The arrival of your new baby is an exciting, joyful moment! Life changes in lots of ways for everyone in the family. You’ve got a million things to think about, but there’s one thing you might not have considered – introducing the baby to the family dog.
Expectant parents who own dogs are often given 2 pieces of advice from well meaning friends and relatives, which are at best ineffective, and at worst, dangerous:
“Bring home a doll and start treating it like a baby so the dog will get used to having a baby at home.” On the surface, this sounds like it makes sense, but there’s a huge problem with this piece of advice: a baby doll is not a baby.
Dogs are hunters, with highly evolved senses. They can smell mates, prey and predators from miles away.
They have eyes that can detect the slightest movements. They can hear the sound of a twig snapping deep in the woods. Their very survival depends upon these keen senses. Thinking that a baby doll smells, moves and sounds anything like a baby is ridiculous.
What does a baby doll smell like? It is usually made of vinyl and cloth and it smells a lot like a dog’s toys! Exactly the wrong association! You don’t want your dog thinking that the baby is a toy, do you?
“A few days before baby comes home, bring a blanket home from the hospital with the baby’s smell on it.” The advice to bring home a blanket does absolutely NOTHING to prepare a dog for the arrival of an infant.
Think about this: many dogs have been in fights with other dogs. Is that because they did not smell another dog before the fight began? Does smelling something teach the dog to feel good around something?
The only thing that bringing home a blanket does is distract the family from what they should be doing in preparation:
What you SHOULD be doing in preparation for the arrival of the baby:
– Gate the baby’s room and have the dog learn now, before baby arrives, that this room is off limits.
– Obedience training is always helpful (sit, down, stay, come). A trained dog is under your control; an untrained dog is not.
– Crate training is always helpful for those times when the dog needs to go to a safe, secure place to rest. If your dog is not crate trained, do it now, before the baby arrives.
– Expose and desensitize your dog to the stroller, high chairs, playpens and swings before the baby arrives.
– For dogs who are sensitive to loud noises, use a recording of a crying baby (at first at low volume, then gradually louder during short daily training sessions) to desensitize the dog to the sound.
After Baby Arrives:
– Pay more attention to the dog when the baby is present, and less when the baby is down for a nap (not the other way around). We want the dog to LOVE seeing the baby because when the baby is around the dog gets more attention.
– Dog and baby should NEVER be left alone together.
– Dog and baby must not play with each other’s toys.
– Do not allow baby or toddler to play in the dog’s bed or crate.
Dog bites are the second most frequent cause of childhood visits to emergency rooms. The vast majority of dogs bites involving children are from dogs the child knows or lives with. And when a child less than 5 years old is the victim, the family dog is usually the attacker.
Young children who are just beginning to walk can be quite unsettling to some dogs.
From the dog’s perspective, “these little people are noisy, they throw things, they fall on me or trip over me, their movements are erratic and their behavior is unpredictable.”
The risk is even greater in homes with old, sick or arthritic dogs, or with under-socialized dogs who never learned to enjoy children while they were puppies.
If your dog has growled or snapped at your child, seek professional help immediately. And of course, it’s always better to prevent aggression in the first place, by following these guidelines:
Children should be taught not to approach the dog; instead the parent can invite the dog over to the child.
Children must NOT approach a dog who is eating.
When the child is eating, the dog should be crated or resting in his gated area.
Learn to read your dog’s body language. Pay close attention and learn to notice things like stiffening, whale eye, hard eye (staring with dilated pupils), lip curls, lip licking and stress yawns. Your dog is always communicating through body language.
Learn to read these subtle signs, and give your dog some distance from the child when you see them. Don’t wait for a growl, snap or bite to occur and then try to “correct” your dog. You can’t scold aggression away. Instead, try to prevent it by noticing early warning signs like the ones above.
A child must never be allowed to approach dog who is tied up/tethered.
While the parents are away and a baby sitter is on duty, the dog should be crated. It’s too much to expect a babysitter to watch your dog and your toddler.
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Set your home environment up for success. Provide gated areas where your dog can rest peacefully without fear of being tripped over or jumped on.
Keep your child away from your dog’s food, toys or beds.
Always supervise interaction between your dog and your child, and teach appropriate boundaries to both. Never let kids and dogs play together unless you’re right there in the middle of the action.
Certain areas of the home can be highly prized by dogs. These places include: a dog bed, under the coffee table, between the coffee table and the couch, on the couch, etc. Use extra caution when high value places such as these are involved. If necessary, move furniture around or use gates to to prevent access.
Gates and crates can be a big help in creating safety zones – but never let a child reach through a gate or tease a dog who is in his crate or behind a gate.
Never let a child play in a dog’s crate.
Dogs learn by association. These associations are powerful and can work for you or against you. Scolding your dog every time the toddler is around (“Get away from Junior’s toys! Play nice! Put that down! FIDO NO!”) teaches your dog that the child gets him into trouble. Instead, set your dog up for success by proactively arranging a safe environment. Form positive associations by using praise and play to reward good behavior when Fido and Junior are together.