3 1/2 Yr Agressive with Pets

Updated on January 14, 2009
L.C. asks from Greenwood, MO
10 answers

Hello moms,
I need advice. We have a 5 yr old golden and my brother and sister-in-law have a black lab and two cats and my mother has a black lab. My son who is 3 1/2 is very agressive with all the pets. Agressive I mean playing really rough, pulling tails, hitting their face, pulling their lips, kicking the cats, yelling at them, teasing them with toys etc.

We have talked about how to treat pets, to respect pets and we all mimic respect towards the pets. But my son is just not getting it. I have done time out, slapped his hands, spanked him, taken toys away and so on. He got mad once and kicked my parents dog to where it hurt him. My brothers cat bit him today because he was laughing in her face and teasing her. He loves animals and loves the pets, but is just too rough and mean towards them. He is not scared of them by any means.

I need advice or suggestions on how to handle this. I feel like I have tried everything to get him to settle down with pets. I am worried that this is a bad sign to something more. has any of your preschoolers acted this way before and if so how did you handle it?

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So What Happened?

I wanted to post here to let other moms know how this turned out. As one mom posted, yes I am aware of what kind of people stem from hurting animals. Thank you for your supportive post.

But I took a few days to really instill in my son how to treat and respect animals. He is doing great now. We practiced how to talk to animals, how to touch them, how they have feelings. He is soo much better with the dogs and he calls our golden now "sweetie hearts". If he steps on her or is too rough, he stops to tell her he is sorry and hugs her. They are inseperable now. I think he needed to know that animals are the same as humans and need to be respected. I can even hear him sometimes reminding himself "softer touches, softer touches.....not too much". He told me he just loved her too much so I think he was getting just too exicted with the animals.
So far so good......

Featured Answers



answers from St. Louis on

Being abusive to pets can be a sign of real problems. I don't have any additional suggestions on behavior correction, maybe you'll get some ideas on this site. At some point, please consider professional help.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from St. Louis on

I have a 3 1/2 year old boy who went through the same thing he is still not perfect but doing better. What seemed to help was asking him if he liked to be kicked and then asking him why he was doing it to the dog and then having him go back and treat the animal correctly and reminding him that any dog will eventually bite you if you are not nice.

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answers from St. Louis on

Well L., You have a serious problem on your hands. Unfortunately your son is on a crash course with a BAD incedent with one of these animals, and I hope to GOD you DO NOT punish the animal for doing what comes naturally.You can tell it NO, but remember why it happened. This is considering that all of these pets are already sweet and tame and not mean to begin with. Even I, who have had countless pets in my 43 years have had a few incidents that I know were either my fault or one of my pets reacting...like animals do, because they are ANIMALS...NOT humans. Like the time I was holding my cat up in front of my face singing "meow meow meow meow" to her and she took a swipe that nicked my cornea...and I was in so much pain I cannot tell you. I have also been bitten trying to help injured or scared pets and breaking up fights. IF he hurts a pet--one of them WILL eventually hurt him back. This is a fact of life. We only hope it won't be serious. Your only hope is that whenever he does these things, grab him up, and MEAN BUSINESS! Don't "ask" him to be nice to the poor puppies and kitties. Don't be gentle either. You do NOT have to beat or scream...But I would scare the heck out of him. Make the time outs longer, be firmer, grab him up as soon as the bad behavior is seen..do it 20 times in a row if need be. Does anyone think this is cruel? Sometimes in this life you have to be cruel to be kind. Would you rather your child be scared--not OF the dog or cat, but what happens when he mistreats a dog or cat... or rabbit or hamster or whatever pet comes along. An animal will get the idea that "this kid is gonna hurt me" and be on the defensive all the time and that is a very bad thing. Would you rather your son get a bite in the face that might require plastic surgery?. Of course not. Be strong woman! And make sure that everyone else, dad, Grands and all do the same..consistency is key. If it were me, after the punishment was over I would make him "apologize" to the pet and say I won't hurt you anymore because I love you, or something like that. And give it some lovies. It would be a sad life for kids to grow up without pets, but if you don't get a hold of this now it may have to be that way. He is WELL old enough to be able to learn these things. GOOD LUCK!

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answers from Kansas City on


Our daughter went through an aggressive phase with our two Labs at about the same age. We asked her if she liked it when she got kicked and pinched. Obviously she didn't and we used that understanding to help her process what she was doing to the dogs. We also told her that we were responsible for making sure that our dogs were treated well. By making her the dogs protector she felt more in control and a part of taking care of our pets.

