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Keeping pets and children safe

Parents want their children and pets to enjoy a wonderful and loving relationship, but not every pet will immediately adapt to the arrival of a new baby.

Many people mistakenly believe that pets will think the same way that we do. They don’t!


Research shows that 7 out of 10 dog attacks on children aged 0 to 4 which require hospital treatment, happen at home or at the home of family or friends by a dog they know. While this news can be a surprise to pet owners, it demonstrates the importance for parents to have a basic understanding of dog and cat behaviour to reduce the risks for their child.


The We Are Family Program educates expectant parents and parents of young children about the potential risks and providing them with the knowledge, skills, and strategies to ensure that the child /pet relationship is not only a physically and emotionally enriching, but safe as well.

Five things you can do to help to keep children and pets safe and happy


1. Actively supervise or securely separate


All interaction between pets and young children requires active supervision.

This means:

  • You are in close enough proximity to immediately remove the pet or child

  • You are aware of what are high risk behaviours and can intervene before it escalates.

  • You know enough about dog and cat behaviour to recognise when they are showing signs of being uncomfortable or aggressive.

  • You have a plan for separating your child and your pets when you must leave quickly, even when it is only for a few moments


If you are not in the position to actively supervise then you need to securely separate them.

This means:

  • Establishing secure pet free areas indoors and outdoors

  • Provide resting areas that allow your pets to get away from curious children.

  • As your child becomes mobile develop child free zones for your pets.

  • Consider where you place pet items, such as litter trays, food and water bowls, toys and pet bedding. Ideally these should always be in child-free areas.

  • Ensure your pets are comfortable and engaged when separated, so that they are not stressed during their time away from the family.


2. Prepare your pets for the baby’s arrival


You can help to ensure a smooth transition and avoid potential jealousy and resentment by preparing your pets for the changes they’ll experience when the baby arrives.

This includes:

  • Preparing your pets to spend less time with you when your baby arrives

  • Modifying any behaviours that you think may be a risk to your baby such as jumping up

  • Organising a health check at the vet and attending to any grooming needs

  • Familiarise the pets with new sounds and smells they could encounter when the baby arrives


3. Prepare your home environment for the baby’s arrival

  • If you want to establish pet free areas, such as the baby’s nursery or sleeping area, do so as soon as possible. This way your pet will become comfortable with being excluded from these areas before the baby’s arrival.

  • You may decide that a pet will spend more time outside once the baby is born. Ensure that their outdoor space is secure and provides shelter for all weather conditions and enrichment activities to ensure that your pet doesn’t get bored.

  • Car restraints for babies take up considerable room in the car which may affect where your dog usually sits. Consider how you will make sure the dog cannot access the child while you are driving.


4. Make the initial meeting between your baby and pet a positive one

  • Let your pet smell something the baby has worn before bringing baby home. Provide lots of positive reinforcement while the pet is smelling the clothing.

  • The ideal time to make the introduction is when everyone is calm and relaxed, visitors have left, and the dogs have been well exercised but are not over excited.

  • Always bring a dog in on a leash.

  • Allow the pet to approach mum and smell the baby. You may wish to unwrap the baby’s feet so that the pet can smell them.

  • Gently reassure and positively reinforce the pet with praise and stroking.

  • Repeat the process regularly over the first few weeks until the pet’s curiosity factor declines.

  • Never force your pet to meet the baby. If it is not comfortable, stop and try another time.

  • Seek professional advice if your pet continues to show reluctance.


5. Understand dog and cat behaviour


Pets cannot talk but their body language and vocal cues give a good indication as to whether they are relaxed, uncomfortable or not happy in a given situation.


Learn to recognise the warning signs that dogs and cats give when they are feeling anxious or fearful.



Happy / relaxed

  • Body is generally relaxed.

  • Head is held high.

  • The tail wags freely and enthusiastically.

  • Tongue hangs out in a relaxed manner


Nervous / frightened

  • Reduces its size by crouching or rolling over to show its underbelly.

  • Tail may tuck between legs or move from side to side in a lowered position.

  • Ears back or flat on the head.

  • Eyes may appear slightly closed and avoid contact.

  • May extend its tongue in a licking motion


Aggressive / ready to attack

  • Stands on the tips of its paws.

  • Hackles on neck and back standing erect.

  • Tail may wag slowly and stiffly and held high.

  • May snarl with lips pulled back showing teeth.

  • Eyes wide open and staring.

  • Ears will be erect.

  • Growling and snarling




  • Body is generally relaxed.

  • Tail carried high with the tip hanging over the back or relaxed and low.

  • Ears erect.

  • Eyes are wide open or if completely relaxed may appear half closed.

  • Whiskers in neutral position.


Frightened / timid

  • Body low to the ground making itself look small. 

  • Generally, the ears are laid flat on the head.

  • Whiskers are laid back or flattened against the face.

  • Tail may be under the body.



  • Tail erect and fluffed up.

  • Back arched and ears flat to head.

  • Whiskers back and pupils dilated.

  • Hissing.


Aggressive / ready to pounce

  • Tail low and swishing.

  • Straight back with head in line with the body.

  • Ears forward.

  • Whiskers bristling forward.

  • Hissing with mouth open and teeth bared.

  • Claws out.

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