Teaching kids how to communicate with pets is so important. Understanding animal-talk requires teaching. Dogs and cats make all sorts of different sounds in different situations: Growls, purrs, whimpers etc. And their body language says a lot, too. It’s challenging for young kids to understand exactly what their pet is “telling” them.

Little kids love getting attention from their furry siblings, but a quick grab of a tail that might seem like a fun game to a tiny human, might just be the last straw for your normally very patient pooch. I bet you’ve seen something similar.  

Whether you’re teaching your own kids, or others who interact with your pet often, here’s what to cover when teaching children about pet communication. 

Dogs and cats express themselves differently than humans

It can be frustrating for a little one to understand what a dog or cat is telling them! Not all animals give the same signals. Reviewing common behaviours will help your kids be better prepared around pets.

Go through this list with your child, or with others you teach or interact with. You can even point these behaviours out as you see them happening with your pet.

In dogs:

  • Erect tail - A tail that is held high and wagged slowly means that the dog is assessing a situation.
  • Yawning - Yawning can be a sign that a dog is tired, but it also signals stress.
  • Panting - Dogs pant when they’re hot, but also when they are stressed or excited.
  • Showing teeth - Accompanied by a growl, your dog wants you to back off. 
  • Hiding or cowering - Your dog is scared or anxious, give them some space and try to remove whatever might be scaring them.
  • Ears flat back - Dogs ears can give a lot away, they might move them to work out where a sound came from, but if they put them back and flat to their head, they are most likely fearful or anxious about something. 

In Cats

  • Erect tail – A tall erect tail signifies a confident and happy cat
  • Panting – Just like dogs, cats will pant if too hot stressed or excited
  • Showing teeth – Often accompanied by a hiss, this is a warning to back off. Some cats can also do this if they become overstimulated while you are petting them, also a good idea to back off and let them calm down.
  • Hiding or cowering – Cats often crouch and hide if they feel uncomfortable or scared and generally feel safer when they can hide away, however this could also be a sign of pain or injury, so if this behaviour seems out of the ordinary a visit to the Vet may be required.
  • Excessive meowing – Cats will Meow just for attention, so it’s important to learn the different sounds that your cat makes. A more shrill or ear piercing meow could mean that your cat is unwell or in pain.
  • Ears flat back – A sign that your cat is fearful, defensive or aggressive. Time to back off.

Teach your kids the unique signals their own pet uses 

One of the signals that our Neapolitan Mastiff x is very good at, is telling us when he’s hungry, first he walks over and puts a paw in his metal bowl, if no-one notices he will start pushing the bowl around to make a loud noise. Both our dogs will go and sit by the door when they need the toilet, if they want to go out and play they do a dance running back and forth from the door. I’m sure others dogs do this, but not every pet does.

Kids need to understand the unique or specific gestures your own pet uses, what they mean and what the child should do (or not) if they see it. 

Educate kids in on your own pet’s cues

Everyone in the house should be on the same page when it comes to using verbal cues to ask their pet for certain behaviours. If one person asks for a “down” and another says “no” when your pet jumps up, the animal will certainly be confused. SIT, LOOK, STAND and LEAVE IT are all great commands to get your kids involved with. Commands help kids develop a healthy bond with your dog and is great for communication. 

Explain the rules for pet play

Kids can get confused about pet body language, given their own limited experience with animals. Let them know that a cat hiding under the bed doesn’t want to play Hide-n-Seek. A dog wagging its tail doesn’t want it grabbed, and wagging tails don’t always mean happy dogs. And most pets don’t like being hugged close to your child’s face – even though kids are taught this is a gesture of care with other people.

Make sure your child knows how to play appropriately. Running, screaming, jumping and shouting are no-nos. You want kids to be calm and peaceful. You may even need to outright ban some things such as POKING, PULLING, HUGGING TOO HARD, etc

Learn how to play appropriately.

Every animal is different. My dogs love to play tug-o-war with a rope or chase after a ball, but not all dogs enjoy this. 

Kids will learn how to play with pets by watching you play with them, and by the ways you guide their actions when they play with pets themselves. Make sure kids are closely monitored around animals, especially if they haven’t grown up with dogs around them.

Start slow and supervise. 

Safety is the true priority—both your pet’s and the child’s. A puppy’s bones/joints can be easily damaged by slipping on a tiled floor, and tiny fingers can accidentally be grabbed along with a short rope toy, supervision is key to keeping the balance between fun and safety.

If you’re introducing a new pet to a home with children, be even more vigilant and make sure you are clear about what’s ok and what isn’t.

Pets are perfect playmates for children because they are so receptive to human emotions, once they’ve learned to play safely with each other that bond will be unbreakable. 


With a little caring guidance, your pet will learn to trust, respect and love your child.



Do you have kids and pets in your home? Drop me a line and let me know how you taught them about pet communication!