My friend Linda recently told me that she has some concerns about how her son is treating their cat. She said that her son locks the cat in cabinets, and plays too roughly with it. I told her that most cats will tolerate some roughhousing, and then when enough is enough will fight back. I suggested that she continue to put a stop to any mean behavior she sees, and keep telling her son that he must always be kind to animals. I also told her to watch and see how the relationship changes when the cat decides she’s had enough, and her son comes crying with a bite or a scratch. At that point things can go two ways, her son learns to treat the cat with kindness and respect, or he punishes the cat further, and if the latter happens, she should be very concerned.
It made me wonder though, when should a parent be concerned that their child has crossed the line between being rough with a pet, and being intentionally cruel. If your dog or cat is ok with roughhousing, or being dressed up like a doll, you don’t need to worry. You should always discuss how your child may be making your pet feel so that he learns compassion, and learns when to back off and give your pet a break. Your pet is also very capable of putting a stop to harassment, though in the case of a dog, this could be dangerous. Most dogs are incredibly tolerant of their human companion’s behavior, but if they feel frightened, their reaction can turn violent.
It is important that you put a stop to cruel behavior immediately. Children don’t usually grow out of this kind of behavior, and the natural progression is that they move on to human victims. Always set a good example in how you interact with pets to teach children to be compassionate and responsible pet guardians.
Watch For Signs
Signs that your child needs intervention to correct cruel behavior before it escalates:
If your child won’t release a pet that is struggling to escape or continues to chase it when it is obviously running away in fear.
If your child becomes more and more secretive about his cruel behavior after being told to stop.
Putting the pet in dangerous situations to terrify it, like dangling it out a window or over a balcony, locking it in a washing machine or dryer - even without turning it on, leading it out to the street.
Restraining the pet in any way, like locking the pet in a closet or cabinet to hear it cry in distress. Tying it up near something that scares it like fire. Binding it’s tail or paws tightly with rubber bands or string.
If your child appears to enjoy watching a pet in pain or frightened.
Obvious signs like cutting or burning a pet.
If discussing the problem with your child isn’t working, the next step is getting some professional counselling. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about getting a referral to a counsellor or psychologist. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed about getting help for your child, it is absolutely imperative that you put a stop to this kind of behavior to prevent it from doing permanent psychological damage to your child.
Danielle Nottingham is a veterinary technician and writer at DogTrainingCollars.com who often writes about bad pet habits, or bad pet-owner habits, and ways to correct them.