For dogs, the whole process of discovering a new baby addition the the family has to be rather confusing-everything is ostensibly normal in their lives and then the pregnant owner (usually) disappears from the home for a day or so, and then returns holding a whole new lifeform that is potentially very noisy and generally, very demanding!
However, dogs can and often do form extremely strong bonds with the children of the family, and many dogs will immediately recognise the new addition as a member of their pack and even attempt to babysit and supervise the baby, as well as sometimes being very protective of it around others.
Even so, all new parents or parents-to-be should take the safety element of mixing a dog with a young baby very seriously, and make a plan for how to approach this before the baby even arrives.
The first meeting between dog and babe in arms is generally quite highly loaded for all concerned-but even if this first meeting goes amazingly well, it is important to remain vigilant and consider the potential risk factors that can accompany a dog and a baby together, particularly when unsupervised.
In this article, we will share some essential safety advice regarding dog and baby interaction, including steps that you can take to minimise risks, and a couple of very real but commonly overlooked risks as well. Read on to learn more.
Your dog’s first experience of human babies should not be the day that you bring home your own child and hope for the best-but unless you have friends and family with young children of their own that your dog has gotten used to, knowing how to condition your dog to the new status quo can be a challenge!
Before your baby is born or brought home, try to get your dog used to the types of sounds that babies are likely to make-largely, crying-and give them attention, praise and a treat when they remain calm and unreactive to the sounds.
Additionally, even if you intend the nursery to be off limits to your dog, show them and get them used to the things the baby will use, such as their crib, push chair or pram, bedding and clothes, all of which are apt to smell new and foreign to your dog before you even get so far as adding the baby!
Human babies do of course have their own unique distinct scent, but dogs can almost certainly pick out the familiar within this-because of course, the baby will smell like their parents and their home, particularly if they are fed breast milk. This gives you a head start in terms of your dog’s acceptance of your own child as opposed to someone else’s, and getting them used to the smell of the baby before you present them with the baby itself is very wise.
More advice on how to handle the introduction itself can be found here.
Additionally, if your dog is rather selective in terms of their responses to commands and their general reliability, work on this before your baby arrives, as your dog’s willingness to follow commands may be vital later on.
Having a new baby at home-whether it is your first or you already have several children-causes upheaval for all involved, dog included. Make a special effort to ensure that you give your dog love and attention, and do not upset their routine. Watch carefully for signs of jealously of the new arrival, and never ignore warning signs of potential problems-the safety of your baby may depend on it.
If you are at all worried about your dog’s trustworthiness around your baby, do not let your dog approach the baby and seek professional help immediately.
Additionally, as time passes by and your dog and baby get used to each other and you begin to get a feel for your dog’s thoughts on things, take care not to let your rules or boundaries slip in terms of the dog’s permissions, behaviour or following of commands.
Being able to make the decision to leave your baby alone in a room with your dog is one that only you can make-many experts on both sides of the fence (canine behaviour and childcare respectively) advocate strongly for never leaving a dog unsupervised with a baby.
Even if your dog is trustworthy and fine with the baby, it is unwise to leave them alone with the baby within reach-such as on a play mat or in a swing-because your baby is totally vulnerable.
Also, bear in mind that as soon as your baby begins to get mobile and start walking or crawling, they will be able to seek out your dog, which can be another pinch point as previously, the dog would have been able to choose when to retreat if they wanted to.
Whatever you decide to do in terms of leaving your dog and baby alone when the baby was not able to move under their own steam, re-assess the situation again as soon as your baby starts crawling.
Whilst is is of course hugely uncommon for a dog to attack or harm a baby even under extreme provocation (and the high level of publicity that accompanies such attacks simply reinforces this as the exceptions that prove the rule) this is of course the main risk that parents consider.
However, it is important to keep in mind some of the other dog and baby-related risks that can arise even if your dog loves the baby and would never willingly harm them.
A medium to large dog that jumps up at a cot or pram can potentially push it over, causing a dangerous fall for the baby-and of course, there are risks involved in your dog licking the baby too, and/or taking their toys.
Being a new parent is of course very daunting and stressful, and most new parents are nervous enough as it is, without adding a whole range of “what if’s” to worry about too-but simply being aware of potential risks without getting hung up on them can help to both keep your baby safe, and help to put your mind at rest as well.