Pets and children are often inseparable. Unfortunately, children sometimes don’t interact with their pets in safe ways, which can cause pets to bite or scratch. Children, especially those under 10 years old, are the most common dog-bite victims and are more likely to be severely injured. According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, more than half of dog bites occur in the home by a dog familiar to the child. Any dog may bite if startled, injured, or scared, so dogs must be trained how to behave around children, and children must be taught from an early age how to behave around dogs. Games that are safe for the whole family are a good way to learn.
Dogs are wonderful companions, but they can be unpredictable, since we don’t always pick up on their behavior cues. Teaching children how to behave correctly around dogs, and to respect them and their boundaries, is vital. Play the following games that are not only fun for your child and pet, but can also be learning experiences:
- Hide and seek — Have your pet stay in one room while your child runs and hides, then call for your dog. If she has trouble finding your child, use a squeaky toy or a trail of treats to point her in the right direction.
- Obstacle course — Create an obstacle course through your furniture using soft pillows or blankets for your child and pet to jump over and towers of books or stuffed animals to weave around. Agility classes are also a fun, energetic activity that can engage and bond the whole family, including the dog.
- Find the treat — Encourage your child to devise treat puzzles for your pet, or to find simple hiding places.
- Place small treats in muffin tins and cover the tins with tennis balls for your dog to nudge away and get to the treats.
- Fill cardboard tubes with treats, crimping the ends shut and cutting small holes so the treats will fall out when the dog finds the tube.
- Hide treats in places that are not easy for your dog to find. You can also hide treats for your child and see who finds their treats first, but ensure your pet cannot reach the human treats.
Tug of war is another popular game that can be a great energy outlet for dogs and children, but your dog must know the command to drop the rope or toy. Also, many dogs become overly excited with this intense style of play and may play too rough and harm your child, or grab the toy too close and accidentally nip your child’s hand.
No matter how well your child and dog seem to get along, never leave young children alone with pets, and always supervise their play to ensure proper behavior. Set the foundation for safe fun by understanding a dog’s limits and warning signals—wrinkled lips, furrowed brows, tucked tails, overexcitement—and take a break when needed.
Finding ways to play with your cat may be more difficult, especially when she seems to prefer snoozing in sunbeams, but the following fun games may entice her to interact:
- Shadow puppets — Use a bright flashlight on a wall and dangle a toy or string in front to form a shadow. Your cat will have fun pouncing, and your child will enjoy creating the shadow puppets and learning which ones pique your cat’s interest the most. Give your cat a physical toy, such as a mouse or feather wand, before the game is over so she does not get frustrated with never catching her prey.
- Ping-pong — Toss a few ping-pong balls into an empty bathtub or have your child throw her now-empty plastic Easter eggs into the tub, and your cat will come running to bat the balls around. Also, rolling a ping-pong ball down a long, uncarpeted hallway will likely lure your cat into chasing the bouncing ball.
Teach your children and your pets to play safe games together to help ensure no harm comes to their relationship. When your dog is ready to attend her first agility or flyball class, she must be current on her required vaccinations and have a clean bill of health to perform the intense physical activities, so schedule an appointment at our clinic.