If your toddler is anything like mine, he or she swings, tugs, rolls, and shares everything with our two dogs. He also tries to bury his face into our two cats’ bellies, pick them up by their legs, and pet them on the face. How to tame this wild toddler? A few techniques that we use in our household to keep the animals and toddler happy. I’ve written about bringing a baby home to your pets, here, but a toddler is a whole new ball of wax! He did like his birthday horse back ride, though! (He’s his mother’s son 🙂
1) Designate “safe” pet areas–free from child.
When our Great Dane is on her doggie bed in the corner of the kitchen, J is informed that she is having “private” or “alone” time and is not to be disturbed. Does he heed this? Not always, but he gets the point with the repetition of terms and tone of voice. The cats have ways of making themselves unavailable, but the toughest role falls to our little 20 pound miniature American Eskimo. She constantly trolls the kitchen floor to ensure every last morsel has been licked up, so her being on the move makes for an easier target than the others. She has a doggie bed as well, underneath an overhang that is somewhat protected, and we try to reiterate the “private” or “alone” time phrases when she is there.
2) Normalize the situation.
J is so much more mobile than he was a month ago. Now he walks, runs, sits on stools and steps (and doggie beds), and generally wants to be in everyone’s business. If he is sharing toys with the dogs, or food (a difficult to enforce no-no), in their personal space, one of us will sit with or be close by to ensure no stray paws smack his face or scrape his feet. When he is trying to wrestle a tennis ball from the Great Dane, I either tell him that it is HER ball, or sit with them at her face to prevent growling or biting.
This immersion method of allowing him to interact in their space, but in a controlled manner, appears to appease the dogs and please the child.
3) Talk about pets’ feelings.
J is a little young to understand empathy, but you have to start somewhere. When the dogs are barking to go outside, or the cats are meowing for food, we explain that they are communicating a need or desire. When J refused to give our Dane her rubber throwing toy yesterday, much to her dismay, I gave it to her and explained to him that she had been unhappy without it, and now, look how happy she is with it!
As he grows, I want for him to understand his role as caretaker of our pets, and to have a healthy respect for their personal space and needs. And for now, just to ensure everyone can live in the same house, these techniques and rules have helped keep the chaos to a dim roar.