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About a third of a pet's temperament is inherited from the parents. The other two-thirds is a result of how we interact with and train that animal. Beyond this, we need the ability to read and understand animal body language to tell us when they are excited, agitated or upset. Neutered animals are three times less aggressive than intact animals, and housedogs are less aggressive than backyard dogs.
Puppies and kittens have lots of energy like children, but lack control over the intensity of their actions. They use claws and teeth, much as we use our hands, and interact with us just as they would interact with a littermate. Rough play can increase behavior problems that may be developing and program the pet into believing this same level of rough play will be acceptable when it is grown and stronger. Wrestling and use of hands as toys in young animals can increase aggressive tendencies that will be hard to suppress as the animal ages. In fact, pets are not socially mature until about two years of age, and like children, can make poor choices in judgment and restraint that they would not make as older animals.
Do not correct the animal by swatting them, or by thumping the on the rump. This only causes the pet to react with additional rough play. Similarly, avoid grabbing the pet by the scruff of the neck or jowls and shaking it, swatting it or rolling it over and growling at it. These actions have real dangers of injury to the pet or yourself. Do not mimic actual animal behavior and teach children that physical abuse of animals (and people) is unacceptable. Further, it may only increase the undesirable behavior in the pet as it seeks human interaction, and if no positive interaction is available, then negative interaction is better than no attention.
In addition to temperament and language barriers are physical problems that add to the situation. Any animal with a painful condition such as arthritis, back problems, wounds, dental pain or a variety of other maladies will react to protect itself if it believes a child's actions will create more pain. Also, some seizure disorders can manifest as aggression. Your veterinarian should be involved in trying to determine whether there are medical problems causing behavior issues. Through an annual physical exam many problems can be found and treated earlier to reduce pain in the pet. The veterinarian is also an excellent resource in diagnosing and treating behavioral problems.
To be effective, the principles listed below should be reviewed at home with your child. Animal safety training for children and obedience training for dogs are essential for your pet's life, since many animals are put to death each year due to behavioral problems that were preventable or due to our inability to understand the language of pets. Too many children are needlessly injured each year by animals. Help us keep you child safe.
DO & DON'TS
Do let an animal sniff the back of your hand before touching it