen to kids during your pet’s meal times. Teach kids they should never put their hands near your pet’s food bowl while she is eating, to prevent an accidental bite.
#5: Supervise play time
Although kids over age 4 can eventually be left alone with your pet when you deem it safe, early interactions should be closely supervised. You may have chosen a family friendly dog breed, but every animal has its own personality, and you don’t know how your pet will react to a toddler who is pulling her tail, or falling on her. The most mild-mannered pets have a tipping point, when they can no longer tolerate children poking their eyes or yanking on their ears, so if you cannot closely supervise your kids and pets together, consider gating your pet in another room where she can be nearby, but cannot directly contact your children.
#6: Teach your kids proper pet handling
During supervised play sessions, teach your children how to gently handle and play with your pet. They should pet your dog or cat on her back with long, gentle strokes, staying away from her head and face. Many pets become anxious around fast-moving kids, so teach your children to walk calmly near your pet, and to speak quietly, to alert her to their presence. Warn kids not to pull on your pet’s tail, ears, or fur, explaining that this will hurt, the same way having their hair pulled would hurt.
#7: Socialize your pet
A well-socialized pet will be more confident, less nervous, and more tolerant of your kids’ loud noises and quick movements. Introduce your pet to as many new people, animals, sounds, smells, and surfaces as you can, to help her understand that new experiences are not scary. A puppy or kitten’s prime socialization period is between 3 and 14 weeks of age, but socialization is a life-long experience, and older pets can also benefit from new experiences. Ensure your pet has diverse experiences, and reward her often, to help her form positive associations with novel people, animals, and environments. Don’t push your pet if she is anxious, and let her move at her own comfortable pace.
Planning ahead and carefully monitoring your kids’ and pet’s interactions will help ensure your family is set up up for long-term success. Contact us if you need guidance planning for your new pet, or to schedule her first wellness exam with Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center.