Your pet is more than likely a part of your family and for many is like your child. However, this can change drastically when you decide to add an actual child to your family. Whether you and your significant other decide to have children naturally or adopt, ensuring your pet and kids get along is critical.
So, now the big question is what do you do if your dog or cat hates kids? It is your job as a pet owner to do what you can to keep your pet safe, but it is your job as a parent to keep your child safe. It is fairly common for dogs and cats to be wary of kids and this may lead to unwanted behaviors. What you must do is take the steps needed to change these behaviors by addressing these fears and preventing unwanted confrontations.
Since this is a common issue, it is important to remember that you are not alone and that many pet owners have experienced these issues in the past. With proper training and behavioral work, you can help your pet and child create the lifelong bond you have always hoped to see.
Why does your dog or cat hate kids?
If you have noticed aggression or negative behaviors from your pet when children are present, the key reason for this probably comes from fear. The most common reason for hatred or aggression in pets is an underlying fear. Though the reasons for this fear can vary, there are two common reasons many pets fear children:
- Little to no early socialization: If you purchased or adopted your pet at a young age and did not socialize them with children, they may have a fear of these tiny new humans. Many adult dogs do not know what children are and can become frightened from their unfamiliar noises, movements, size, etc. After all, children can be overly stimulating for pets who have only been around adults.
- A negative past experience: You cannot control everything that your pet encounters or has gone through, in fact, you may not even know what happened in their life before joining your family. If a child has harmed your pet in the past, it can lead to negative thoughts and reactions in your dog or cat. For some pets, this could be only one negative experience that has turned them away from children and instilled this fear.
Why is it important for your pet to tolerate kids?
If you have no children of your own and even if you plan to never add them to your family, having a pet that hates children is simply not a great option. Of course, if you do have children, this is something that must change! In order to keep your family and pet safe, overcoming these fears is critical.
Even pets who do not have to interact with children daily need to at least tolerate kids and should not negatively react to children. There is a good chance that at some point in their lifetime, your pet will encounter a child. It is your responsibility to keep your pet calm and avoid confrontations as much as possible.
Steps you can Take to Change These Behaviors
Children are going to be children and animals are going to be animals, which is why your first step is to always be present. Even the calmest of pet should not be trusted alone with your young children as incidents can always happen. Of course, an already wary pet should never be trusted alone with kids.
There are some key steps you can take to help the transition of children into your home, which will vary based on your pet and child’s age. However, the first thing to always remember is that you need to stay present and alert! This is critical when it comes to introducing your wary pet to children.
As mentioned, early socialization is a great way to develop a bond between your pet and children. Of course, this should happen when your pet is a puppy or kitten and socializing with children should begin as soon as they enter your home. This socialization should be as positive and upbeat as possible, while keeping both the pet and child calm.
Of course, if you have had your pet for years, socialization with children may not have been an option in the past. The first time your pet growls, snaps, scratches, hisses, or acts negatively towards your child can be extremely disheartening. However, it is not always true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It is not too late to socialize your pet with children but doing so at a young age is the easiest route.
Provide Your Pet with a Safe Space
One of the best things to do when your pet hates children is to stay proactive. If you have your own children or have kids at your home often, the best thing you can do for your pet is to provide them with a safe, comfortable space. This is best if the location is somewhere that children cannot reach your pet and your dog or cat can go when desired.
Often, even pets who are fearful of children will not lash out if they can escape this fear. While socialization is necessary, providing your pet with a safe space can help them feel more in control of the situation. Remember, the key is to keep everyone in the situation as safe as possible.
Face it, even humans would love a safe space where they can get a break from their kids! For a dog, this can be a crate or dog bed in a quiet, secluded area of the home. For cats, this can be a room with food and a litter box present or even a cat tree that they can climb on for an easy escape.
Establish Rules for Your Pet
It is never a good idea to fight fire with fire, which is why disciplining your pet through physical behaviors is often not desired. Of course, if your pet is lashing out against your child, it is important to remove the pet and / or the child from the situation. This may require some force, especially when dogs are involved.
However, establishing simple rules for your pet can help you avoid any unwanted physical behaviors. You should reward positive interactions between your pet and your child for optimum results.
Establish Rules for Your Children
If you have children in your home daily, it is critical that you also give them a basic guideline of how to treat your pets and all animals. As mentioned, they should never interact with your pet without your supervision or another adult’s supervision. It is also important that they never approach the pet while it is eating, sleeping, or in its previously mentioned safe space.
You should also work with your child to help them learn more about petting your dog or cat correctly and treating them with mutual respect. You should teach them not to carry or pick up any pets, especially those that are fearful of children.
It is important to remember that some items may be a trigger for your pet, like their food, bed, or toys. These are items that your child should not take from your pet as it can lead to unwanted behaviors. If they want to play with the pet with toys, you should be present and in charge of the situation.
How to Train Your Pet?
It is critical that you remember that this can be a lengthy process and not something that you should expect to happen overnight. You want to make your dog or cat desensitize to the children present and essentially more comfortable with them. Start with simple positive reinforcement and work your way into interactions.
Depending on the level of fear that your pet possesses, the time it takes to create a bond between your pet and children can take days, weeks, months, or longer. You should slowly increase the interaction times between your pet and kids. Anytime there is an interaction, you should look for body language signs of negative behaviors or fear.
If you bring children into your home as babies, introducing your pet early on can be very beneficial. As babies tend to be less fear inducing than toddlers or older children.
