Learning Social Skills With Pets


A boy petting a dog.Animals make great companions. Whether you have pets of your own, have a service animal, visit with friends and family who have pets, or visit animals on a farm. No matter how you get exposure to animals, their presence can be therapeutic and calming. However, it’s important to remember that animals, like people, can read certain social cues and give off their own.

Animal cues are communicated via body language and vocal sounds and communicate various emotions: calm, fear, excitement, aggression, or anxiety. It is, therefore, very important to teach our learners to understand and follow some social safety rules when interacting with furry friends.

Here are some important proactive skills to teach our learners to ensure that their experience with furry friends is safe and fun!

Seeking Permission

Teach your child to always seek permission from you and the animal’s owner to make sure it is ok to touch and interact with the animal. Teaching kids to seek permission eliminates the guesswork of whether an animal is child-friendly. It is the safest way to interact with animals you don’t know.

Approaching an Animal

Teach your child to approach an animal calmly and from the front. Have your child gently hold out a closed fist just under the animal’s head to allow them to sniff you. Using a closed fist minimizes the chances that an animal mistakes your approach by handing them a treat, which could result in them attempting to nibble at your hand.

Ending an interaction

Teach your child to end an interaction with an animal by calmly retracting their hands to their sides and calmly and slowly backing away from the animal. Teaching these skills proactively will help your child remain calm and know how to exit an interaction with an animal should a friendly animal become agitated.

play spaceJustyna Balzar has over 15 years of experience with learners of varying profiles between the ages of 3 to 18 across multiple settings. She received her Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) certification in 2014 from Florida Institute of Technology, her Master in Curriculum and Education in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University, followed by her BCBA certification in 2016. She is the co-founder of The Hangout Spot located in Norwalk, CT,


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