First, a shout out to my friend Dianda, over at Cats & Co., for giving me the inspiration for this post.
I think for the most part, this is sound advice, advice that you would think is common sense for most people. Well, we already know that many people are inexplicably devoid of common sense. Aside from that, this post is geared towards children. Children, even small children, are capable of understanding a great many more things than you might think… but… they are still children. They lack sound decision-making skills and impulse control. And in any case, not all children are lucky enough to have responsible adults around them to teach them these sorts of common sense rules about animals.
Not only do studies show that children who grow up in homes with pets are physically healthier (based on the idea that having a pet may result in a stronger immune system,) children that grow up in homes with animals also have tendencies towards more pro-social behavior, such as empathy, responsibility, and compassion.
This all sounds pretty spiffy… as long as your pet is child-friendly. I speak from a semi-unique perspective, in that not only do I have a small child, but as a pre-teen, I suffered a fairly serious injury to my face due to a dog bite.
Admittedly, the bite came as a result of me violating one of the above rules– I put my face too close to the dog’s. However, in my defense, I’m sure I don’t know what would possess a person to give a hundred pound Rottweiler (who has already shown aggressive tendencies) a bath in the midst of a family party is beyond me.
That said, especially in the case of very young children (like mine,) one of the first ways they learn to show affection is through proximity and hugging. We have cats, and
much to their chagrin, J is always trying to “hug” them, and kiss them…and poke them in the eye repeatedly, while saying “Eye. Eye. Eye. Eye.” She is two and a half, and while I give her credit for a great many things, I am not sure she understands that the kitties do not necessarily like this, especially when she is too rough with them. Also, we have a neighbor who has an old pug dog and he lets J do whatever she wants– kiss him, hug him, follow him around… He even seems to enjoy the attention. So I know that she will naturally assume all dogs are like that.
When we are out of the house, and come across “strange” dogs (that is, dogs she doesn’t know,) I try to hold her back and encourage her to ask before she touches, but either she is too young yet to understand this, or she is too young to care.
Basically, I think the above chart has excellent guidelines, but ultimately, it will be the parent’s responsibility to teach a child age appropriate skills and rules for dealing with animals on an individual basis. Each animal really is different, and even “nice” animals have the capacity to bite or otherwise injure someone if the conditions are right. There have been many instances of children injured or killed by a household pet that was assumed to be a safe animal. And until your child is capable of understanding the rules of engagement, it’s up to the parent to be vigilant and responsible so that their child is not injured (and likewise, does not injure) by an animal, even someone’s pet.
Here are some statistics on dog bites.
*please note that the above link is statistical data, and although it offers data on breed specific attacks (ie. “the dreaded pit-bull”,) it does not, in my opinion, offer a context in which to interpret the data