Introducing Your Pet to Your Baby
Preparing any pet for the birth of a new baby is key, but this becomes even more important if you know your pet is wary of children. The process should begin before you even give birth and may even pair well with quality behavioral treatment from a certified specialist. Some important steps to take are:
- Make changes to their routine – there is a good chance that you will have less time for your pet once you bring home your baby. Create a schedule that should work well with your child’s and establish this weeks before brining in the baby. Unfortunately, this may include lowering playing time with your pet.
- Play baby and children sounds – you can find videos or sound clips of baby’s crying, baby coos, and other children sounds online that you can play in your home to help establish a familiarity with these sounds.
- Let your pet smell your baby’s new items – do not make it a point to keep your pet away from your baby’s room or items. Familiarizing them with these new smells and sights can make them less frightening later on.
- Establish a safety zone before bringing in the child – this safety zone is something you will continue to see as important. Establishing this area early on will help it be known to your pet and known to your child as they grow older.
- After birth, greet your pet before introducing baby – your pet may have to go a couple of days without seeing you, which can lead to excitement. Greet your pet without the baby present first to lower this excitement before introducing your fragile baby.
- Allow time for adjustment – give your pet a few days to get familiar with the baby smells and sights from a distance first. They may be curious but do not push the baby on your dog or cat the first day.
- Make the first interaction safe and positive – after a day or two, it may be time to introduce pet to baby. This should be a positive experience that is as fear free as possible. This may only last a few seconds or minutes but give your pet the chance to sniff the baby, offering plenty of praise
- Continue to give positive attention – never forget your first baby, your pet! Continue to give them plenty of love and attention as you can
- Use baby gates as needed – it is ok to keep your pet away from your baby, especially during times when you cannot be present. For example, you should not allow your pet to sleep in the same room as your sleeping baby and can block them out of the room with your baby until a deeper bond is formed.
When to Consult a Behavioral Specialist?
Many pets may not show fear of your children until the begin crawling, walking, running, etc. This means your pet may be completely fine with your baby but grow a deep fear and aggression with time. Also, if you are brining older children into the home, it can cause this aggression.
In many cases, the best way to keep your pet and children safe is by consulting a behavioral specialist in the area. There are several types of pet specialist out there, such as:
- Certified Professional Dog Trainers or CPDTs
- Applied Animal Behaviorists, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists
- Diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
What are the Differences Between Specialists?
The behavioral specialists in your area will range and it is up to you to learn more about those available. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of working with these specialists in order to get the best results for your pet.
Most pet trainers can be referred to as a variety of titles, like pet psychologists, pet therapists, and behavior counselors. The key problem with this is that they do not need a specific type of training and they may have gained their knowledge through apprenticeships, volunteering, seminars, etc. Some may be trained at a specialized school.
Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDTs)
These individuals make up an independent organization which was created by the APDT. They require more in-depth training; like a number of hours working as a trainer, letters of recommendation, pass standardized tests, and more. These individuals are often more highly educated and trained, which is great for this type of fearful pet.
Applied Animal Behaviorists, CAABs, ACAABs
This is perhaps the most trained individual you can go to for animal behavior and getting proper training. They must have earned an MS, MA, or a PhD in animal behaviors, meaning they are experts in dog and cat behavior. The biggest issue here is that you may not have this highly trained of an individual in your area.
To receive a vet degree, animal behavior is not a huge requirement, but this is an area some seek specialized education in. The key benefit to consulting your vet is that they may be able to prescribe some medications to help deal with anxieties and fears that revolve around children.
Get Private Training from the Specialist You Choose
Since aggression against your child is clearly something you do not want in your home, private lessons can be the quickest way to end these negative behaviors. Most behavioral specialist will come to your home to address the concerns you have noticed with your pet and watch them in person. This is the best way to create a customized plan on how to address these behaviors.
If your pet is not going to be around children daily, but you would like to address their fears, you can also send them to group classes or even a training program. These can help with behavioral issues but may not be as quick or specific as personalized training.
A great source for learning more about behavioral specialists is here
When to Rehome Your Pet
If your pet is not in contact with children daily, their fears or aggressions probably are not a regular problem. However, pet owners who have children in the home or plan to add them to the home may have thought about rehoming their pet. While aggression alone is not necessarily a reason to give up your dog or cat, it is a huge factor.
If you have done several or all of the previously mentioned steps and your pet is still showing signs of aggression against your child, more permanent steps may need to be taken. As a pet owner, you love your dog or cat, but you clearly cannot let them injure your child. This can be even more critical when you have a larger dog, as they can cause irreversible damage to your child should they bite or even worse attack your young toddler or child.
It is important to take responsibility when you know you cannot care for your pet’s fears while also being an amazing parent. You are doing an injustice to your child and your pet for keeping them in a home that is not safe for them to coexist. It is time to pass your pet along to someone who can train them further or who does not have children.
How to Rehome Your Pet
If you decide that rehoming is the best option for your pet and your family, you want to guarantee they go to a safe, happy home. You should always be upfront about the behavioral issues they face and that they either need further behavioral training or to live in a home with no young children. Some ways that you can rehome your pet safely are by:
- Placing your dog or cat with a trusted friend of family member that does not have children
- Advertising your pet for adoption (ensuring you are transparent about these aggressions)
- Returning him or her to the breeder or rescue group you acquired her from
- A last resort would be to take your pet to a local no kill rescue or shelter that can help you find a quality home