Your toddler and other people’s pets
For many toddlers and adults alike, there’s a special joy that comes from seeing an animal. It’s partly because of the surprise (“Wow, I wasn’t expecting to see a corgi today!”) and partly because pets are usually pretty darn cute. When Baby does see an animal – either at a friend’s house or out and about – and she isn&;t used to interacting with this pet in particular, there are a few things you can remind her to do to make sure the encounter is positive for everyone involved.
Remember to ask first
Pets that Baby knows might be totally friendly, but not all animals are. Before Baby reaches out a hand to stroke a dog or pick up a cat, make sure that she asks the animal’s owner first if it’s okay. The animal might be jumpy, antisocial, or even aggressive – there’s not always a way to tell just by looking. Some animals just get spooked by young children because of their size – it’s nothing personal against your little one!
The animal’s owner can let you know whether their dog (or cat, bird, hamster, etc.) enjoys being pet by new people and if there’s anything Baby should know before petting them. Maybe they especially love being scratched behind their ears or just had flea medicine applied to their fur. It’s always best to ask!
If you have an animal in your home, Baby probably knows exactly how to play with it and what it likes to do. Maybe she knows that your dog loves to be pushed over so it can jump back up or that your cat adores being picked up and snuggled. It’s great that Baby has that knowledge, but it won’t necessarily apply to all other pets, even if they’re the same kind of animal. (And it’s especially true when you meet a different kind of animal – don’t let Baby try to give a cat any belly rubs.) It’s important to be gentle and careful with any new furry (or even scaley) friends, even if Baby is an expert with other animals.
How to spot a working animal
There are some pets that aren’t really pets – they’re workers with jobs and uniforms and everything! When you get the opportunity, try to teach Baby how to spot a working animal so she knows that, unfortunately, there are some animals you just can’t pet. Dogs wearing vests or jackets are likely to be service dogs, police dogs, or even TSA dogs if they’re super fancy. Explain to Baby that these dogs, whose vests likely say DO NOT PET on the side, need to focus on really important jobs and can’t be distracted with pets, hugs, or kisses. But if Baby has any extra energy from not petting those animals, she can feel free to send that love your way – you’re not on the job!
Meeting other people’s pets is a great learning opportunity for Baby. She gets to see how different animals react to different kinds of (always nice!) touch and maybe even meet cool, exotic pets like lizards or chinchillas. As long as you and Baby take your cues from the pet’s owner, you’ll be totally good to go. Unless, of course, this new experience leads you to learn about a new allergy, in which case you’ll be good to go visit your healthcare provider and learn about allergy medication. Isn’t meeting new friends fun?