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Dogs and Babies

Dogs and Babies

 The main issue between an established pet dog and brand new baby is safety. The dog does not have much to fear until the child is independently mobile; however the child can be at great risk if the dog is not safe around babies and children.

Most owners are aware if their pet dog(s) has behavioural problems long before a new baby joins the family. It is a responsible owner who makes the tough decision if the dog is to remain part of the family or not. If the dog remains in the home then safety awareness and an excellent knowledge of dog behaviour are a must. The owner with a problem dog will have to budget time and money for specialized training, possible visits to a vet for drug therapy and attending behaviour seminars.

If your dog is well socialized and there are no warning signs that he would be unsafe around children, safety is still your first concern. You can, however add to your dog’s training repertoire to prepare him for the change in your household routine. The most significant adaptation for the dog will be the decrease in the amount of personal attention from its owner. This will happen because your baby will demand your attention day and night. You may be too tired to walk the dog as often as he is accustomed to and /or your indoor games with him will decrease. It has been scientifically proven dogs learn by association. Therefore if the dog starts to experience a decrease in personal attention when your new baby comes home then the dog will view the baby as direct competition for your time. It is imperative that routine changes happen long before your baby is born.

The minute you discover you are pregnant you must start preparing the dog with short fun training exercises that will help him accept the family expansion. Brian Kilcommons the author of Child-Proofing Your Dog suggests that you pat attention to the dog only ten minutes out of every hour. Discover ways the dog can amuse himself safely without your supervision or direct involvement. Some good toys are stuffed kongs or buster cubes. These toys allow the dog to burn energy and be mentally stimulated at the same time.

Another tip from Kilcommons is how to prevent the dog from chewing your baby’s toys. Dogs should not have toys that resemble baby toys such as stuffed animals. If your dog loves squeaky toys then ask people not to buy those for your child (and if the do give the squeaky toy to the dog). There may be exceptions like a combination baby toy that squeaks, rattles and is a stuffed animal.

To prevent the dog from chewing your baby’s toys, you can try a scent marking exercise. Mark the baby toy with a small swipe of mouthwash or perfume. Place it on the floor beside an appropriate dog toy (tennis ball); put the dog on his lead and flat collar. Ask the dog in a happy voice to get his toy. If he sniffs the baby toy that is within the limits of acceptable behaviour....if he picks up the baby toy step on his lead so he cannot run away. Cue the dog to drop the toy or remove is as gently as possible from his mouth with no emotion. Pick up the dog toy and get excited and play with the dog for five seconds. Repeat the exercise until the dog is consistently picking his toy.

New baby furniture is also a drastic change for some dogs. It should be brought into the house as soon as possible to let the dog become accustomed to its uses and possible movement. In the car it is not safe to have the dog and your baby in the back seat together. You should purchase a dog seat belt. It is the easiest way to ensure the safety of your baby and ensures the dog will be obedient. Secure the dog into the front passenger seat and have one parent sit on the back seat with your new baby. This will prevent future problems when your baby can reach outside of her car seat and pull the dog’s hair or feed is something she shouldn’t.

Baby gates are a definite safety tool for everyone concerned. They are a humane way to separate the dog and the baby without totally isolating the dog. It gives the dog a quiet place to chew his toys and bones without being interrupted. I suggest you purchase gates that secure into the walls because they will not crash to the floor when dog or child leans on them.

You should find a friend who will follow the same training philosophy as you. This person should practice with your dog before the bay is born. They should be available when you have to go to the hospital and after you come home. If you are planning a home birth, the dog’s sitter should take the dog to their home. A home birth may unsettle the dog. Before you come home from the hospital or the dog is returned to the home, he should have a tiring exercise period according to his age. This will allow the dog to be more calm during the first meeting with your new baby. Your dog’s sitter should wait at your house with the dog on a flat collar and lead. The new mother should not carry the baby into the house. She should greet the dog, if he is calm (you can step on his lead to prevent jumping) and give him a big cookie to chew. If you dog is well socialized and is friendly and safe with babies and children; and you have done the exercised to prepare the dog for the arrival of your new baby then he can have a short investigative sniff. Once everyone is settled the dog can sniff the baby’s toes or bottom but the face and hands. A thirty second introduction is enough then carry on with your normal routine. If you have a calm demeanour so will your dog.

These are a few points about the preparation and interaction for pet dogs and babies or children. You should make every effort to educate yourself about dog behaviour and humane training techniques. A good start is Silvia Hartmann-Kent who wrote Your Dog and Your Baby. Two books for contemporary scientific information about dog behaviour are Jean Donaldson’s Culture Clash and Turid Rugass’s Calming Signals.

Lynn Young ©

Last modified: September 16, 2001

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