There are a lot of great reasons for a child to have a relationship with a companion pet. A child who learns to show compassion for a pet at an early age is likely to be an all-around compassionate adult. Caring for a pet teaches responsibility, how to plan and is good for social development, all important in forming the kind of person a child will grow up to be.

Together, kids and pets make great friends with a special bond. But for them to be companions, you, as the parent, must make sure that kids and pets are safe when they are together. Every year thousands of children are injured or killed by family pets leading to millions of abandoned or surrendered pets sitting in shelters waiting to be adopted. Many times an animal will be put down for biting and nearly always when a death occurs. It’s also the other way around; death or injury of a pet. However, such events can be avoided with clear boundaries and rules for both child and pet.

Do not let your children do whatever they want with or to a pet. Children are still learning right from wrong and will not understand that a pet may not want to be touched, unless you teach them and reinforce safety rules. Keep children and pets happy and safe with some playtime safety tips.


Kids are notoriously playfully rough with pets which can lead to a normally sweet and docile pet snapping at fingers and faces or an excited pet jumping and knocking a child down. For this reason, parents and caretakers should never leave small children alone with pets, not just dogs, no matter how well behaved they appear to be. Any animal has the potential to cause harm whether a dog, cat, rabbit, reptile, or bird, and on the other side, it is not okay to leave pets alone in the clutches of an overly excited child.

Don’t Let Them Get Too Physical

Pets are not playgrounds and therefore should not be played on by children. Do not let children climb all over or ride on the backs of any pet. Any physical attacks by a child on a pet like pinching, punching, kicking, and slapping needs to be corrected immediately. It goes the other way too as you would never permit your dog or cat to bite or scratch your kid.

Teach Safety Rules to Your Child

Enforcing basic rules for kids playing with pets at home is necessary in teaching a child pet safety. It is essential that children be calm by not jumping around and screaming to get an animal’s attention, as this is annoying and stressful to a pet. Pulling at a dog’s or cat’s tail, yanking paws and sneaking up behind pets is going to get a child nipped at. Never allow your kids to corner a pet, let alone cornering and roughly handling them. Doing this will put pets into a defensive mode (growling, biting, hissing, barking) or could make them always want to hide.

Provide Training for Dogs and Other Pets

Even if your dog is already well-behaved, invest in some extra training or dog behavior classes specifically for being around small children. Better yet, find a training program that will involve children in the training process. You can also give your dog a refresher course at home of the simple commands: sit, stay, down, and come. Reward pets with small healthy treats for good play behavior!

Thinking about adopting a new pet? Then this is a great time to teach your children beforehand how to treat and respect pets and to read up on information about how to be a fantastic pet parent.

Image Source: Cathy Stanley-Erickson/Flickr