Your baby’s first attempts at crawling and walking are no doubt some of the most exciting and joyful moments. But that joy can quickly turn to fear when your dog unexpectedly turns and growls at your baby.
It is likely that your dog has not adjusted to the new arrival. However, newborns are not mobile. Once your baby begins to move around, your dog may feel more than uncomfortable. Crawling can be the trigger that pushes your dog to display their discomfort. Up until now, if your dog did not want to be around the baby, it was easy to leave. Now that your baby is mobile, the ability to flee is reduced. If a dog is unable to flee, he or she may resort to fighting.
There are also breeds that are known for being mouthy. Many herding breeds nip at faces. This is an entirely different problem, but also needs intervention. These breeds often herd children, a trait that has been bred into them over many years. Breeds that are active working dogs, often need a job to do.
Crawling may also expose resource-guarding issues in many dogs. Dogs are naturally prone to guarding their toys, bones, and food. They may also guard furniture and people. A crawling child may inadvertently get too close to a coveted object, and a bite may result.
- Take any signs of discomfort seriously. Many owners see the first bite as coming suddenly, or without warning. When questioning dog owners, you often find is a dog that has been avoiding the newborn, or the dog has been taking their toys and bones into hiding. Look for subtle signs that your dog is not comfortable. Take any overt signs seriously and act immediately by obtaining professional guidance.
- Think ahead. Even if your dog loves to be hugged by your toddler, you may want to discourage hugging. Children at this age will attempt to hug all dogs, and other dogs may not be as welcoming.
- Watch your mobile toddler carefully. Children will often pull on a dog’s ears or tail. Some will even go through biting stages. Intervene when necessary. Most dogs will not put up with pain.
Things dog owners should do now:
- Supervise, supervise, supervise. All dogs have the potential to bite, and this is a critical stage when it comes to babies and dogs. This is a common time for families to see problems develop.
- Bite Prevention exercises are by far the most effective way of reducing the chances of a dog bite. Programs are available from many trainers, and are a valuable source of information. Look for programs that are dog friendly, and based in positive reinforcement. Dog training has come a long way in the last decade.
- Give your dog a job. A dog that works their mind and their body is easier to handle, and more relaxed. Find something that you and your dog can enjoy doing with your baby/toddler. Many dogs enjoy retrieving dropped objects – a game similar to fetch. Other dogs seem to enjoy learning new tricks that are bound to amuse your growing baby.
- Dog parks are great, but not for your baby. Get someone to look after your baby if you go to an off leash park. Although most dogs are friendly at these types of parks, there are some that are not. Avoid the chance that something might happen.
- If you are thinking of returning to work after a maternity leave, take time to do some separation anxiety prevention exercises before going back to work. This is a common time for the disorder to develop in the best of dogs, and it is often common to good owners.
- Keep both your baby and your dog safe. Children’s toys may not be safe for your dog and dog toys may not be safe for your child. You’ll likely need to pay attention to both for a while. You also need to keep an eye on your dog’s water dish at this stage. Big water dishes can be a danger.
- Have fun. Dogs and kids can get along well, with supervision and a little work. If in doubt, get a professional in to help you proceed in the right direction.
About the Author
Yvette Van Veen is an Associate Member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, Sun Media freelance columnist, award winning pet writer and co-founder of Meeting Milo. Questions and comments can be submitted to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 519-936-8515. Free resources are available at www.awesomedogs.ca.