My husband also began asking her if she wanted to help take care of the dogs. Once she started feeding them, brushing coats, and helping with summer baths the dogs and my daughter really started to bond. Now she is very protective of them and empathizes when they have to go to the vet for shots. More than once I have seen her soothing and petting both of the dogs after a vet visit. As with everything else it is a mater of learning. I think making your son a part of the daily care of your dogs and cats will help. Children love feeling like they are in charge it gives them a measure of control in their lives that is healthy.

Merry Christmas,

J. N.



answers from Kansas City on

I have had a child that was also like this at that age. We had to get rid of a dog we had that this child probably caused aggression in (and just unpredictability from being a mutt probably). I am not sure that I have many real answers, because we still have to talk this almost 5yo boy out of throwing toys at his sisters when he gets mad. We've never had any other child even close to the level of aggression this child shows. But, I do have some observations.

This boy is very smart. If we had him playing fetch with the dog, he was fine. If I have him doing school with the older sister, he does fine. He probably watched too many Power Rangers at the time we had that dog. We switched shows, to PBS type, and he does much better. He remembers things like crazy, so if we keep his mind busy, his hands aren't so much.

Also, we kept him away from animals until he showed more maturity. He loves the baby, and is tender with him. Since having the baby, he no longer does anything to our old cat, pretty much ignores him. And, I was at my wits end too. We finally just banned him from all animals. Animals can become aggressive to all young boys in the future from being made to tolerate such behavior.

A suggestion told to me when I had this issue, was to help him with a bug collection; live bugs. And, show him how to be gentle with a buttlerfly or something that he really shows an interest in. When he kills it, get him another and explain to him what just happened. We tried that too, and it seemed to help. Most of it was probably maturity with age.


answers from St. Louis on

I think its just a phase. But please be careful and never leave him alone with the animals. I got bit in the face by a very nice dog when I was little for aggrevating him. Even dogs that typically arent like that have a breaking point. I know to some people this isnt an option but we gave up on pets until our kids get older.



answers from Kansas City on

I would definitely get that child some help. Sounds pretty scarey and so sad for those animals! Obviously you are not aware of what kind of people have a history of being unkind to animals as children.
Pulling tails, hitting them, pulling their lips, kicking them???? OMG listen to what you are saying!!!! AGAIN, THOSE POOR DEFENSELESS ANIMALS!!!



answers from Kansas City on

This behavior is very normal with the toddler crowd. IMHO, he shouldn't ever be alone with any animal, for any length of time, since he does hurt them.

As he gets older he will get better with them. My son was mean to our cat when he was 3, and now he's as sweet as can be at 5. He even does most of the daily care for our dog.

I'm pretty anti-spanking but especially in this situation. It's hard to tell him hurting animals is wrong when you are hurting him.



answers from Kansas City on

THank God you're dealing with labs and goldens, probably the 2 least aggressive breeds out there.
Now having said that, they will only tolerate so much and I agree with one of the other posters who said that WHEN your son does get bit, it's just a matter of time, I hope the dog doesn't get punished because it was provoked. I will tell you that if it is bad enough to require stiches, the matter will be taken out of your hands as soon as you tell the ER how it happened. The dog will be treated like the criminal and aggressor and have a "record" so to speak. And if it happens again, the dog may be taken, without your concent to be put down.

I also agree with another poster that stated that usually this type of aggression may lead to other serious behavioral issues, it's well documented. I don't agree that this is "normal" behavior. My kids are now 14 and 18 and we've had pets their entire lives, mostly labs and goldens but also a cat, hamster and even lizards. IMHO there is a big difference between "normal" toddler animal agression because they don't know yet how to be nice vs. purposly kicking a dog because he was mad.

Sorry, I hope that doesn't sound too harsh. I do think, at the very least, start with an animal trainer/behaviorst and see if they have any suggestions. And possibly on the other end of the spectrum a child psychologist just to make sure this is normal behavior and not the beginning of some other issues.

Good luck,

Lori K


answers from Kansas City on

This may sound cruel but have you tried doing to him what he is doing to the pets? We have done that before and it seems to work. It may take a few times but they seem to get the picture. It's like when my kids started kicking people. When we caught them we'd kick them back and they didn't like it. Same with biting. When they realized how it hurt they stopped. Just a suggestion. Good luck and God Bless.

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