Adding a new dog or cat to your family is an exciting time! Children and their pets can share a special bond, and how you introduce them can go a long way in making sure both feel comfortable and safe. By carefully managing your new pet's first introduction and ongoing interactions with your children, you'll be starting their relationship off on the right paw.
Whether the first meeting is in a shelter, someone else's home, or your home, the goal is to make the experience as calm as possible while creating positive associations for your new pet and your children. It can sometimes be intimidating — or even scary — for a child to meet a new animal for the first time. And it can also be scary for a new pet if a child rushes up to them, pets or touches them enthusiastically, or makes a lot of noise. Make sure you have a plan and that the kids know what to expect, how to act appropriately, and how to calmly greet their new family member. You can even practice as a family to speak quietly and move more slowly before meeting the pet.
Create safe spaces for your pet and teach your children that these spaces are off-limits to them. When your dog or cat heads to their safe place, they should be given some alone time and should not be bothered. Your safe space setup will be somewhat different depending on your home’s layout and whether you have a cat or a dog.
Try these tips for relaxed engagement:
Animals are always communicating with their body language. Children must be taught which signals might mean their new family pet is feeling uncomfortable or needs space.
Here are a few early warning signs that a dog is feeling overwhelmed:
If you're adding a new cat to the family, watch for these early warning signs of stress:
If these more subtle signals are ignored, a dog or cat will often feel the need to escalate their defensive warnings to a growl, air snap, scratch, or even bite. Talk with your children about the importance of watching for these behavioral cues and removing themselves from the situation before your new pet acts out in fear.
Introducing a new pet to an infant or toddler requires close supervision and environmental management to ensure safety. It's best to always have some form of protected contact in these situations. Beyond creating a safe space for your baby and your pet, as discussed above, here are a few more tips for creating a safe introduction:
For a child, there is nothing quite like growing up with a pet. That first meeting and those first few days together are important to set the stage for their relationship moving forward. That might seem like a lot of pressure as a parent, but don't worry. Following these simple guidelines will get things going smoothly and help you enjoy every minute watching your new dog or cat bond with your child.