The New Baby
Introducing Dogs to Babies
The following suggestions should help your dog to adjust to your new baby:
1. Getting Ready for the Arrival.
Preparations should begin months before the baby arrives. If your dog does not know how to sit, stay, lie down, or come when called, it should be taught to do so. If your dog already knows these commands but is unreliable, practice these obedience exercises with the dog until it is reliable. Even if you consider your dog “pretty good,” that may not be good enough and could lead to your having a false sense of security. Imagine how your dog, if excited, will react when you bring the baby home. Can you depend on it to reliably sit and stay or down and stay and not rush toward the baby?
If you have had some experience training a dog, you might try obedience procedures at home. Otherwise, it would be best to take your dog to a good, humane training class. Your dog should associate the various obedience commands such as sit, stay, and come with pleasant experiences. Although your dog may need to be corrected occasionally, force methods should be avoided. After all, the goal is for the dog to like both the owner and the baby, not simply for it to obey because it is frightened or afraid of being punished.
Once your dog learns the basic sit/stay and down/stay commands, you should continue to work these commands at home. You should start requiring that your dog sit/stay or down/stay as you do things that resemble “baby activities” around it. For example, pick up a doll, cradle it, rock it, and walk back and forth. Periodically, reward the dog with titbits, petting or praise for remaining in a sitting position while this is going on. The doll should also be wrapped in baby blankets and shown to the dog, which must learn to control itself and to refrain from moving. Because dogs respond with interest to strange sounds, it is a good idea to accustom your dog to the recorded sounds of a baby crying, babbling, or making other normal “baby” sounds. Ideally, if the opportunity is available, expose your dog – in a controlled manner to ensure the infants safety – to real babies of friends or neighbours. This procedure should be considered only if the dog is reliably trained and controllable. The dog should gradually be exposed to babies until it can remain relaxed in their presence. This may require several sessions.
If your baby is born in a hospital, your dog will remain at home. You can use this interval to familiarize your dog with the baby’s smell by bringing home blankets or clothing the baby has worn. (On the subject of nappies: It would advisable you to keep soiled nappies in a tightly closed container. One of the functions of a mother dog is to lick up the urine and faeces of puppies to keep the sleeping area clean. Quite frequently, female dogs will ingest the faeces of a human baby and may go to great lengths to clean up after the child, including raiding nappy buckets! This is not an abnormal behaviour but a normal aspect of canine maternal behaviour.)
2. Bringing Your Baby Home
When mother and child come home from the hospital, it is best if mother greets the dog without the baby present. Another family member should hold the baby or, better still, put in another room while the mother and dog greet each other. This way, you can avoid reprimanding an excited dog that merely wants to greet the owner and that may jump at the baby in an attempt to get near the mother.
Owners should allow some time for the dog to get used to the smells and sounds of the baby, which to it are the presence of another creature in the house. Later, when the level of excitement in the household has decreased and the dog appears relaxed, the baby and dog can be introduced to each other.
One parent should attend to the baby and the other to the dog. The dog should be in a sit/stay or down/stay and on a lead. If there is any concern that the dog may leap at the baby, a halter or muzzle should be placed on the dog. (The dog should already be used to the muzzle prior to this introduction.) The dog should be allowed to see the baby from 10 to 15 feet away. Then either the dog or baby should be brought closer to the other, slowly, one foot at a time. If the dog remains calm and under control, it might be allowed to sniff the baby, again from a safe distance. If the dog is extremely excited, however, this progression should not be attempted. If the dog has a history of predatory or aggressive behaviours, it may take many introductions before dog and baby are close enough for the dog to investigate the baby closely.
Err on the side of caution when determining when your dog is ready to approach your baby close enough to actually sniff the baby. Over a period of days, however, your dog should be allowed to smell the baby up close. After several introductions, and when it is clear that the dog is not going to nip or lunge at the baby, you can allow your dog off the lead near your infant.
(This does not mean unsupervised visitation or that you should lay the child down for the dog to investigate it.) As a further precaution, the dog can continue to wear a comfortable muzzle when around the baby.
3. The First Several Days and Thereafter
Remember, your dog should not have unsupervised access to your baby – EVER. You will want to be especially careful when the baby is screaming, crying, or waving its arms and legs. These actions can elicit a predatory, investigating, or play-leap reaction by the dog toward the infant. It is wiser to either put the dog in another room or put the dog in a down/stay several feet away from the baby.
Unfortunately, dogs frequently begin to “act up” after a new baby arrives. It is unclear whether these behaviours occur because of “jealousy” or simply because the dog is being deprived of its usual and expected amount of social attention and affection. You will want to start reducing the attention that you give your dog 2 or 3 months prior to the baby’s arrival. This will help the dog accept that it is no longer the “focus” of your attention. When the baby comes home, you should ensure that your dog gets sufficient attention.
One tip that can be helpful is that whenever you begin to do something with you baby, you can put the dog in a sit/stay and periodically reward it with a titbit. This procedure allows the dog to associate pleasant experiences with the baby and gives the dog extra attention when the baby is present.
If after the first several days you are still concerned that your dog might harm your baby, a screen door or gate could be fastened at the entrance to the child’s room. This precaution allows you to hear the baby but eliminates your dog’s access to the room.
Also, keep in mind when you take your infant to visit friends or relatives that the dogs encountered there may not be accustomed to an infant in their homes. Baby-sitters should be cautioned not to bring dogs with them to the home of an infant. Tragic incidents have occurred when adults mistakenly believed a dog was in the garden or securely confined away from a baby.
Dogs may push open doors and actively investigate the strange sounds and odours of an infant.
As a new parent, although you should be aware of potential problems, you should not worry excessively about the potential problem of your dog injuring your infant. Most dogs adjust to new babies easily, quietly and without incident. If you are observant of your dog’s behaviour, and take precautions to introduce dog and baby to each other gradually while your dog is under control, you should be able to avoid accidents or problem incidents.
Monitoring Your Dog’s Behaviour
ll interactions between your baby and dog should be monitored very carefully. This monitoring should continue until your dog is paying no attention to the infant or is completely friendly toward the baby. Never leave a baby or small child UNATTENDED with a dog for ANY REASON .
Help your dog learn that the baby belongs in your family by exposing the dog to the baby in a very gradual and controlled manner. The exposure should be positive so the dog does not associate unpleasant situations with the baby so the dog does not feel anxious or aggressive in the baby’s presence.
Stan Rawlinson ( Doglistener) is a Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer who has owned and worked dogs for over 25 years, starting with Gundogs then moving on to the behavioural and obedience side of Pet Dogs in 1996. He now has a successful practice covering London, Surrey and Middlesex you can visit his Web Site at www.doglistener.co.uk .