In the last few blogs, we’ve been discussing the best ways for dogs and kids to interact, especially when first meeting. What has not yet been addressed is a discussion of how to best introduce dogs to new babies. And, once the baby is inserted into the family unit, what are the best practices for daily interaction with the family dog?
You may be surprised to know that as a small child, I was actually bitten by a dog. This is a common occurrence that can be avoided. My unfortunate experience, combined with what I now know as a dog training professional, has heightened my understanding of how to keep children safe from potential bites – and also how to keep the family dog safe from losing its place with his or her beloved family.
Help! My Dog Doesn’t Like Babies!
Over the years, I have had many panicked calls from clients telling me “we’re expecting our first child and the dog seems to be scared of or reactive to babies.” They describe a variety of different behaviors such as a low growl, raised hackles, baring of teeth or even a snap at the unassuming baby. The dog is actually giving a loud warning, “I do NOT feel comfortable – make this go away!”
I will typically ask the owner to describe the dog’s history of socializing with kids and newborn babies and, invariably, the owner tells me that the dog had no prior experience – there were simply no kids around.
If this case, it is best to take the side of caution and start very slowly, if possible, before the baby is born. By exposing the dog to some of the noises made by a newborn baby like crying, screaming, giggling or even gurgling sounds, you may at least be able to partly habituate the dog to some of what he or she might hear when the real thing arrives. Play a tape of a baby crying. Start low and, over time, raise the volume.
To some dogs, the baby may appear as an annoying intruder and could trigger anxiety. To other dogs, the crying and helpless baby may seem extremely vulnerable. Without the right early exposure, to include positive and corrective feedback, it would be easy for a dog to mistake a newborn for the young of any animal. Never forget that a dog is an animal, and, as well adapted as we think they pet is, when confused or upset he or she will behave in ways that harken back to being in the wild.
That said, never leave a baby alone with a dog, even one that has been with you for a very long time. If you must leave the room, even for a short time, either take the baby with you or secure the dog in a crate for everyone’s safety.
Tune in next week for additional tips on about baby and dog interaction. I will take you through a desensitizing process that can help a dog adjust to a newborn child and some daily practices to keep things moving in the right direction.
About the Author
Deborah Rosen is President and Founder of Good CitiZEN Dog TrainingⓇ, a dog training franchise business based in Tacoma, WA. Deborah is known within the industry for her innovative ZEN dog-training methodology and her commitment to using positive and progressive techniques to teach clients the science of canine behavior. Deborah is now spreading her training philosophy of “peaceful living with your dog” from coast to coast through her Good CitiZEN Dog Training franchisees. In addition, Deborah also authors blogs, magazine articles, and is working on a book.