1. Always ask. One of the simplest rules that parents can teach children from a very young age is to always ask a pet owner for permission to interact. Encourage kids to keep a safe distance from animals they don't know.
2. Talk about personalities. It's important for kids to learn that every dog/cat/bunny/bird/hamster is an individual with its own likes and dislikes. Help little ones understand that just because the cat at home enjoys belly rubs, doesn't mean that all cats enjoy them.
3. Respect boundaries. During encounters with others' pets outdoors, try to make interactions short and sweet in an effort to show respect for both the owner and the dog. It's also much easier to keep short experiences consistently positive.
4. Try the 'one finger' trick. If your toddler is having a tough time learning to be gentle with animals, instruct them to start touching the family pet with one finger. This can satisfy their curiosity while limiting the potential for harm.
5. Teach body language. Older kids are especially capable of recognizing the physical signs of a pet that wants to be left alone. Help children learn what it means when a cat puffs its tail, when a dog shies away, etc.
6. Get kids involved. Children who take part in the daily care of family pets can better understand how to appropriately interact with them. Keep a checklist with items such as refilling the water bowl, brushing or bathing, giving treats, and other simple tasks for kids to complete.