Sometimes people think that having a dog to protect their family, and specifically their child, is a good idea. There are draw backs that you should be aware of before pursuing this type of dog or encouraging a dog to take this on this role for the family. Being a companion for a family is a sort of “second career” for dogs compared to what they may have been originally bred to do – herding, hunting, etc. Some breeds have had an easier time switching from working dog to companion animal. Other breeds may look for more work to fill their time!
If you don’t give your dog something to do (long walks, training, ball retrieving, swimming, chew toys) they will often come up with their own job. All they may need is a little encouragement to jump into a role, such as “protector”, but it may be challenging to control how serious they take this new position. The consequences can be detrimental to both the family members and the dog. For instance, if the dog decides that a growl or bark is not effective to remove or control an individual, they may go straight for the bite. Consequences for the owner of the dog can be serious, ranging from medical bills to pay to being sued. For the dog, consequences may be even more serious, as biting incidents can result in a dog being euthanized.
Dogs can naturally come by their “jobs” in the family by chance or when given some intended or unintended direction. An example is when a dog alerts you by barking when someone comes to the door or walks past your house. This is a very innate behavior for most dogs.
Sometimes people start their dog on a new behavior by accident. For example, let’s say you have a new tiny puppy and one day it growls and barks at someone. Everyone giggles and laughs because it looks so cute seeing this adorable puppy acting so tough.
Your unintended response of positive feedback communicates to the puppy that he did a great job. The consequence might be that as the dog matures, he won’t let people come near anyone in the family. It happens! A few examples of this can be when family or friends come to the house for a visit or celebration, such as for a birthday party or holiday, and the dog can not determine whether or not some of these individuals are friend or foe. I’ve known dog owners who could not leave their children with a friendly babysitter in the house without fear of a bite or nip to the sitter from the dog. Of course the dog is just trying to be protective and do their job. Even other children are not exempt from suspicion and can be subject to “corrections” from the dog. Dog owners can become hostage to their own dog and find themselves having to manage their situations by removing the dog to other rooms, crates or kennels, hoping nothing goes wrong when someone visits the home.
Further, if we see a questionable or negative behavior from our dog and don’t disallow it or give guidance, the dog will likely believe it’s an approved behavior. People often hope bad behaviors will just go away, but usually they don’t. In the case of allowing a dog to growl or exhibit some other display of protection towards a stranger who is approaching your child, you may think, “I like this!” However, when given the green light, dogs may have trouble discriminating between good and bad situations.
If you have given them the role to protect your child, whether intended or not, they will have to make decisions on their own. Unfortunately, they may not make good choices. For instance, an old lady with a walker or cane can look as menacing to a dog as an intruder with a weapon. Even after a dog is familiar with specific family or friends, each occasion can be a unique for the dog. For example, Uncle Bob, who the dog knows, comes for a visit with a new baseball bat and glove for his nephew or niece. In this case the dog may see the baseball bat as suspicious, and therefore jumps in to defend the family biting Uncle Bob in the process. Now Uncle Bob doesn’t want to visit unless the dog is contained. You may start to find that other people become reluctant to visit as well. And, now the dog will likely be put in another room or crated every time anyone visits. This will likely make the dog see all visitors as negative, and perpetuate the defensiveness of the dog.
My advice is, don’t go out of your way to encourage your dog to act protectively. If your dog has started this naturally, be sure you do some training with your dog so you can communicate effectively with them to help them understand their role when interacting with people. If you’re unable to provide this leadership with your dog, it’s important that you seek assistance from an experienced trainer who can help you.
Pediatric Safety is a site that is dedicated to helping parents with information to make safe and informed decisions when it comes to their children. I have written several articles and this article was the latest. To see more about this website go to this link.
Now that you have successfully introduced the baby and dog, it is time to build a bond between the two!
Babies and Dogs
Creating a Safe and Harmonious Relationship
Building a Bond Between Baby and Dog
Now that you’ve reviewed Parts 1 through 3, let’s finish with how you can help create a beautiful bond between your baby and dog.
You will need to help your dog understand that this new little person, who is demanding all of your attention is actually going to stay and is part of the family or pack (as your dog sees it)!
Overall, be sure to do some of the activities your dog enjoys every day, and importantly, include the baby. For example, a dog walk with the baby stroller is an excellent activity. The dog sees everyone walking as a pack unit, with the baby in the lead. Plus, walking is very healthy for everyone!
If you play games like fetch, the baby can be present as you are playing with the dog. Also, if you play indoor scent games like searching for hidden dog treats, your baby can be present for this as well. Try to find as many things as possible that you can still do where your dog sees that the baby is included.
Of note, even practicing the basic commands your dog knows, followed by praise and a treat, while your baby is in your arms, makes the dog see the baby as part of the interaction and training. In the eyes of the dog, “Good things happen when the baby is present!”
