When babies first begin walking they often spend a lot of time helping themselves stay upright by holding onto the couch, the chair, or other furniture. This is commonly referred to as “cruising”. Clever, and adorable! Unless you’re a pet dog or a cat accustomed to resting and enjoying the lovely comfort of a snooze on said couch, chair or other furniture. Then, it can be annoying or even a bit scary.
When animals negotiate to share – or not share – a favored resting spot they generally do so using polite negotiations that mostly involve questions and answers in the form of body language and maybe an occasional growl (often a peace-keeping vocalization). One animal asks with subtle gestures, “can I join you?” “Approach you?” “May I even think about walking past you?” The animal in the resting spot responds with similar subtle gestures that either say “yes” or “no”. If an animal fails to ask politely – a rowdy puppy not paying attention, for example – the resting animal will respond by either giving up and moving away or making a clear demonstration that this behavior is rude and won’t be accepted. With well socialized dogs or cats, this could be loud growls, barking/hissing, snapping/scratching, charging and chasing or even inhibited biting. Remember, these are normal responses to perceived impolite behavior among well socialized pets.
So what happens when a baby all of a sudden, overnight, starts cruising around a pet’s favorite resting spots? Misunderstandings! Toddlers are at risk for bites and scratches. Pets are at risk of losing their homes.
So what’s to be done to prevent this kind of miscommunication? Here are the top 4 things to prevent this situation from becoming a bad one.
- Never leave your child and your pets alone together. Things happen fast and you need to be there to help
- Always be alert and attentive to both your pet and your child when they are in the same room or space together. It’s not enough to just be nearby, you need to be watching, engaging and ready to intervene before trouble occurs
- Help your pet to be happy about leaving their spot. Practice training your dog or cat to come when called, right away, for yummy treats. Provide alternate resting spots (especially high perches for cats) so they don’t have to lose out on their comfort completely as a result of getting out of your baby’s way.
- If you have a pet that demonstrates anxious, fearful or aggressive guarding behavior around resting spots or other resources, seek out help ahead of time. Problem behaviors can be changed – and preventing toddler/pet conflicts saves heartache for everyone!