Prepping for a pet: With proper preparation, child-animal relationship can thrive

Kids and pets seem a natural fit, but guidance is a must when it comes to the combination.

At the Central Pennsylvania Humane Society, meet-and-greets are held with families looking to adopt a pet so adoption counselors can observe the compatibility between hopeful owners and animals.

“If there’s more than one application on a particular dog, we don’t go by who came first. It’s who is going to make the best family for that particular animal,” said Jill Reigh, the Central Pennsylvania humane society’s director of outreach and marketing.

Veterinarians agree that it is not about getting a certain breed of dog, but how an animal is treated, Donna Harpster, a longtime team leader at the humane society, told Reigh.

“You really don’t specify a breed that’s better for little children or teenagers than another. It really depends on the animal,” Reigh said. “It just depends on what they’ve been taught. If they’ve been raised with the children they know that, ‘Hey, we’re all family, and we take care of each other.’ The kids are taught to care for the dog: you feed him regularly, he always has fresh water, you play with him every day, you walk him, exercise him, show him love.”

Raising a dog well, training and discipline that is given “gently but firmly” are a few of the factors to fostering a successful relationship, Reigh said.

“And a lot of this is very much like what pediatricians will tell you with children; you know, how to raise a good kid. It’s consistent training, consistent discipline,” she said. “You don’t hit them, you don’t hit the dog, but you discipline them and if they do something bad, you tell them no.”

What kind of pet to get depends on an owner’s lifestyle. Crating a puppy throughout the day is hard on the social animal, Reigh said. The whole family needs to be on board with getting a pet too, especially with a puppy because they are a lot of work.

Lessons on how to interact with animals can start before a family even gets a pet of their own.

Teach a child to ask an owner’s permission before reaching out to pet an animal, and don’t approach an animal without an adult present, Reigh said.

Last month in celebration of National Kids and Pets Day, the campaign Pets Add Life from The American Pet Products Association shared a few tips on caring and handling when it comes to kids and pets in a press release.

Adults should “emphasis personal space and permission,” the press release said. “Remind kids to stand at a safe distance and not crowd the animal with their faces or fingers, as new pets can often be scared and timid.”

Teach them to use gentle hands.

“Teaching kids to be gentle is a huge contributor to the relationship they can have with a pet,” it said. “Take the time to demonstrate the proper way to interact with animals, which is calmly (no loud noises) and with non-threatening hands, such as a low, closed fist or open palm for the animal to sniff and become familiar with. Kids should never tug on pets and should avoid their ears, eyes, and mouth when petting and playing.”

Show the animal you don’t mean it any harm, Reigh said.

“Don’t put your face down to their face, but carefully, gently, like you would want to be approached by a stranger,” she said. “If the dog bites, they immediately blame the dog; well, what did you do to make the dog feel like he had to defend himself? So, if people would teach their children how to handle an animal and how to approach an animal then there’d be a lot less problems.”

Adults are able to more easily judge an animals comfort level, the campaign press release said.

“If an animal turns their head, walks away, puts their ears back, cowers, hides their tail between their legs or shows teeth, it’s crucial for children to know that playtime is a no-no,” it said.

Growing up having a pet, kids can learn “an invaluable lesson in compassion, because they see that animal and you teach the kids, ‘Look, this animal is dependent on you to treat him well and take care of him just like you were when you were little depending on us.’ … I did that with my kids and they’re growing up to be very strong yet compassionate people because they understand that there are animals, other people, out there that need their help, and if you treat them nicely, most of them will treat you well,” Reigh said.

Becca Davis of Altoona, who is mom to Blake, 19, Megan, 15 and Donnie, 13, adopted two German shepherd-husky mixes from the society in March.

Her kids, who help care for the dogs, have learned responsibility over the years from having pets, she said.

Davis also grew up with dogs and cats.

“It just teaches you to care and gets the whole family involved in taking care of something and the love you get back from them [is worth it],” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.