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DOGS AND BABIES
Today, we know more than ever before about the safest ways to introduce dogs and babies. If you are a new parent or are expecting a newborn, the idea of introducing your fur baby to your human baby can cause a lot of anxiety. Having tools and being prepared is the best way to calm these fears.
Whether you are looking to prevent a problem or you’re already in the midst of one, you need accurate information to introduce dogs and babies properly. There is a lot of inaccurate and outdated information online. We hope the tips below will help you separate the reliable information from the hearsay.
HOW TO INTRODUCE A DOG TO A BABY
Are you wondering how to introduce a dog to your baby?
“Almost all of the problems that happen when introducing a baby to a dog stem from the parent’s eagerness to make sure that the dog and baby will be best friends.”– Megan Phillips, Train With Trust Co-Owner & Behavior Consultant
Dogs meeting babies sounds cute. However, a lot of things can go wrong. The desire for a healthy relationship between your dog and baby is a good thing, but, problems arise with understanding what this friendship is supposed to look like.
One misconception about how to introduce a dog to a baby, is that there is one, surefire way to do it.
There are as many ways to introduce a dog and baby as there are dogs and babies.
So, knowing why you would want to do it one way or another, or how much emphasis to put on each part of the process is important. There are lots of things to consider: your dog’s personality, your house setting, your family’s needs, etc.
Also, keep in mind that you won’t really be introducing your baby to your dog – a newborn is still too young to understand what it really means to “meet” your dog. The purpose of this introduction is for your dog and new baby to encounter each other in a calm and controlled way. This should be a primary goal for introducing dogs and older children too.
WHEN TO INTRODUCE A DOG AND BABY
When to introduce dogs and newborn babies is not a simple question. The answer depends upon the needs of your dog, your family and your baby. It is important for you to provide the calm environment necessary for them to share moments together that will build towards a good relationship in time.
The number one thing to keep in mind is to not force anything. Give your dog the space and time needed to feel confident, calm down or to simply adjust.
“The key to forming solid relationships is having history – a history of trust. When you have a new baby, or a new dog, there is no relationship history. So, they need time to build that trust.”– Jody Ambrose, Train With Trust Co-Owner & Behavior Consultant
Needing time also means that the “big introduction” may not be the momentous event you anticipate. This is a process, and much less of a single event. Just like any other event in your new baby’s life, you want these early moments to happen calmly and peacefully.
DOG BEHAVIOR WITH A NEW BABY
Paying attention to your dog’s behavior when a new baby is on the way is critical. You really need to observe the ways your dog seeks attention or asks for more space, so you are aware of those signals when trying to build a relationship between your baby and dog.
No matter the dog, it is critical to set safe boundaries for dogs and babies that are tailored to your situation. This only works with educated adult decision making about appropriate interactions. Of course, to foster this, an adult must be present at all times when your baby and dog are in the same room.
Leaving Dogs and Babies Alone
You should never leave a dog alone with access to your baby, for even one moment. Dogs have the potential to become agitated by the movement or sound of babies. Another point to remember is that dogs carry their puppies by mouth, and they could try to move the baby this way. A dog might even mistake a baby for prey because of the way they sound and move.
Remember that a successful introduction doesn’t mean your dog and baby will be instant “best friends.” You just brought home something that makes weird noises AND takes attention away from your dog. Just like an older sibling will get jealous and act out, your dog might too. It’s just as important to focus on redirecting those emotions and find ways to still give your dog the attention that will help them feel special.
One big difference between your dog and an actual older sibling is that your dog can’t talk. So, it’s important to make sure you understand your dog’s body language around the baby. It may help to look into the sensitivities of your dog’s particular breed or mix, but it’s important to know your individual dog’s personality. Do they startle easily by noise or fast and sudden movements? Points like these should be considered.
DOGS AND BABIES: UNDERSTANDING DOG BODY LANGUAGE WITH BABY AROUND
When observing and evaluating interactions between dogs and babies, there are a lot of commonly misunderstood dog body language signals…
For instance, some people see their dog smiling or yawning around their newborn baby and think it’s good. Often, a dog smiling or yawning actually indicates that it is feeling stressed. This is similar for a dog’s tail wagging. Many people automatically think that things with dogs and babies are going well if the dog’s tail is wagging, but how is it wagging? Off to one side? Stiff and short swings? A dog’s tail can communicate a multitude of things depending on how it is wagging.
Growling Dogs and Babies
Another common misconception is about how to best respond if a dog growls at a baby, Parents and caregivers should not correct the dog for growling. Dogs meeting babies can be tense times, so it’s important to remember that a dog may be struggling to communicate with body language signals that no one is responding to. A growl is usually an appropriate, low-level warning signal.
Try to listen to the growling and appreciate the communication rather than training your dog to not communicate. Instead, learn why it was growling. That way, you can understand the cause and interrupt the situation before it gets worse.
Kissing Dogs and Babies
Another very misunderstood dog body language signal is “kissing”. Do you think it’s cute when your dog licks your baby’s face? Often dogs lick faces as an appeasement gesture, indicating that they feel uncomfortable.
Also, consider what might happen if your dog were to get startled while hanging out close to your baby’s face. It is very easy for the dog to redirect, and accidentally bite. It is much better if the dog is nowhere near the baby’s face when something unpredictable inevitably occurs.
There is another important safety consideration that goes along with why face-licking is a bad idea. The germs that cause zoonotic diseases may be transferred to the baby’s still developing immune system are a risk, and can be easily avoided. Beyond preventing your dog from learning to lick the baby’s face, it is also not a good idea for your baby to learn that face-to-face contact is an acceptable way to interact with dogs.
At the end of the day, a great way to prepare a dog for a baby is to start really paying attention to your dog’s body language, since every dog is different. Listening to the precursors of dangerous behavior will help you prevent it.
BIG DOGS AND BABIES
Introducing big dogs and babies is no different than introducing small dogs and babies. However, one thing that will be even more obvious is the importance of setting boundaries.
Boundaries can have a negative connotation, but they are good things. Good relationships are built on mutually trusted and established boundaries.
Boundaries go both ways. The dog can’t do whatever it wants with the baby (biting, licking, etc.), and the baby can’t do whatever it wants to the dog (getting in its face, pulling its fur and tail, etc.). When it comes to big dogs and babies, it is especially important to help the dog minimize body contact with the baby.
PREVENTION OF DOG BITING BABY INCIDENTS
While serious maulings and dog attacks do happen, they are actually quite rare. The majority of incidents are when communication gone wrong. Everything we’ve talked about is designed to help you prevent your dog from biting your baby, or prevent your dog from attacking your baby in any way.
When a dog bites a baby, something went wrong far before the bite happened. As behavior consultants, we tend to get called in after a problem has already occurred. We would rather prevent that problem from happening in the first place.
When it comes to dog training, what you don’t know can hurt. So, we hope that you’ve learned some great tips here. Because every dog and every family is unique, we highly recommend attending a class or having a personal consultation. This will make sure you and your family are well prepared for a great dog and baby introduction.
BABY AND PETS
Everything we’ve spoken about with dogs and babies applies to babies and pets in general. Cats and babies, horses and babies, any pets and babies… these principles of planning ahead, having patience, supervising carefully, and tailoring your approach to meet the needs of individual personalities are critical. Our classes and personal consultations can help you prepare for difficult encounters and to build happy and safe relationships that will last. Stay tuned for future blogs with additional specific tips!