I read an article the other day about the “Top 7 Good Habits of Great Veterinary Clients”, which listed, among the others, “The last thing an upset animal patient needs is a rambunctious or ill-mannered child in the mix. There are also safety concerns when small lively kids are roaming around a veterinary hospital or exam room.”
While it specifically states “rambunctious or ill-mannered”, I recognize that it is not always possible to leave the children behind when it’s time to take Fido to the vet. For me, since I work evenings and have my daughter with me during the day, I often have little choice but to take her with me to routine vet appointments unless I have family available to help out. That said, I do understand the sentiment.
In training classes, I encourage people to bring their well-mannered children, and many of my students do bring them. I even wrote an article about this for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers’ Chronicle of the Dog some years ago, which was re-published in the book, The Dog Trainer’s Resource. When children are well-behaved, they can be an asset to a class, as they provide just enough additional distraction to help the dogs to learn to deal with them. On the other hand, when they are overly rambunctious or out of control, they can pose a danger to themselves as well as to the dogs.
So, what should a well-behaved child do in a vet office or training class, or other dog-centric venue?
- The child should absolutely NOT run around the dogs! Sometimes a young child will suddenly realize that he wants to be there and not here, and will run off. As a parent, you should be aware of this possibility and head it off quickly.
- The child should NEVER approach dogs other than his or her own! Regardless of the dog’s temperament, a classroom, or especially a veterinary office, can be a stressful place, and a dog’s reaction may not be what he would typically do.
- The child should be, for the most part, QUIET. This means no screaming or loud yelling. I realize that many children do not quite have the concept of the “indoor voice”, but at the very least, discourage loud screaming or squealing.
If you don’t have an option but to bring a young child with you to a training class or veterinary office, consider bringing quiet toys to entertain the child and keep him hushed. Books, coloring books, blocks, puzzles, Legos, or even a tablet computer with a nice game and the sound turned down, could go a long way to avoid troubles with a young child in such a setting.
When you are able to focus on your child, you could take advantage of the great learning opportunities: explaining what the various dogs are doing, what types of dogs they are (OK, maybe this one is just a dog trainer’s custom) and emphasizing why they shouldn’t try to pet them. In the habit of turning everything into a learning exercise, I engage in counting games with my toddler, ask about big and small, color identification, and remind her not to approach any animal without first checking in with me, and then asking the owner.
In the end, it is not just about polite manners and keeping the stress levels down for all of the pets in the vet office or training class, but also about safety for everyone involved. By remaining vigilant and teaching our children good pet manners, we can help our children to be welcomed in more dog-centric venues.