Two final precautionary thoughts –
1. If you think your dog is showing signs of jealously, please contact a professional trainer to help you. It is usually a situation that can be helped by having the owner make changes in the way they are relating to the dog.
2. Most important, because things can happen in a split second, always supervise your dog and baby when they are together!
It is a wonderful experience for a child to grow up with a dog. Learning to have compassion and understanding of a different species starts with you, and how you model respect and kindness to your canine family member. Enjoy your new family!
Bringing the baby home is such an exciting time. Your dog will feel your excitement too! How do you make sure that the initial greeting to the baby goes smoothly?
Babies and Dogs
Creating a Safe and Harmonious Relationship
The Meet and Greet
Let’s talk about what to do when the baby and dog first meet. If you’ve done your homework from Parts 1 and 2, things should go smoothly!
When the baby arrives, use your commands from Part 2 to create space and boundaries. It’s smart to ask your dog to give you and the baby space/distance with either a verbal command or with a physical boundary like a baby gate. Starting with limits is a great way to begin.
Don’t feel bad, dogs have an amazing sense of smell and good hearing, so they will be able to smell and hear the new baby, even at a distance. This will help them to adjust, and you can observe how your dog reacts.
As I mentioned earlier, you do not want any surprises from your dog. Once you are comfortable with how your dog is reacting, you have the option of inviting them closer.
Dogs may perceive babies as very different compared to adults. Because each dog’s personality is unique, take the time to observe your dog. Does he look anxious, curious, happy or overly excited? Occasionally some dogs may get distressed or overly excited when they hear a baby cry, while others will completely ignore the sounds. If you see anxious or excited behavior, have your dog “Go to their spot” on a dog bed or in their crate. Taking away your dog’s choices and making a decision for him will actually help him relax. Now, he just has to focus on staying in his spot or crate.
Even though you have created some boundaries between the dog and the baby, you can still have your dog feel included. For instance, if the baby is on the floor on a baby blanket, the dog can still be present, lying next to the blanket. Be sure to use the “stay off” command, as mentioned in Part 2, so your dog respects the baby’s space. You want your dog to think that if they stay off the blanket, they will be included in the family fun.
The same advice applies if you are holding, dressing, nursing or feeding the baby – start with a boundary limit to see how it goes first. Have your dog a few feet away, and ultimately, he may be able to lie at your feet as you tend to the baby. Remember to quietly, verbally praise your dog if you see him doing a great job at being calm and relaxed.
How soon you make changes to the boundary distance really depends on your dog. This can happen in a day or two, or it can take longer. You are looking for your dog to be very calm, in control, and polite. You can invite the dog to come over for a sniff of the baby’s toes as a starting point for the first introduction. If the baby reaches to touch the dog, be sure you are touching your dog at the same time to calm them.
Continue to praise your dog if he makes great choices on his own, like lying quietly or maybe playing with one of his toys. Dogs, like humans, like their efforts to be rewarded. If you reinforce behaviors that you like, they will tend to repeat that behavior.
Once this initial stage of meeting is over, and you have set limits and rules for your dog, you are ready to move on to building the bond between your dog and your baby. That is the topic of my next post.
Life can get very busy especially when you have both children and dogs. Helping your dog to really learn and understand commands can help you tremendously. Once your dog knows the commands, you are half way there. Now, you need to know the best ways to use them in your daily life. Remember, if you don’t have the time for a group class, hire a private trainer or find a reputable Board and Train facility!
Babies and Dogs – Creating a Safe and Harmonious Relationship
Commands to Make Life Easier
Now that you’ve gotten your dog familiar with baby “gear” and basic house manners that we discussed in Part 1 of this blog, the next thing you want to do is sharpen up your basic commands. In this section we will outline which commands are most useful to incorporate into your daily life with your new baby.
Commands are “icing on the cake”, because if your dog has good manners as discussed in Part 1, then adding commands opens up communication. However, teaching commands isn’t a “magic fix” … just because your dog knows what a particular command means, doesn’t mean they will do what you ask. Follow through after you give a command is by far the most important part of the communication and that is all on you! Here are the commands to have your dog learn:
• Go to your spot & Stay in your spot
• Stay out
• Get back
• Sit & Down
• Leave it & Give it
Now let’s talk about how to use some of these commands and how they relate to your baby.
Sharpen up “come” command. The last thing you need when you are trying to do so many additional things in a busy household or rush off to an appointment is to have your dog ignoring you when you are calling them to come to you. This is a super important command to reward so be sure you praise/or treat your dog consistently each time they reach you.
Practice calling them to “come” every time you’re calling your dog for their meal. That is always positive for a dog!
