Playing It Safe


Hi friends! If you’re like me, you love to play! I mean, who doesn’t love to play, right? Today we’re going to talk about whether, or not, we should include our pets in our play time, and if so, what are the best ways to play with them.

When we went to our vet clinic for Bella’s puppy vaccines, our vet Dr. Lacy wanted us to understand very clearly that “Animals are not toys!” At first, when she said that, I thought to myself, “Of course pets aren’t toys—what a silly idea,” but just a day later when I was setting up a tea party for my dolls, my sister and myself, I thought… “Hmmm, I wonder if Bella would like to have tea with us?” The image of Bella sitting at our little table with a bib around her neck and wearing a cute little hat popped into my head, but then I remembered that it wasn’t right to force Bella to take part in our tea party. So I pushed that thought out of my head.

So how should we interact with pets, and what things should we avoid? My mom says that it is pretty much common sense since dogs and other pets are “thinking, feeling, living things” just like us, so if there’s something “we” don’t like, then “our pets” won’t like it either. Also, there are a lot of things people do that animals don’t understand, and this can be scary for them. We need to remember that when dogs (or other animals) are scared, they can bite. I know it is tempting to look at our little puppy or cat and think they would look so cute wearing doll clothes. But my mom explained to me that this type of interaction could be very scary to the animal. She suggested that I pretend one of my stuffed dogs is Bella and include it in my tea party and other play. That was a great idea.

Here is a list of things that I don’t like,
so I know Bella wouldn’t like them either:

• I don’t like people bothering me when I’m trying to sleep, and I get startled when someone pokes or touches me when I’m sleeping.

• I don’t like when someone touches my food or tries to pull something I have away from me like a cookie or a toy.
• I really don’t like when people get right in my face or if they make loud noises right near me.

• I don’t like when kids tease me.

Animals have likes and dislikes just like us, and we need to respect how they feel. Have you ever had someone force you to do something you didn’t want to do? One time my cousin made me hide in the spooky basement during hide and seek, and that made me feel scared and frustrated that I couldn’t hide where I wanted to hide. I don’t ever want to make Bella feel frustrated or scared. I want her to trust me, so we can be best friends.

So what kind of play is okay to do with dogs? With adult supervision and assistance, fetch and hide and seek are great games for kids to play with dogs such as having the adult take the ball from the dog and letting the child throw the ball for the dog. Including the child on the walks with the dog are great, too, as well as helping to teach the dog tricks. All these activities are things dogs understand and enjoy.

Just remember that your dog thinks like a dog and likes “doggie” things. With lots of rules in place and your parents watching over all your interactions with you and your dog, you can form a trusting relationship with your dog.

Summary for parents:

• At younger and younger ages, kids are being taught about the concepts of consent, personal boundaries and saying No to unwanted touch. We need to extend these concepts to our pets. For more information, see the “New York Times” article below.
• Adults need to actively supervise ALL interactions between kids and dogs and limit when and how kids behave around and interact with pets. It is never okay for a child to poke, climb on or pull body parts. That is scary and can also hurt. Your family dog should not be expected to tolerate these things. Also, their likes and dislikes can vary from one day to another.
• Studies show that most bites to kids are from the family dog or another dog the child knows well and occur in contexts where the child is trying to initiate an interaction with the dog or approaching it when it is resting. Making direct eye contact with the dog, innocent as that might seem, can make a dog nervous and provoke aggression.
• We want to make sure our kids are learning kind and appropriate interactions with dogs so that when they encounter dogs elsewhere (i.e. playdate at a friend’s house), they’ll behave safely with the dog.

Note to parents: Use this article and the resources to prompt/support a family discussion on what interactions are appropriate and which are inappropriate between kids and dogs (or pets in general). Each of the “Maddie” columns focuses on a different topic, and each issue builds on the skills learned in past issues to some extent. For access to past issues, visit

If you would like a signed copy of “Bella’s First Checkup” please email Dr. Kohler at You can also buy a copy on Amazon.

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