How to Get 20 Mo Old to Stop Hitting Our Pets

Updated on January 23, 2009
K.B. asks from Blythewood, SC
10 answers

My little girl used to absolutely adore our animals. Me and my husband have always been a sucker for dogs and cats so we have two beagles and a corgie (had an English Bulldog) and we have three cats. Our daughter has grown up around them and we've taught her to love them and pet them and she's done really well until recently. All of our family members have multiple dogs and cats too so she's really comfortable with animals. Recently though she thinks it's funny to pull the cats' tails, pull on the dogs ears, run up and hit them on the back or chase them around just to hit them when she finally gets close enough. I don't know where she's getting this behavior from because she's not seeing us do it. It just worries me because I'm afraid I'm not going to be in the room or get to her fast enough one day and she might get bitten or scratched. Our dogs and cats have never hurt anything bigger than a mouse and they aren't dangerous breeds by any means, but they are still animals. Has anyone else had this problem, any advice on how to get her to stop hitting. We reinforce the loving the animals and take her hand and demonstrate how to properly pet them but then as soon as we let go of her hand she hits them again. I don't know if she's doing it to test our patience or what!?! I'm out of ideas!

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answers from Columbia on

First what you daughter is doing is normal. It's a learning time! We have always let them "work" it out own there own. To an extent. If mine were scratched because they pulled a tail then that's what the get and I would explalin it. My parents dog is a lab and she usually just runs from my 3 yr old when she get's to rambuncous. I know you are worried but usually pets know that they are little. But you must catch her each time and explain we don't hit and that makes the animal sad. I hope I don't seem to harsh in what I first said but sometimes they must learn the hard way.


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answers from Atlanta on

I have a 3 yr old, 18 mo old, and 3 mo old AND 2 dogs and a cat. I think what you are experiencing with your 20 mo old is very normal. She is experimenting with cause and effect and enjoying the new freedom she has now that she can walk and explore. Obviously it is not OK for her to hit the dogs - both for your pet's safety and for hers. I would keep the 2 separated by gates / lock your pets in another area of the house if you are not in the same room watching them. It is important for them to still be around each other, but with your supervision so you are right on top of her if she is too rough.

Sounds like you have already done the "too rough... be GENTLE... GENTLE" reminders. Next I said "be GENTLE or doggies go bye bye" and if my son hit again, I would put the dogs away (with treats and good-boy pats to the dogs). No big production. Hit = No pets. Then told my son "You can only be with dogs if you are gentle". Later I used time-outs for reinforcement but she may be a little young for that. She is still your sweet, kind little girl. She is just curious and exploring and it is poor mommy's job to figure out a way to teach her what is appropriate. Every child is unique. Try to figure out what motivates her. Also, I try to have their time when they are with the pets when they are not sleepy. They listen better and tend to be more patient, gentle, and caring when they are rested.

Is she looking at you when she goes to hit? It may not be the hit that she is interested in, but more your response and or your attention. My 18 month old has figured out how to move the gate that blocks our stairs and he has no interest in going upstairs but loves going up a couple and waiting for me to chase him. I try to think of it not as disobeying but his way of saying I want/need attention. Frustrating for me though. Being a mom is such a CONSTANT job.

Good luck! Give that cutie a big huge!



answers from Atlanta on

You MUST make it clear that hitting, hurting, or being rough with animals is just not acceptable. Spankings, time outs, etc. are all appropriate. You can't watch children every single minute, and that all the time it takes for her to greet a strange dog. Other pets might not be as tolerant, resulting in bites, etc. Please be firm for your child's safety as well as for the pets. Good luck!



answers from Augusta on

Hurting the pets in our house resulted in a spanking. That kind of thing can be dangerous to both child and pet. I was always afraid they were going to break their tails or hurt their backs. Mine got a swift swat on the butt , a very stern "no we don't hit pets, you could really hurt them" or " no we don't pull tails you could break their tail do you want to hurt _____ very badly and have to take her to the dr." Then I put um in time out. It didn't take very many times for them to get the point.



