Teach Your Child to Understand Animal Behaviour

By August 6, 2014Blog

As a veterinarian, I deal with animal behaviour on a daily basis as I work to make veterinary visits less stressful for pets and to keep myself and my team safe from harm. I have learned to read the subtle signs that show when an animal is frightened. I have also learned how to handle these pets in a manner which is safe and non-threatening. In my exam room I am also responsible for the family’s safety as I closely watch children interact with their cats and dogs. I believe that by teaching our children these animal communication skills, they can interact more safely and humanely with their pets, strengthening their bond with these important companions.

Teach your child to pay attention to MEET areas to tell how a pet is feeling: The animal’s Mouth, Eyes, Ears and Tail. These areas can help a child to learn and pay attention to the signs of when a pet is uncomfortable or scared.

YawningShowing WhitesHeld BackwardTucked between legs
Licking LipsHalf-closed, sleepyHeld Stiffly or low
Held openLarge pupilsTwitching
Looking away


These are your pet’s early signs of distress. Growling and swatting or snapping are advanced signals most dogs or cats will only resort to if their earlier attempts to communicate distress have been ignored.

Here are some basic DOs and DON’Ts for interacting with pets:

  • Don’t pet cats and dogs on top of the head
  • Do approach pets at their shoulder
  • Don’t corner cats or dogs
  • Don’t wake up or startle a pet
  • Do speak a quiet calm voice
  • Don’t take a food bowl or treat away from a pet
  • Don’t stare into a pet’s eyes
  • Don’t try to restrain an animal so that it cannot move (such as a big hug)
  • Do stand still if a dog jumps on you or greets you inappropriately
  • Don’t approach a dog with a yellow ribbon on its leash (that means it needs space)
  • Do allow pets to come to you, crouch down and wait rather than entering their space
  • Don’t yell at or hit your pet
  • Do always supervise children around pets

We all can learn to understand what our animals are communicating to us and use this information to respond to their needs, respect their space, and prevent their suffering.

Teach your child empathy for animals, have them crawl around on the floor and imagine being picked up by a giant, held upside down, swung roughly in a carrier or pulled around by a leash.

Socialization and obedience classes are great opportunities for the whole family to learn to understand their pet together.

Like all relationships, your child’s bond with their pet requires good communication skills. Keep your family safe by learning animal body language with your child and supervising their interactions.

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