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Ada is just infatuated with our cat, Odie. She thinks he’s the best thing ever. She will try to feed him her snacks or cuddle with him when he’s sleeping. She’s even offered him a pacifier – her most prized possession – and if that’s not love, I don’t know what is (he refused, thank goodness).
Sometimes, though, she’s a little over-eager in her affection. She’ll try to pick him up while she’s hugging him or try to lie on top of him while he’s sleeping. It’s also very hard for her to resist his tail. We hope to always have pets in the house, so we needed to teach Ada the best way to behave with animals.
Of course, you should never leave a toddler or a small child alone with a pet – even one you know well. Kids can scare pets and pets can act out if they feel threatened. I’m no animal behavior – or toddler behavior! – expert, I’m just sharing what has worked for us so far. (And so far, one of the things that has worked is constant supervision!)
Teaching Kindness to Animals
We are always trying to teach Ada how to be loving to the cat. We got this book and she really likes it. It’s part of their “Best Behavior” series and they have other books in a similar format (Hands Are Not for Hitting, Feet Are Not for Kicking, etc.) so I anticipate ordering more should other issues arise. Ada frequently grabs it from her shelf to have us read it to her. She even has hand movements that go along with some of the pages – such as wagging her finger when we read “tails are not for pulling” and holding her hands up palms-out when the book discusses “hands off!” a pet who is scared.
Ada also loves puppies and is generally fearless when she spots one at the park. We got her this book to teach her how to approach dogs (ask the owner for permission, hold out your hand for the dog to sniff, etc). We practice having her hand sniffed and always model the proper behavior when we meet dogs and owners who let us share their pet.
To further the lessons from Tails Are Not for Pulling, we try to be consistent in our terminology. The book teaches “hands off!” so that’s what we say when Ada gets too close to Odie or looks like she’s contemplating grabbing his tail. She responds with her palms-out gesture because she knows that phrase from the book and she knows what we mean when we say it.
Should Ada pick Odie up or otherwise play too rough, we remind her that we love Odie and we want him to feel safe in our home and be our friend. We remind her to use “good pets” when she’s touching him. The concept of “good pets” has also helped when we meet new dog friends at the park.
(Again, supervision always! I’m always modelling good behavior regarding other people’s pets – chiefly that you never, ever pet them without permission.)
Playing with the Cat
Ada loves throwing balls. Odie loves chasing balls. This was a perfect opportunity to teach them to play together. We got Odie these crinkly balls and showed Ada how to throw them for him. When Odie jumps up to swat one of the balls out of the air, Ada cracks up. She thinks that cat is hilarious – like he’s performing just for her. These little toys that they can both play with are working out well.
It’s not perfect, of course. Ada can get frustrated when Odie is done playing or won’t jump up or run the way she wants him to. Sometimes she will just hold on to the balls and not throw them. It’s a work in progress, but for now, I love that we are fostering a safe way for them to enjoy one another’s company.
Kid-Free Space for the Cat
Odie has two places he can go when he’s done hanging out with his toddler roommate. One is on top of a credenza in the living room (though as she grows, Ada will soon be able to reach him there!), and the other, main space is the master bedroom. We have a baby gate set up to keep Ada out of that room so when Odie’s there, he knows he’s solo. He has extra food, water, and a litter box in there, so he can have as much me-time as he wants (which, typically, isn’t much as that cat loves being with his family).
As with all things toddler and young child, this is an ever-changing and growing process. I’ve already got a more “preschool-age appropriate” book on playing with cats on deck!
If you have any tips on kids living with pets, please share!