ALEXANDRIA,VA- For many people, their dog is their first “baby.” But bringing their, or your, new human baby home changes the family dynamic. Life with your human baby is going to change everything. Preparing your dog for a baby’s arrival is the best way to ensure a safe and successful integration of baby and dog.
Quite often, the earliest stage of having a new baby at home only peaks your dog’s curiosity. It’s usually only when baby starts crawling or walking around that problems arise.
So, what changes? A toddler’s sudden mobility.
Toddlers are notoriously unpredictable creatures, even for the calmest of pets. They crawl—something your dog is not used to seeing humans do. They change speed and direction frequently. They fall a lot. They screech and cry. And if they’re able to catch up to a dog, they often hit, pull their fur, or stare at them.
It’s a lot for a dog to take. Because growling and acting aggressively are usually a last resort before biting, it’s critical to notice your pup’s smaller behavioral signs of stress and discomfort so that you can separate dog and child before things go wrong.
To help you navigate through these changes and keep both toddler and dog safe, here are some helpful tips:
Create a Success Station for Your Dog and a Safe Zone for Your Toddler
Teaching your dog to stay on a mat; using a tether, crate, or baby gate; or having a location that provides separation from the baby will keep your baby safe and set your dog up for success. Baby gates across doorways allow dog and toddler to see each other but also allow them to play and nap without interference from each other. If you use a crate, a dog bed, or another of your dog’s favorite places, set clear limits with your toddler so that he knows that place is off limits. And always remember that it’s never okay to leave a dog alone with a small child.
Never Leave a Dog and Toddler Unsupervised
This is the most important step in keeping your toddler and your dog safe. Toddlers are unpredictable and uncoordinated. Dogs can hurt a child, unintentionally or otherwise. To ensure all your family members’ safety, never leave a dog alone with a toddler for even a minute. Even friendly dogs can bite when pushed to their limits, and it only takes seconds for a toddler to pull the dog’s tail or fall on your sleeping dog. Active and proactive adult supervision should be constant when your dog and baby are together.
Practice Handling Your Dog
Dogs who are used to having all parts of their bodies handled throughout their lives are more likely to accept uncoordinated handling by toddlers. As soon as possible, begin teaching your dog to love being handled. Practice looking in your dog’s ears, holding his paws, rubbing his fur, and tugging gently on his tail. Talk to him calmly, rewarding him for accepting all types of handling. Your dog should associate handling with good things like praise and treats.
Teach Your Child How to Pet Your Dog
Spend time each day teaching your toddler how to interact with your dog. Sit close to the dog with the child on your lap. Teach your toddler the “gentle” one-hand stroke, the long way on the dog’s back.
Teach Your Toddler to Respect Your Dog’s Things
While many dogs are tolerant of having a child play with their toys, bones, or food bowls, some are not. It’s important to teach your toddler to leave your dog’s things alone. Give your dog space and privacy while he eats. Teach your child how to give treats to the dog. If your child picks up the dog’s toys or the dog picks up the child’s toy, exchange it for one of their own.
When to Get Help
Ideally, you will have started preparing your dog at least six months before the baby’s arrival. But if you are not comfortable with your dog’s body language around your baby or toddler, or if your dog has growled, snapped, nipped, or bitten your child, you can contact a positive trainer experienced in this area. Wholistic Hound Academy has licensed Family Paws Parent Educatorswho can help. Positive reinforcement works well for dogs and for toddlers, and it’s the best way to teach them how to live together in a safe and happy environment.
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder and CEO of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training and socialization, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes starting soon!