A good solid “stay”, can be so valuable in many areas of your life with the dog especially when you are answering a door or carrying the baby from one room to the next. You don’t want a dog getting under foot.
Practice teaching your dog to go to their bed. This is the “go to your spot” and “stay in your spot” command. The goal is to have them stay until you return to release them. Practice in advance so you are prepared for when the baby first arrives. If you haven’t perfected the solid stay with distractions, putting them on leash, or tethering them to a solid object can help. If your dog is crate trained, using a crate is another good option to control your dog when people arrive at your home, or use a baby gate to control their access to rooms.
“Stay out” can be used at the door of the baby’s room. Your dog will be happy to watch things from the doorway. If in the future you decide your dog is calm enough to come in, you can always allow it later. If this is initially difficult to do, use a baby gate at the doorway. Your dog can see what is happening but stay at a distance.
If your dog decides not to “stay out”, you can use “get back” to help them stay out of baby’s room, and learn that it’s off limits. If they “get back” and then “stay out”, they won’t get into the diaper pail, which for one of my dogs is like going to a 5 Star restaurant! “Get back” is also good to use if your dog is crowding you and not giving you space when sitting with the baby. Then you can ask for a “down” next to you so they can be close, but not too demanding with your space.
“Wait” is just a good command to use to teach your dog they have to wait for things. It may be for dinner, leaving their crate, or going out the door for a walk. It helps to teach a dog how to have discipline. It can also help keep things calm, and calmness around a baby is a good thing!
“Sit or down” can be used to help make a dog calmer for petting, but this is only if they know how to hold this without you repeating yourself over and over again. You want to say it once; they sit and stay in place until released followed by lots of praise!! If your dog stands calmly to be petted, they don’t even need the sit. The most important thing is that they know how to stay calm in the presence of the baby.
“Leave it” can be used if you or the baby drops something. A quick sniff and investigation by your dog is OK. This also can be very useful if your dog likes to take toys or articles of clothing. You don’t want to create a game of “keep away”, but if it happens anyway, you’ll want to teach “give it”.
One way I use the “off” command is to have a designated baby blanket on the floor that dogs are not allowed on. This gives the baby a chance to have some tummy time, and allows the dog to be a part of it without being in the middle of it. Of course “off” is good for a dog that jumps on people or objects. Basically, the command means get your feet off of what they are touching.
If you don’t have these commands mastered, use your leash and collar to help show your dog. Dogs have unique personalities, including levels of excitement and curiosity. You will have to judge how much guidance or training you need to do with your dog. If you’re unsure, as many new parents/dog owners are, hire a professional to help you!
Your goal should be to maintain calmness and control with your dog. Remember this is all new to them, so it is important to teach them your expectations for their behavior. I like dogs to see what is happening with the baby, but initially keep at a distance until I can see how they are reacting, and they get more familiar and comfortable with the new baby.
That’s all for Part 2 of the blog post. Part 3 is all about “the meet and greet”. I will make suggestions for your dog getting close to the baby to be sure things are safe and pleasant.
There are many things you can do to prepare for the arrival of your new baby when it comes to the family dog.
The arrival of a new baby is a very exciting time! So how can you be sure you will have a safe and harmonious home for your new baby? Whether the baby is a new family member or just coming for a visit, it’s important to take some time to help your dog understand this new little person, and how they are different from adults.
Because there is a lot to think about, I’m going to break this post into four separate parts:
Part 1: Getting Used to Baby “Gear” and Learning Manners
Part 2: Commands to Make Life Easier
Part 3: The Meet and Greet
Part 4: Creating a Bond Between Baby and Dog
Getting Used to Baby “Gear” and Learning Manners
We all can agree that babies are very different from adults. They smell different, move different, sound different and have different “gear”. Adults are typically comfortable with these differences, but for dogs they can be quite alien.
All dogs have unique personalities. Some are easy going, others are pushy, but sweet, and yet some are nervous and jumpy with new things. You most likely know how your dog will react to new things, but it’s best to not have any surprises. The good news is there’s a lot you can do in advance of the baby’s arrival to help your dog understand how to handle some of changes that are coming.
For, example, a baby comes with lots of “gear”, like strollers, playpens, swings, diaper pails and baby toys. One simple idea to help your dog is to walk them with the stroller, with your dog next to you, and the stroller in front. This will help you be sure your dog is ok with this new addition of a stroller on the walk, and also that you can handle holding the leash while you have both hands on the stroller. It’s a good idea to practice this before the baby is a passenger! Note you want to have the stroller in front so your dog realizes the baby is an important member of the pack.
Another idea to help your dog is to use other baby “gear” inside the house. For example, you can use your indoor baby swing, just like there was a baby sitting it, so your dog gets familiar with this new moving object. You will likely see your dog sniffing these new things as they investigate, but be sure they don’t grab any of them with their teeth as they may wonder if any of these things are new toys for them!
