Should I be concerned about my son’s sexual curiosity around the family dog?

Dear Stop It Now!
My 2 ½ year old son seems overly concerned with the dog’s genitals.  I know this sounds weird but he tried to put one of his toys around the dog’s privates. I’ve even seen him trying to kiss the dog on the lips. Do you think I should be worried? Does this mean that he’s been abused?  What should I do?

Dear Concerned Parent,
For young children in families with pets, sometimes the pet is as much a member of the family as any sibling or parent, and so it is natural to be curious about the animal and how its body parts work.  Knowing what “normal” sexualized play is with young children and what isn’t “normal” is always a somewhat delicate task for parents. When children’s play appears sexualized, it is very natural for parents to worry and wonder. Toddlers can sure keep parents guessing about what they’re thinking and sometimes their “play” seems very outlandish and worrisome. Overall, young children do have an exploration process that involves wondering about other people’s bodies, how they work and how they’re may be different. 

Parents are encouraged to learn about sexual development in children so that they will be able to get a sense of what kinds of sexual behaviors are age-appropriate and what kinds of behaviors are concerning.  Our Online Help Center helps adults understand sexual behavior in kids, and describes both normal and age-appropriate sexual behavior of children, as well as concerning behaviors.

Additionally, read our tip sheet on Warning Signs to help familiarize yourself with the signs that indicate there could be a problem but it is important for you to know that your observation of one warning sign does not mean that abuse is happening.  Rather look for patterns of the behaviors and signs, and if you feel you have identified a pattern, contact us back for guidance.

Your son’s behavior as you described it with the family dog and without the presence of any other warning signs is normal. You may try some educational redirection with him about “respecting” the dog’s body and safe ways to play with animals as a way to introduce talking about healthy sexuality and development.

By talking with your son now in age appropriate ways about sexuality, bodies and boundaries, you will be setting the stage for him to feel like he can talk to you later about questions and concerns he has regarding sexuality.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: January 3rd, 2012