You can go from war to peace between children and the dog or cat when coexistence becomes complicated, but the ideal is to prevent interaction problems between them from the moment a pet arrives at home. “Children, depending on their age, especially the smallest, and their level of development can be unpredictable, uncontrollable, invasive, noisy and unaware of how to behave with other species. These characteristics can be stressful for dogs and cats on a day-to-day basis,” explains Rosana Álvarez, a veterinarian specializing in behavioral medicine, director of the Etolia veterinary clinic, and a member of the behavioral medicine specialty group (GEMCA) at the Spanish Association of the Spanish Veterinary Association of Small Animal Specialists (AVEPA).
The sign that the coexistence between the two is not proving satisfactory is reflected in the animal’s reaction. “You can show fear, aggressiveness, nervousness or avoidance; He usually remains hidden and relieves himself inside the house. He behaves differently from how he did before the child was born, ”adds Álvarez. On how to avoid it, the veterinarian advises “socializing the animal from the time it is a puppy with children and babies of different ages.” And she makes a nuance: “In the case of dogs, from one month to three months of age, and in cats from two to nine weeks of life.” In any case, the family always has to respect the space of the dog or cat, such as when he sleeps or eats. “You have to get the animal to associate the minor with something positive such as sweets, food, play or caresses. And never scold him in the presence of the child, ”she assures.
The prevention of problems involves knowing the needs of pets: how they behave and communicate to identify interaction problems. “When in doubt, it is best to consult a specialist and not try to apply methods and techniques without really knowing if we are doing it well or not or if it is applicable to our case,” advises the specialist.
When a situation of inappropriate interaction between the child and the dog or cat is maintained over time, this can lead to problems of aggression on the part of the animal with the consequent risk of aggression. “For the pet, it can be a source of stress that, in the long term, ends up leading to physical health problems, such as digestive problems, or behavioral problems, due to their state of chronic stress,” explains Rosario Galtier, a veterinarian and ethologist. The technical director of Ebavet, a veterinary clinic, also mentions several guidelines to prevent and correct problematic behaviors at home:
- Monitor and supervise the relationship of children with animals, even if coexistence is fluid. The complete lack of risk of aggression, such as when the animal is sick or in pain, cannot be guaranteed. It may be the case that he has otitis and reacts aggressively when the child touches him near his ears.
- Enable private areas free of minors for when the animal wants to avoid interaction. In the case of cats, shelves or shelves can be placed in high places where they can easily access and jump to feel independent. As for dogs, shelters can be placed where they can isolate themselves if they need to, such as a small kennel, and teach the child to respect that space.
- Use security fences to enable different independent spaces, such as the rest or play area.
- Educate and teach the little ones so that they do not disturb the animal when it eats or rests.
- Find out before the arrival of a dog or cat at home with an animal behavior specialist. This can be key to knowing how to manage the arrival of the pet, so that a quiet home is achieved.
The dog’s jealousy of the child
Animals do not experience jealousy in the same way as people, but they develop behaviors to capture the attention of their social figure of reference, such as the child’s parents. “Children can easily be perceived as social rivals for the dog, since they constantly attract the attention of the parents, who also tend to play the role of the most valuable social figure for the animal,” says Patricia Darder, a specialized veterinarian. in behavioral medicine from Ethogroup-Institute of Clinical Ethology.
Teaching children from a young age to interact with animals creates a solid foundation for a satisfying interaction between both parties. The goal is to create a relationship based on respect and trust and prevent the animal from perceiving the child as a threat. “Parents should prevent children from handling things that are rough or painful for animals, such as pulling the tail or ears, and show them how they like to be treated, for example, with gentle caresses on insensitive areas and only if the animal is predisposed,” says Darder. In addition, to avoid aggressions such as bites, he advises “constant supervision of the interaction of the animal and the child until the latter is around eight years old, which is when he may be more mature to understand what may bother his dog or cat” .
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