Ok, now that we’ve covered a little bit about baby “gear”, lets move on to basic house manners that will help set the stage for your dog being polite when the baby is around. When I say basic house manners, I’m referring to the following behaviors:
- NOT jumping on people or objects
- NOT taking food from tables or people
- NOT crowding or begging
- NOT pulling on leash
These are some of the basic manners your dog should exhibit before the baby arrives. There will be a lot going on with the new baby, and these behaviors will go a long way to having a more comfortable and safe home for everyone. If you don’t know how to teach your dog these basic house manners, just contact a trainer to help you.
On the topic of manners, I’m often asked if couch privileges should be allowed. Letting dogs lay on a couch or bed is quite a gray area….it depends on your dog. Does your dog object if you or any person asks him to get off? Behaviors like growling, snapping, or giving you a fixed stare would indicate you should not give the dog couch privileges. In my personal experiences with my own dogs, I’ve found that not allowing them on beds and couches has provided me with a dog free area for guests (including babies!) in my home.
So, anything you can do before the baby arrives to help prepare your dog is a good thing – whether it’s being exposed to baby “gear” or brushing up on basic manners in the house. In my next post, I will talk about basic commands to help make communication easier, and life all around more pleasant, with your new baby and dog.
What an ideal scene! The kids walking the dogs. There are several things to consider first!
First, how important is a walk for dogs…very!
One of the most normal activities for canines to do is walk with the pack. In nature, dogs would walk daily together with the pack, most likely looking for food. But, in the case of the modern day dog living with a family, searching for food isn’t usually the reason for the walk. (Although the way dogs try to scarf up anything they find along the way, you can see this may be hard wired in their brains.)
Walking does a number of important things for a dog.
No. 1 – drains energy
No. 2 – relieves boredom
No. 3 – builds a bond with you
No. 4 – exposes them to other dogs/people/things
So, yes, in my book walking is a great thing to do with your dog!
Now, back to the kids as the dog walkers…here are a few tips to help make it a dream.
The first thing to do is be sure your dog has leash manners with you before handing the leash over to your child. My neighbors, seen in the photo, were both 9 years old when they first asked to walk my dogs Hunter and Ruby. As calm they look in the photo, originally they were both horrible “pullers” on leash! In fact, Hunter, the retriever, had a history of pulling down his previous owner’s daughter and mother-in-law! At 5 years old he came to live with me and I began training him over the coming weeks and months. By the time the neighbor girls asked, Hunter was trained to walk politely.
You also need to learn if your dog reacts unpredictably to certain things so that a child won’t get caught in a bad situation. Some dogs get excited if they see another dog, others may bolt out if they see a cat or other animal. Sometimes an unexpected sound like a large vehicle may cause a dog to react. Depending on the dog, it could be as simple as a plastic bag blowing across the street. Know your dog! Back to the photo, the vizsla Ruby was afraid of at least 20 things when she was first re-homed to me (crunching leaves, plastic bags, feathers, crossing bridges, etc.). I spent time making her comfortable with these things before handing the leash to a child.
Third, consider using a double leash. In this case, both you and your child have separate leashes which are attached to your dog. You can be the “safety net” if something goes wrong during the walk.
If any of this makes you uncomfortable, just hire a good dog trainer or take a class. As a trainer, I love working with children and families. Be sure to find a good trainer or facility that will be happy to work with your entire family and your dog to create a positive bond between all family members. Just like any other profession, dog trainers are not all the same. Hunter’s previous owners told me other trainers had given up on him. Fortunately, I took no heed to this. Be sure to find a trainer that will work with you to help you succeed!
For a quiet activity for kids to do with the dog – try reading!
It is easy to get a dog excited and wound up, but it is more important to teach a dog how to stay calm. This is because most incidences of bites or scratches happen when dogs are in an excited state. Because they are pack animals dogs like to be with us no matter what activity we are doing.
Try this activity of having your child read to the family dog. This is something that is not only good for your child, but the dog will benefit from the close proximity and the calm state of mind from the child. You may have to start with the dog on a leash and sitting quietly next to your child as he/she reads a book. It is good to have times that the child and dog are close together but the direct focus is not on the dog. Soon they will both understand what is to be done during this activity and no leash will be needed.
If you are reading the book and your child is looking at pictures and listening to the story this is just as good. This is also a good time to teach your child how to calmly pet the dog as they both relax and listen to the story. Many people including adults pet a dog with fast hand movements. This will again, get at dog more excited. Try having your child slowly count as they pet the dog’s entire back. It might be fun to make a game out of counting slowly. Try this: “one good dog, two good dogs, three good dogs…” and so on. I bet they can get to “five good dogs”! See my next blog for more active games for children to play with dogs.