• Parenting
  • Safety

You can teach your child new tricks for safe pet care

Dad and little girl laying on a bed with their beagle. The little girl is asking the dog to "give paw."

In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:

1. How to introduce my child to a pet?
2. How to instill respect for pets?
3. How to approach other pets?

Pets provide us with unconditional love, companionship and joy. Teaching your child safe ways to meet, interact and care for a pet’s needs can strengthen their bond with animals for a lifetime.


Animals have their own type of needs and sometimes don’t want to interact, says Sandy Redford, Behavior and Enrichment manager for Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League in West Palm Beach. The nonprofit organization advocates for animal welfare, community involvement and education to further the bond between people and animals.

“Always respect the animal’s space and watch their body language. Be sure the animal is giving you its consent to interact,” she says. When animals move away from you, don’t approach.

When introducing a small dog, cat or another animal to the home, ask your child sit quietly and cross-legged on the floor. Let the animal move closer at its own pace. If it’s a larger dog, instruct your child to sit up a bit higher on a bench or chair.


Feeding time is an excellent way to build communication skills between your pet and child as long as you’re supervising, Redford says. Never touch a pet that is eating or drinking.

If a pet is under a bed or in its kennel, never reach under or inside. Respect your pet’s right to privacy. You can, however, entice your pet to come out with tasty treats or toys.

“Our job as pet owners is to acknowledge and respect an animal’s right to communicate with us in a way they know how,” says Elizabeth Harfmann, community outreach manager for Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control.

Redford invites dog owners to register for a free drop-in training class to learn positive reinforcement and proactive training methods.


To teach your child how to touch pets, explain the difference between appropriate and non-appropriate techniques at home and out in public. Instruct them get your permission before asking a pet handler if it’s okay to say hello or offer a treat.

If the handler agrees, guide your child to ask the pet if it’s OK to approach, Redford says. Avoid direct eye contact with the pet and allow it to come to you rather than stick out your hands.

Don’t bend over, stare or smile too broadly, as animals may find this threatening. Also, don’t touch or reach over the pet’s head. Instead, stroke the side of its body closest to you.

Stop engaging if a dog growls or shows its teeth, or if your child looks concerned or scared. Instruct your child to look at the ground, pull their arms to their sides and stand still like a tree.


• Sandy Redford, Behavior and Enrichment manager, Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League
• Elizabeth Harfmann, Community Outreach manager, Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control

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