There is nothing more heartwarming than the sight of children with their family pet. Many of us have fond childhood memories of that special furry family member that forever turned us into pet lovers. The bond forged between furbabies and their family lasts a lifetime and earns them a special place in our hearts.  However wonderful and exciting owning a pet may be, it does not necessarily mean that children and pets get along automatically - they must learn to live together in order to be safe and happy.

Teaching children how to behave and respect pets, dogs especially, can make a world of difference. Negative interactions and misunderstandings can lead to harmful situations for both children and pets. In honor of April 26th, National Kids and Pets Day, we're taking the opportunity to share some tips to ensure a safe and fun environment for the whole family.

Teach Them to Respect Boundaries
Just like humans, pets have boundaries, and just like humans, pets can lash out when those boundaries are not respected. Get to know your pet's personality and boundaries. Know what behaviors bother them and what behaviors produce positive engagement. Knowing that your dog doesn't like having their food touched whilst eating or that your cat doesn't like anyone to sneak up on them is crucial information that can save both children and pets any unpleasantness.

Far too often, people don't think their pet has personality traits that determine their temperament. Those who assume such discover only too late how wrong they are, so it is important to teach your children that pets are living beings and not simply playthings. Teach children early on that animals are not humans, and things like teasing will not be understood the same way. It is vital to teach children that if a family pet is trying to tell them something, it's important to listen.

Help Children Understand How to Communicate with Pets
The best way to avoid a bad situation is to ensure it doesn't happen in the first place. Knowing how animals communicate their discomfort, displeasure, or irritation is crucial in preventing harmful instances before they begin. Know how your pet communicates. Growling and teeth baring aren't always signs of aggression; they could simply mean "Back off".

Make sure your children know what to watch for and what your pet's body language means. If the animal has their ears back and a stiff tail and/or raised hair, make sure your child knows to approach with extreme caution or not at all. Also, let them know what a wagging tail or whining means. You don't want your kids to play inappropriately with other children, and the same goes for interacting with pets.

When in doubt, do not leave children and pets unsupervised.

Show Children How to Interact with Pets
Lead by example, and engage children in positive interaction with pets. Have children be calm, quiet, and still in order to keep from spooking your pet. Let the animal approach them in order to smell them and gain confidence in the interaction. Teach children how to be gentle and patient with pets. Show them the proper way to pet animals. Tugging, pinching, biting, or hugging can be uncomfortable for pets and possibly lead to aggressive, defensive behavior.

Children knowing how to approach pets, whether yours or others, is also important. Remember never to run at an animal you or they don't know. This can lead to defensive behavior. Always ask before approaching a pet that doesn't belong to you. Not all pets are friendly and cuddly; this simple gesture can prevent any unpleasant interactions. Unpleasant interactions lead to fear of pets in children and vice-verse.

Keep in mind that meeting new people and pets can be over-stimulating for some. Keep interactions short at first and gradually extend them overtime. Exercise caution when introducing children and pets by using treats and/or toys as they can cause over-excitement or territorial issues. Supervise all interactions between pets and children. Remember that it's our duty to protect our children and furry family members to ensure safe, fun, positive interactions for all.