Saturday, July 17, 2010

Animals and Children.

Recently on one of the exotic pet forums, there was a discussion about how to teach foxes to tolerate children, and Gizmo and I were mentioned in it a few times. One of the members on the forum, who shall remain nameless in this post, said that he lets his niece carry his baby fennec around like a doll and dress it up, on the theory that if she's subjected to it as a pup, she will put up with it as an adult. I just want to go on the record as saying I don't approve of that method of teaching any exotic pet tolerance of children; it's too easy for things to go wrong, and a bite won't end well for anyone involved.

I figured that it'd be best to make it clear what I did to make Gizmo like kids, and what my thoughts are on the matter.

I have rules for Gizmo around people (one of these rules is he is ONLY allowed to roughhouse with me and my mom), and yes, Gizmo has been socialized to children and is good with them. However, Gizmo is never pinched, pulled on, dragged around, or otherwise manhandled by children. I simply won't allow such treatment. Gizmo is also never left unsupervised around children for both his sake and theirs.

After teaching Gizmo how to take treats nicely, and he was doing it reliably, I had children who I could trust to behave and knew VERY well (my little cousins) feed him treats, talk to him softly, pet him, etc. He was exposed to kind, quiet, gentle children at a young age, and learned to associate kids with affection and good things.

Gizmo has never had a negative experience with any child.

Back before the whole mess with the county, children in the neighborhood were allowed to pet him and rub his belly, but only after I made it very clear to them what is acceptable behavior on their part and what is not. And the contact was entirely on Gizmo's terms. I've never seen him not eager to greet a child (as all of his experiences with them have been positive), but if Gizmo ever seemed wary or unsure of ANYONE, the contact ended there, and he was never made to endure being touched by someone he didn't want touching him.

Now, at home when I'm playing with him, sometimes I do stuff that annoys him. I tug on his ears, roll him off his feet, hold him down, and am irritating in general. I don't do this every play session, but I make sure to really annoy him during play at least once a week. This is to see how he handles someone being "unfair", and to offer a quick correction if he reacts badly.

Overall, he's very tolerant of me being "bad"; his first response is to get whiny, his next response is generally to go under his play cube and refuse to come out. I reward these behaviors, as I think that avoidance is the best response he could possibly have towards rough treatment. However, under no circumstances would I allow anyone to treat him roughly.

When it comes to animals and children, it's far more important to teach a kid how to treat animals properly, not to teach an animal to put up with harassment and abuse. Animals don't think "human", so you have to teach a child to understand how the animal thinks.


  1. That kid is gonna get bit, and it's gonna be his fault for letting her manhandle that fennec. Of course, then they'll blame it on the fennec and it'll be put down.

  2. I mean... You don't really know that. You really cannot make that assumption. There is no "one right way" to do everything.

    Speaking to the other poster here, not Gizmo's mom.

  3. My husband was offered a baby fox and is really excited about getting one. However we have 3 children under 5yrs and I'm just not sure if its a good idea.My husband grew up on a farm and had many different animals from domestic to wild, so I know he's confident. I however am not so sure call it my motherly instinic. So my question would be do we or don't we?

  4. I personally am very intereted and actually planning on getting a fox one day. (After reading all the stories of you and Gizmo, and reading EVERYTHING I can on how to take care of them, etc., how could I NOT want to get a pet fox?)

    With that said, I personally will be raising my fox THIS way. It is possible that the man letting his fox get messed with will work out in the end, but we don't know that, do we? However, how you trained Gizmo is a tried and true way that we DO know works. You've proven that. =)

  5. this is very good advice, for dogs and "tame" animals as well. thank you for this blog as a whole, it's a great resource.


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