By Dr. Becker
The European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF) has launched an initiative to help teach its youngest citizens about responsible pet ownership.
According to the Federation, "Teaching and learning is seen by all modern cultures as the key to the future economic and moral development of the society."
The FEDIAF goes on to note that despite the fact that about 200 million pets live in 70 million homes across Europe, little to no formal curricula exists specifically dedicated to pets – how to deal with them and the benefits of having a pet.
The programs being offered to schools in the European Union were developed by educational experts and are published in English on the FEDIAF website.
There are teaching materials for grade school-aged children titled "Fascinating Cats" and "Fascinating Dogs".
There is also information for younger children (ages 3 to 6) titled "Dogs and young children."
There's also a four-minute video trailer for teachers which explains how the materials were developed and how they can be used to help young children understand how to be responsible pet owners.
Per the FEDIAF, "It is essential that children start learning from an early age how dogs behave, how they express fear or aggression, how they become part of the family and how they obey orders."
This is a 36-page PDF document containing classroom materials to teach grade school children about cats. In a note to teachers, the goal of the material is explained:
Our priority is that school children can learn to handle cats without supervision and with their own sense of responsibility, and with knowledge and understanding of the biology, behaviour and the "language" of cats. Our aim is that, with this acquired knowledge, school children can adjust and orientate their behaviour and communication with cats in appropriate ways, so that they may familiarise themselves with cats as living beings that need to be taken seriously. Knowing how cats behave and express themselves is essential in establishing a "species-appropriate" relationship between humans and all animals. Children describe their subjective experience of such relationships as original, interesting and loving.
The teaching materials include information sheets on topics like:
- Ancestry of the domestic cat
- Cat language
- Biology of the cat
- Stages in a cat's life
- Treating your cat properly
There are worksheets for the kids for each topic, and tests for teachers to give after all the materials have been presented.
You can download the entire "Fascinating Cats" PDF here.
The teaching materials on dogs have a similar stated purpose to those for cats:
The teaching materials in 'Fascinating Dogs' offer an interesting, basic understanding of these popular pets. The information and materials in this booklet provide practical knowledge and appropriate information about dogs, which will help school children aged 8 to 12 to foster an understanding, respect and sensitivity towards the specific dogs and their needs. Our aim is for school children to learn to handle dogs safely, to develop their own sense of responsibility, along with knowledge and understanding of the biology, behaviour and 'language' of dogs.
This resource will help school children see how they can modify their behaviour around dogs so they can interact safely and happily. Understanding a dog's needs and instinctive behaviours is essential in developing a safe and rewarding relationship.
The content includes information on such topics as:
- The wolf pack
- The dog's family
- The dog's human family
- How to behave when you meet a strange dog
- Caring for your dog
Like the cat materials, the dog teaching materials also include student worksheets and tests.
"Dogs and Young Children"
Excerpt from a note to teachers:
Why is it important to teach young children about dogs?
The most common victims of dog bites and attacks are younger children, particularly those between the ages of one and six years. We know that dogs can be confused by the erratic, unpredictable behaviour of younger children (e.g. their fast movements and loud noises). We also know that younger children tend to misunderstand animal behaviour as they usually have not been taught to read a dog's body language. It is also clear that younger children are less able to protect themselves physically.
This material is geared to the 3-to-6 year old group, and starts off with a list and brief description of the '7 essential rules to be a responsible pet owner.'
The list is followed by four main learning subjects:
- Inside the dog's mind
- What if …?
- Dangerous situations
- How to avoid dangerous situations
The approach of the 'What if …?' section is designed to help children see things from a dog's perspective and empathize with different feelings an animal might experience, like hunger, fear, illness or happiness.
Questions for discussion are posed, including, "How would you feel if you couldn't escape from the sunshine and heat?" and "How would you feel if you were insulted or hurt, instead of loved?"
An excerpt from the conclusion of the 'Dogs and young children' teaching materials:
Our relationship with dogs has changed dramatically during the last two decades. Most dog owners consider their pet to be a family member who also has a close relationship with the children. The harmony between them is important for the development of empathy. Caring for and raising an animal helps a child to learn about routine, as well as helping to develop a sense of responsibility, and empathy for others. This experience is also useful for relationships with people and other children.
It is important to emphasize the role of parents, who should supervise all interactions between dogs and children. The early teaching of children, including experience-based education, plays a significant part in this process too.
Every Child Should Learn Responsible Pet Ownership
I love the idea of making responsible pet ownership classes part of the curriculum in elementary schools.
I also really like the 'fascinating' approach the FEDIAF took in creating their teaching materials. I believe helping children understand the nature of dogs and cats as species very different from humans will make them more conscious pet owners.
Pets aren't toys or belongings to be set aside or discarded. And pets also aren't small, strange looking humans. Dogs and cats have long, noble histories and evolutionary reasons for everything they do.
When we learn why the creatures in our care do what they do, and need what they need, it expands our understanding, compassion, and desire to be the best pet guardians we can be.
If you're looking for tools to help your own child become a responsible pet owner, I'd start with your local animal shelter, humane society or SPCA office to see what's available in your area.
And here are a few online resources that you might also find useful:
- Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine Kids Curriculum
- ASPCA Kids
- AVMA Kids Corner
- AKC Children's Education Catalog (for ordering offline educational tools)
And for all you parents out there, please remember: the very best person to teach your child how to take excellent care of a pet is you, and the example you set every day by being a role model of responsible pet ownership.