Everyday Etiquette: 10 Things to Teach Kids About Pets
By Diane Gottsman


by Diane Gottsman Children tend to watch how their parents, family members and other adults treat animals and follow their lead. And even if you do not own a pet, it is important to talk to your child about respecting animals. There’s little doubt that on occasion they will be around other people’s animals, and if they are not taught how to behave they will not know what is expected. Here’s a look at what to address:

1. Discuss different circumstances in which your child may come into contact with an animal, most likely someone else’s pet. Let her know that for many people, a household pet is an active part of the family and it is important to observe and abide by the “house rules” regarding the pet. If, for example, a friend’s cat is an indoor cat, don’t let the declawed kitty out for some “fresh air” without asking permission first.

2. When bringing a new pet into your home, allow your child to be a part of the caring, feeding and daily upkeep of your new pet. If your child is old enough, let her brush and feed the pet and make sure it has an ample water supply.

3. Rather than screaming or swatting your pet off the furniture or kitchen counter, pick the pet up and move her to another place, setting the example that you would like for your child to follow. If your dog is barking, rather than threatening him with a rolled up paper, go see why he is making the noise. Handle the situation from there, rather than automatically punishing the pet for doing what comes naturally to him when reacting to a situation or stranger.

4. Let your child go with you to the veterinarian’s office for routine visits. Hearing the vet discuss the pet’s health makes your child an active part of the caretaking process. Remind your child that your family pet needs to go to the doctor for shots and routine visits, just like your child does. Explain that it is part of keeping your pet healthy and safe from disease.

5. Stress to your child the importance of staying away from unfamiliar animals. Even if a stray dog or cat appears to be friendly, it may be carrying a disease or may bite if startled.

6. If you witness your child being unkind or too rough with your pet, don’t overlook this as “a stage” or say “Kitty is so good with Sally” and overlook the behavior. Address it and place a consequence on your child’s actions.

7. Go on frequent walks with your child and your dog. Teach your child to respect other people’s property by cleaning up any mess that your dog makes in someone else’s yard.

8. Common sense is not common among young children. What would come naturally to an adult must be taught to young children. Teach your child never to pet a dog through a car window while out running errands. Never enter a neighbor’s yard before checking if there is an animal, friendly or otherwise. Always ask pet owners if it’s OK to pet their dog or cat.

9. When visiting or traveling to someone else’s home, don't assume that when they say “family welcome” they also mean your pooch. As an adult, it is your responsibility to find someone to care for your pet while you are away – board the pet or consider staying home. Children need to learn early that thinking of others is a sign of respect.

10. Explain to your child what a working guide dog does. Tell her that she must never feed, play or disrupt a guide dog because the dog is taking care of his owner and it’s important not to distract the dog from his duty. This could open up a another conversation on the topic of disabilities.

Diane Gottsman is an etiquette and protocol expert who leads programs for children and adults. She is the author of Pearls to Polish: An Etiquette Guide for Today’s Busy Woman.