Does your dog get upset when a baby cries? If so, just a little bit of time watching Internet videos will tell you that you are not alone. Many dogs whine and cry when they hear a human baby in distress. We know that babies' cries are upsetting for us as humans to hear, but why do our dogs get so bothered by it? After all, they aren't the ones responsible for getting the babies to stop crying. The answer depends at least in part on the dog's individual temperament, as well as his or her relationship with the humans in the house. However, science does indicate that plain and simple empathy also plays a part.
The Root of the Behavior
According to professor Ted Ruffman of the University of Otago, the sound of a human baby's cry can cause a spike in stress hormones for a dog who hears it. Professor Ruffman came to his conclusion following a study conducted by his former student, Min Hooi Yong, who exposed 74 humans and 75 dogs to the sounds of a baby crying, a baby babbling, and a computer making white noise. After hearing each noise, subjects underwent a saliva test that evaluated levels of cortisol. This showed that the sound of a baby's cry not only caused dogs' cortisol levels to rise but also caused the dog to show physical signs of heightened attention as well as submissiveness. Professor Ruffman states that this indicates the presence of empathy, meaning that the dogs subconsciously felt upset in response to the baby's distress.
Canine behavior experts have also stated that dogs pick up on the energy around them and that the energy of a crying baby causes the dog to feel upset. Some of this upset may stem from the fact that your dog isn't used to hearing a baby cry, and he or she simply doesn't know what to make of it. The problem may also be the volume of a baby's cry, which can irritate a dog's sensitive hearing. The dog's cries may be his or her way of showing anxiety about the new loud noise in the house. Other dogs cry around babies because they feel jealous. Your dog may have been the center of attention before the baby came home, and now he or she has to compete for your attention. The amount of time that you have to spend with your baby may make the situation even more difficult for your dog, who has few ways to show his upset other than vocalizing.
Encouraging the Behavior
At first, it can be cute to watch your dog get upset every time your baby cries. It may even seem like your dog is relating to your baby, but the nature of the empathetic response mostly just means that your dog hears a noise that makes him or her upset. You probably don't want to have to deal with a n upset dog while you are trying to soothe a crying baby, so how do you make the dog feel more comfortable? One of the most important things you can do is to acclimate your dog to the baby's cries. As soon as the baby starts to wail, pass your dog a treat before he or she can start to respond. That way, the dog will associate baby noises with good things and may be less likely to protest.
You can also appease your dog's sense of sibling rivalry by including him or her in your day-to-day routine of baby care. Talk to your dog while you are changing diapers, feeding the baby, or putting the baby to sleep. If your dog feels like he or she is getting attention while the baby is receiving the same, the dog may feel less need to make his or her presence known by crying. This also gives you the chance to reward your dog for behaving well when the baby is around. Then, if the baby starts to cry and the dog stays calm, you can give the dog an extra treat.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you have a baby that you are trying to care for and a dog you are trying to calm, you may feel a bit overwhelmed. Remember that when your baby is crying, it is not an ideal time to try to keep your dog from crying. Try recording your baby's cries and playing them back for your dog at a time when the baby doesn't need your care. That way, you can control the time and volume of the cries and reward your dog for not crying in response. Because the training process takes time, you may need to keep an emergency distraction on hand for your dog, so that you don't have both dog and baby crying at the same time. You may find that a stuffed Kong or similar activity keeps the dog engaged for long enough that you can stop your baby from crying before the dog joins in.
Dogs are a joy. Babies are a joy. But sometimes, when you put the two together, joy is the last word you would use to describe the situation. Don't despair! Your dog just needs some help navigating the strange and distressing sounds, which happen to be coming from the creature that is taking up most of your time. With a bit of attention, he or she can calm down and even develop some “puppy love” for baby!