Talking To Your Kids About Stranger's PetsSerge Bielanko
So, we’re down at the Jersey shore this week, my three year old daughter, Violet and I.
And like a lot of other kids, Violet is a sweet little girl who really digs animals; we have two black labs who she is always hugging on and tugging on their ears and putting plastic dinosaurs on their rumps. They are the soul of patience with her, familiar with her antics and totally wiling to put up with them in exchange for the love she gives them in spades.
But down here at the beach, I’ve suddenly figured out that Violet thinks she can be that sort of friendly to all the dogs in the entire world.
Listen, I admire her unabashed style to a point, and I certainly am in awe of her total and complete affection for every pup she meets out there in the world. But truth be told, I didn’t expect her to be so forthcoming with choker-chain wearing pit bulls and rottweilers the size of Volkswagens as she is with every Paris Hilton purse pooch who comes strolling down the way.I suppose she just hasn’t been exposed to many other dogs besides her own.
And I suppose I should have realized that.
So, the other day a nice gent was walking his fuzzball by us on the boardwalk and Violet notices the puppy and shrieks with glee. The fellow comes over our way and tells us the pup is friendly and is about to tell Violet that she can pet him when I look over and she has like a WWF old-school half-headlock on the poor thing!
“Violet!,” I exclaimed. “That’s just a little doggie! You have to be really gentle with him!”
It was pretty embarrassing and even though the owner was really cool about it, I had to look hard at her expression of utter disbelief in what had just happened. In her tiny eyes, I could tell, she thought she was just doing what she always does back home with her dogs. She was giving them a great big squeeze fit for a 100 pound close friend. As I spoke to her, I could tell that maybe my message wasn’t really getting through so good. I chalked it up to a lesson learned, though, and we went on our way.
Then it all happened again. And again. The boardwalk was alive with a car show and people parading their pooches out in the early summer sunshine and each time they’d see the cute little girl with the pigtails getting excited about their animal they’d stop and let her meet it. But each time this happened she tried to give the darn dog an overbearing hug that probably made the owner consider breaking out the pepper spray!
Finally, I’d had enough and I squatted down next to my daughter and had a fairly long chat with her, telling her that we have to be nice to strange dogs, just like we want them to be nice to us, and that we never ever ever give them big hugs until we have known them for a long time.
When we were done having the talk….well, when I was done blabbering, I asked her,” Okay, Violet? Do you understand what daddy is telling you?”
“Okay, daddy!,” she said. “I understand!”
I held her in my arms on the way back to the car though, just to avoid the rush of paws coming our way.
Of course, I’d pretty much forgotten about it all that evening when we had almost the whole beach to ourselves and out of nowhere comes a lady and her spotted pitbull.
“101 Dalmations!,” Violet hollered and the lady was kind enough to oblige us with a visit from ‘Buddy’. Violet went right in for the big squeeze, this time breaking her hugs out so fast that I didn’t even have time for my whole ‘gentle/firm daddy warning’ before she went bananas. Buddy was pretty freaked too, as he should have been, I guess. Imagine if you were walking down the beach and some stranger just came up to you and leaned in with a hug. (Actually, there are many fine ladies I would not mind that from, but you catch my drift!)
Ugh! I don’t want to be afraid of letting her pet other dogs on the street when their owners says it’s okay. But I also damn sure don’t want my own daughter bear-hugging the wrong dog.
So, today I am putting this question out there to you, the people who love pets. What would you do? What do I say?
My approach seemed okay to me, but obviously it isn’t all that effective. Or do I keep hammering home my point to her until she really understands?
Have you had the same talk with your kids?
I’d love know what you said and how you handled this little problem.
You can also find Serge on his personal blog, Thunder Pie.
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