Raising a child with a dog can be a very fun and rewarding experience. Nothing puts a bigger smile on my face than watching my child laugh as he plays with our dogs. As a pediatrician, safety is very important to me. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs, like the family dog or a dog well known to the family.”
The key to creating a safe and healthy home environment where children and dogs can live and play together is preparation.
Babies can frighten dogs with their strange smells, loud noises and erratic movements, but familiarizing your dog with these beforehand can help prevent them from becoming upset and overwhelmed.
As an owner of two dogs and a recent new mom myself, here are some selected helpful tips and strategies that I would recommend to prepare your four-legged friend for a baby.
Be sure your dog has been through basic obedience training prior to bringing a new baby home. Your arms are about to be very busy with an infant and you will need your dog to respond to voice commands (sit, down, off, leave it, drop it, come, etc.).
As you collect baby supplies prior to the big day, let your dog become familiar with the new smells. For example, open up the diapers, baby lotions, diaper cream and let your dog sniff these new scents.
As you collect new baby furniture, equipment, gear and toys, assemble it and let your dog get used to it being around. If it is something that moves or makes noise, like a baby swing, then turn it on periodically. Push your stroller around the house to prepare your dog to go for a walk with the stroller.
Play recordings or video clips of baby sounds and babies crying to familiarize your dog with those sounds. Reassure your dog that everything is okay.
Most dogs are only used to seeing humans walk upright on two feet. Seeing an infant’s erratic movements as they attempt to crawl or scoot around the floor can be scary for your dog. Try getting down on all fours and crawling around your dog; make it a fun game.
Gently poke at your dog, pull at your dog’s ears, paws, tail and fur; push on them. Make it a positive experience with praise and treats afterward.
Create a place for your dog to retreat to when they do not want to be around the baby; for example a dog bed, a crate, or a gated off laundry room. When your dog has entered this safe zone, do not allow your baby to bother them; they should be left alone.
When returning home from the hospital, greet your dog first before you bring in the baby. Your dog has missed you and deserves a few minutes of your attention. When they are calm, introduce them to the new family member, and use praise and treats to make it a positive experience.
Never leave your baby alone with a dog, ever! Even if it is a family dog, a dog that is well known to you, or a dog that has never bitten anyone before, you should never leave them unattended with your child, even for a few minutes. Any dog can bite if provoked.