dr kim pet connection

We often hear the phrase that a certain dog breed is “good with kids.” Collies, Labs and golden retrievers are among the breeds that share that reputation. But dogs who are patient, gentle and nonreactive; who are relaxed in the presence of children; and who have forbearance for shrill voices and fast movements have a combination of inborn traits and learned skills — none of which necessarily come with being a member of a particular breed.

It’s a myth that certain dogs are naturally good with kids. Early and frequent socialization to kids and manners training are musts for any dog, no matter the breed or mix. No dog of any breed is guaranteed to always be good with kids, and no dog should have to bear the burden of that phrase.

Why is that, and why do I call it a burden? Let’s talk about what it means, doesn’t mean, and could mean.

Too often, dogs described as “good with kids” are those who will let kids get in their faces, sit on them, pull their tails or ears, or otherwise abuse them without complaint. They don’t growl or bark or snap when kids do those things to them. But that doesn’t make them good with kids; it makes them abused. No dog should have to put up with that kind of behavior. It’s a parent’s job to teach kids proper dog manners and to supervise their interactions with dogs so that nobody gets hurt.

So “good with kids” doesn’t — and shouldn’t — mean “will put up with all kinds of abuse without biting.”

Many dogs are kind and gentle with kids, but have a low tolerance for pain. If a child accidentally stepped on them, they might react with a yelp or nip without meaning to hurt the child. Lots of dogs love kids, but could easily knock small ones over in enthusiastic play. A thwack from a Great Dane’s tail can send a toddler tumbling. A friendly cavalier may shy away from a kid rushing at them. So might a dog who wasn’t raised with kids or doesn’t meet them very often. Old dogs can be cranky from aches and pains. That doesn’t make any of these dogs bad with kids, but it does mean that it’s important to understand a dog’s sensitivities, concerns and pain threshold, and that both dogs and kids need supervision when together.

Being good with kids is also something that a dog may have to grow into. Adolescent Labs, for instance, don’t necessarily realize how big and powerful they are, says Lab lover Linda Rehkopf of Georgia. And looks can be deceiving.

“Kids and some adults too often think ‘cute’ is the same thing as ‘gentle,’ and that is false,” Rehkopf says. But with maturity and good training and supervision, older Labs can be great with kids, she adds.

Training and socialization for dogs and kids should include showing young children how to pet dogs gently; teaching kids to let dogs approach them instead of sticking out a hand for them to sniff; accustoming dogs to sometimes-rough patting (not hitting!); and teaching dogs not to chase kids or nip at their heels, to name just a few. For more tips, see Mikkel Becker’s advice on building a kid-dog relationship here: fearfreehappyhomes.com/kids-and-pets-how-to-develop-that-best-friend-relationship.

The bottom line is that no breed or mix can be trusted with children unsupervised, in any situation, all the time, simply because kids and dogs can be a volatile combination. It’s impossible to know what one or the other might do in any given scenario. Dogs can’t serve as babysitters or nannies — Nana of “Peter Pan” fame notwithstanding — and they shouldn’t be expected to.

Fun ways to exercise cats

Q: How can I get my indoor cat to exercise?

A: Great question, and so important. Kittens are so active that we don’t spend much time worrying about exercise for them, but adult cats like to play, too, especially if we make it part of their daily routine from kittenhood on.

Get your cat moving with a collection of cat toys: wand toys (kitty fishing poles), large peacock feathers that dangle enticingly, balls to chase and bat around, electronic mice that zoom around the room, and even the beam of a flashlight sent up the wall and down the hall. Toss catnip mice for cats to retrieve or stuffed animals that they can bunny-kick.

You’re not always home, but you can provide plenty of play options that don’t require your presence. Cat trees and tunnels are great for kitty cavorting and exploring — as well as the occasional nap or hiding place. Place a cat tree in front of a window so your cat can climb up for a view. If a cat tree won’t fit, attach a kitty ledge to the windowsill so your cat can watch the world go by.

Offer opportunities to “hunt.” Take the amount of food you’d put into your cat’s dish and portion it out onto little plates or bowls and put them around the house so he’ll have to go looking for them. Or buy a puzzle toy or two that you can fill with food, and then let your cat work to get it out.

If possible, provide a safe outdoor space: a catio. You can build one next to the house that your cat can access from a window, or convert a screened sunroom to a feline jungle gym filled with climbing areas and safe plants. — Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

Don’t overlook senior adoptees

• November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, and Best Friends Animal Society shares some of the many reasons to adopt dogs and cats with some gray hairs. Active seniors still love to go for walks, and couch potato seniors will be happy to snuggle with those who prefer a more sedentary lifestyle. Most senior pets in shelters were once in a home, so they have great manners and can adapt quickly to a new routine. They may already be familiar with kids, be housetrained or have other skills. Mature pets are past the destructive phase, and are more interested in lying in the sun or playing gently with toys than gnawing or clawing furnishings. If you’re not sure you’re ready to commit, ask about fostering. That can help you decide if a certain pet is right for you — and vice versa. Bonus: Through the end of the year, Embrace Pet Insurance is covering the adoption fees of cats and dogs adopted through Best Friends Lifesaving Centers and programs throughout the country, as well as all animals at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.

— Did you hear? A paper published last month in the journal Nature Communications found that certain reptiles and amphibians thought to be nonvocal did, in fact, make sounds. The 53 species in the report included representatives from four major biological groups: turtles; lungfish; tuatara, which are lizardlike reptiles from small islands off New Zealand; and caecilian, which are wormlike burrowing amphibians. (Read the full paper at nature.com/articles/s41467-022-33741-8.)

— Medieval forerunners to veterinarians employed not only potions and poultices but also charms and rituals, according to an article in Smithsonian Magazine (smithsonianmag.com/history/the-veterinary-magic-of-the-middle-ages-180981040). Animals were an important part of medieval life, and scholars are studying the ways people worked to heal them. It seems their efforts included elements of science, magic and religion. — Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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