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Screaming children, balloons and sugar highs are par for the course at children’s parties. Although it’s a family affair, exercise caution when it comes to including your pets, says puppy trainer Bronwyn Vickery.

Children's parties are the stuff weekends are made of for many parents. Ferrying small children to birthday parties and playdates, large to movies and sleepovers – is commonly interspersed between classes and other extra-mural activities on Saturdays and Sundays.

These social outings are met with both dread and delight, which are compounded by the fact that they come without any formal codes of conduct. Do you stay for a drink or do you leave immediately; do you gift excessively or modestly etc. There is no code and it’s often the child who will call the shots.

The one thing many parents appear to be vehement about is the presence of dogs at these events. Some say if they see a dog running free among the children they will apologise and excuse their child from the party.  It’s a sensitive issue because most doting pet owners and parents, aware that their “furry children” get along just fine with the human variety, are likely to be offended.

While you might consider your dog to be a beloved member of the family, it’s worth considering how safe it is to have your pet running loose at a birthday party. According to an August report by IOL’s Okuhle Hlati, statistics from law firm DSC Attorneys suggest that South Africa has one of the highest incidences in the world of dog attacks on humans. Kirstie Haslam, a partner in the firm, said that in South Africa, dogs account for 76% to 94% of animal-bite injuries, with dog-bite fatalities higher due to lack of post-exposure treatment and appropriate access to health care. While circumstances vary, there are situations that call for caution.

Bronwyn Vickery, a South African Board of Companion Animal Professionals registered puppy trainer at GoodPet, explained how dog might react to their space being invaded during a party. “It is probably not a good idea to have pets, especially dogs, loose at a children’s party. “Parties are usually very noisy and have lots of kid running around, which is very stressful for animals, especially when their space or territory has been “invaded”. Suddenly there’s a child sitting or playing where the dog usually lies and dogs can get pretty stressed out and annoyed,” she warned.

In the excitement, adults may be easily distracted and cannot supervise dogs and children simultaneously. “As a dog-parent I would be constantly stressing about people feeding party goodies to my fur-child or worrying about my fur-child biting a human-child, especially when
it’s not my pet’s fault,” she said.

Whether your dog is a big or small breed, parties present a range of dangers for your pets as well as your guests. “It’s quite dangerous if the dogs are big breeds because little people get knocked over very quickly by boisterous pups. “The same goes for small breeds like Chihuahuas and Yorkies. These loving breeds can be highly strung and can easily be crushed around hordes of people. “I’d also be very worried about gates being left open as, before you know it, your furchild might decide to escape the chaos and you’ll only realise that Fido is missing long after the last guests have gone,” said Vickery.

If, as a pet owner, you are planning your child’s party, Vickery provides a few tips to consider:

● Try having your party at a venue that caters for children’s parties rather than at home. Most venues that offer party packages are designed for children and play and have taken safety into consideration.

● If your party has to be at home, set up a safe space for your dogs. “Put your dogs in a secluded area of your home like a back courtyard, patio or room (for smaller pooches) and make it comfortable for them with treats, water, bed and toys. Make sure the guests know that this area is out of bounds,” she said.

● Allow your dog some time to join the party, under supervision. “If your dog insists on being part of the party (nonstop howling etc) consider letting them out for a short while. Let your pet out if they are desperate to join in on the fun, but only under constant supervision, no matter how well socialised they are.”

● Get a dog-sitter. “Another alternative is to send your fur-child off to a trusted babysitter, maybe a neighbour or family. However, only do this if they are familiar with going to visit their sitter. “Mine go to visit their “granny and grandpa” and have a blast playing with their golden retriever sisters. So if you are considering having a party at your home, please consider your fur-children’s needs, too. At the end of the day, you want it to be a memorable occasion for all,” said Vickery