Strangling the Dog: Ask Mrs Manners

toddlers hurting pets

Photo by greek4pets

The toddler years are the perfect age to start teaching your kids manners and good habits. And MrsManners aka: Angela Pitre, owner of the CM group Manners for the Modern Family and, is here to help.

Dear MrsManners:

How do I teach

Is it normal for a toddler to strangle house pets? I have a 2 year old daughter and we recently got a Maltese dog. She and the dog seem to be best friends, but occasionally I notice she will take time out of her playing to try to strangle him.

Last night I noticed her squeezing so hard that SHE was shaking! We also have a cat, but I have never noticed her hurting him more than the normal pulling the tail and lifting by the head stuff. I am just wondering if it is normal for her to hurt the dog? -- anonymous


MrsManners says:

Whether you have pets in your home or not, you need to teach your toddler how to interact with them. Kids have nothing but love in their hearts for animals; they also have a natural sense of curiosity. While they are testing their own physical abilities and limitations, a sweet puppy may fall victim to an overzealous hug, possibly being hit, whacked with an object, strangled, etc.

This doesn't make your toddler violent, per say, it just means you need to work with her more on how to behave with your animals. You may have to keep a super close eye on the situation for a while, though.

As for the cat versus dog thing, I think children instinctively know which animals may or may not have a tolerance level for them. Cats emit a "keep your distance" vibe, and a dog is more apt to sit and take it.

So let's talk about how you should work with your toddler:

1.        When it comes to your pets, as soon as possible (if you haven't already started, then start today), use a word like "gentle" every time they approach your pet.  Show them what gentle is, soft petting. Use your hand and theirs at the same time to demonstrate it; you can also add "awww" for positive reinforcement while they are actually treating the animal the right way. We did this in our home and it worked well with our smallest dog to our largest.

2.       Practice treating your animals with respect before letting your toddler approach someone else's pet. You don't know those pets the same way you know your own, and they don't know your toddler, either.

3.       What if you don't have a pet? Well, try practicing with a stuffed animal, using the "gentle" method.

4.       If you come across someone walking their dog and your child really wants to pet the dog, what do you do? First, teach your child to ask permission from the owner before approaching. They will let you know whether or not their dog is child friendly. 

Respect what they say. If you are allowed to approach the dog, teach your child to let the dog sniff your hand (providing them an example), then that of your child's. After the dog has had the opportunity to become familiar with your scents, it will be safer to pet the dog. Again, use the words "gentle" and "awww" to reinforce the lessons you have taught with your own pets or toy ones. 

One last tip would be to buy a book about pets, something that explains to them that pets need to be cared for like My Pet, by Debbie Bailey. Good luck!   


Angie aka MrsManners

Got a question for MrsManners? Ask it here! And check back every Tuesday for her answers.


Past Ask Mrs Manners columns:

Please Don't Interrupt!

10 Signs Your Toddler Is a Brat

Banish the Burp

Should Kids Be Forced to Share Toys?

Winging the Pacifier

Should Parents Say 'Thank You'?

Toddlers Eating Everything

Throwing-Obsessed Toddlers

Are You a Hypocrite?

Pushy Toddlers

Taming the Messy Eater

How to Have Well Behaved Toddlers

My Son Won't Stop Touching Other Moms' Breasts!

Is Shyness Impolite?

Stop Peer Pressure Early

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