answers from Savannah on

Totally normal behaviour. She has learned that hitting isn't nice right?? To you, hubby, another person, an animal. But she gets a reaction from the animal...running away or making a strange sound. She is also getting a reaction from you when she does hit the cat which she might like the rise she gets from you. This is a great time for her to learn time out if you aren't using it already. Example-she goes for the cat and you warn her to pet nice. She hits instead. You tell and show her to pet nice and she hits again instead that is time out for 2 minutes. You tell her she is not to hit the cat and set a timer for 2 minutes. She is really getting 2 warnings out of this, the first you tell her to be nice and the second one is when you show her after she hits. So after a few rounds of that, then you tell her to be nice and if she hits, it's straight to time out. Then after a while you don't give her the first warning, you see her being mean, it's straight to time out.

A good read is 1 2 3 Magic. It talks about how our kids push our buttons (stop behaviours) and how to handle it with the least amount of verbage from us and start behaviours like pick up toys, cleaning room, etc all from toddler to tween years. It works great for my 8yr old and I use a modified version for my 2yr old since he is still learning the ways of the world! hehe

good luck!



answers from Atlanta on

Under no circumstances should you leave her unsupervised with your pets. If she hits or attempts to hit put her in her room or a place you use for time out. She knows how to pet. This is also the age when they begin hitting other children. Bad behaviour must not ever be rewarded with attention. Since she is not quite 2, I would think 5 minutes would be the most time to spend in time out. With the use of baby gates you should be able to keep her away from your animals. Most children under 4 years old do not know how to treat an animal or another child. V.



answers from Augusta on

Boy! I hear ya'! My 2-yr-old loves nothing more than to chase our VERY geriatric cat around the house, shrieking at the top of his lungs to scare her. I don't worry about her scratching him because she would never do that. I'm more worried about him hurting her. I almost wish she would give him 1 good swat with claws unsheathed so he'd learn to have a little more respect for her. A couple of good scratches would definitely teach him better manners. But she won't, so I'm constantly running in to rescue the poor thing.



answers from Atlanta on

yep, our 3 year old does similar things with our dog. I felt like I have was having to intervene every 5 minutes (not how I want to spend my day --not to mention I don't want a traumatized dog). We finally told our daughter she can't touch him at all, end of story. That's solved the bulk of it for now. I'm sure she'll grow out of her "mean streak" with the dog, but until then he's simply off limits to her.



answers from Macon on

Sounds like she needs more attention. With all going on, a second pregnancy, she is feeling left out (whether it's true or not). Maybe she could help with setting silverware on table, napkins. Then getting praised for being such a big help. There's always other things she can do to help out at home - you count on her a lot (tell her). Some mother-daughter eat at Burger King, Wendy's or McDonald's time helps. Channel her energies into feeding the animals (even though she makes a mess).



answers from Charleston on

Hi K.. I was in this very situation once my little girl learned to get up and move around on her own. I have 4 chihuahuas, all which are very sweet and loving...but as you said, they are still ANIMALS. They can bite! She has been nipped at numerous times and my daughter was even so aggresive with my smallest male that she sat on him and broke his back. Luckily the vet was able to help him but my little "Pumpkin" will forever be on pain meds...which is costing me a fortune but is worth it, and I was worried, very worried, about my daughter hurting another one of the dogs. I didn't want to have to choose between the dogs or my children especially if it were about something that would change once my children got a little older and could understand that the animals could get hurt and that they themselves cold get hurt. I decided to buy kennels until my daughter grew out of the phase she was in. At first the dogs didn't like it, but I felt safer. We would alternate who could be out. If my daughter was in her room, then the dogs were let out. They were never really able to be out unsupervised. My daugther is 2 now, and understands not to hurt the dogs. We sacrificed letting the dogs run free for just about 6 months. Funny thing? Now the dogs LOVE their kennels and they go in them themselves and I have less of a mess with them getting into things and occasionally chewing on toys! It's a phase, a lot of other moms in my neighborhood have either given up their pets or kenneled them.

Good luck!

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