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BLOG: Promoting happy & healthy relationships between children and animals

With many people choosing to get dogs in the U.K. last year, more families are experiencing the joy of pet ownership than ever before.

Now that so many children are growing up with pets, it’s no surprise that over at the RSPCA’s education team, every day we hear from people who want to do more to help promote happy and healthy relationships between children and animals.

As an answer to this, we launched our Compassionate Family programme this April. It focuses on the welfare of dogs, cats and rabbits and provides parents, carers, nannies and childminders with information and activities they can do with children. The activities are suitable for home, school, or nursery settings and can be led by anyone who works closely with children.

These activities can help prepare and support children to learn more about their animal’s needs and behaviour. David Allen, Head of Education and Prevention at the RSPCA, said: “With the huge surge in pet ownership over the last 12 months, many children may be getting a pet for the very first time so we saw this as an ideal opportunity for children to learn about their pets’ needs and behaviour, such as how to understand and read their body language and inspire children to do something good for animals.”

Dave added: “Whilst adults should always be ultimately responsible for pets, children can help with things like cleaning small animal enclosures, preparing a pet’s food and enjoying going out for walks with the dog - all as part of regular supervised family activities. Helping to care for pets can encourage children to become more responsible and increase their empathy and compassion to others.” 

It’s also important that children learn to read their pet’s body language so they can understand how they’re feeling and when they might need a time out. Dogs can find it hard to understand children and even harder to tell them when they want to be left alone, which is why an awareness of their body language is so important.

For the RSPCA’s top tips about keeping dogs and children safe, please listen to our very own Dr. Samantha Gaines, Head of Companion Animal Science at the RSPCA:


How Compassionate Family works

The Compassionate Family programme begins by introducing the concept of compassion and outlining the animal’s needs, there are then a range of discovery activities focusing on dogs, cats and rabbits. The final section is advocacy which encourages children to champion animal welfare in a creative and imaginative way. This could be carrying out a litter pick, creating a wildlife friendly garden, or keeping an eye out for higher welfare labels like RSPCA Assured when shopping.

Compassionate Family activities also include:

  • Making a kindness list for pets
  • Creating a weekly calendar for your pet’s needs
  • Spot the difference and colouring sheets for dogs, cats and bunnies
  • How to become an animal protector
  • Building a hedgehog shack for your garden

From the 14 - 22 of August, children can participate in the RSPCA’s Little Steps fundraising campaign as their advocacy activity.

Looking for ways that your early years setting can demonstrate the values of compassion and kindness towards animals?

Please consider following the RSPCA’s guidance for Animal-friendly schools. Animal-friendly schools do more than just teach children about animals. They encourage both educators and children to think about animals’ needs and to develop a sense of responsibility towards them.

  • For nurseries and other early years educators, the RSPCA has lesson and activity plans on our website about pets, farm animals, and wildlife: Early Years Foundation Resources.
  • For school children, the RSPCA’s PSHE Association Quality Assured Resource, Compassionate Class, has step-by-step instructions for group lessons. Through enquiry-led learning, it promotes responsible citizenship through taking care of the environment, exploring the role of working animals like police dogs, and how our shopping choices impact the lives of farm animals.

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