The Root of the Behavior
Babies are foreign to dogs and they bring with them a whole new set of sounds, smells, and unfamiliar movements. The loud, high pitch sound of a baby cry can be very stressful to a dog and put him on edge. Owners have reported their dog whining and pacing every time their baby cried. Babies alone have a strong smell, add in their diapers and food and it can be a bit over stimulating to the canine senses. Babies have at first jerky movements, and then slowly start to crawl. Their movements can seem unpredictable and startling to a dog that does not understand that a baby is a small human. You may have seen a dog jump sideways as a baby approached because he simply did not understand how or why the baby was moving. A dog may bite simply because he is startled and feels defensive.
Babies and young children are also smaller than a lot of breeds. Dogs are pack animals and may see themselves as superior to the baby. Nipping the baby may be your pooch’s way of telling the baby who is boss. The dog may also feel protective of an area of the home, certain objects, or even some of the adults. If the baby is seemingly invading that territory, the dog may feel he needs to protect what is his with a bite to the baby. Dogs can also become jealous. Often with a new baby in the home, the dog receives less attention or has more restrictions placed on what he can do, where he can sit, and when he can play. He will attribute this to the baby and is not above retaliation.
In many cases, the baby or child has been too aggressive with the dog. A baby cannot help but reach up and grab some fur, ears, or even a tail. Children love to kiss a dog on the muzzle and get close to his face. Chasing a dog can seem like a lot of fun, too. Mealtime to a child does not seem important, but dogs do not take kindly to you interrupting their chow time. Most dogs will tolerate such behaviors, but every living being has their breaking point and dogs cannot express themselves like humans. If a child is in a dog’s face and the dog is trying to look away or down, that child is invading the dog’s space and the dog does not like it. A stiff or snarling dog is a good sign that he wants you to leave him alone. If a dog seems distressed or startled by the child’s play, then the play needs to stop. When a dog is pushed too far, often his only recourse is to use his teeth.
Encouraging the Behavior
Before you even bring your baby home you need to prepare your pet. Begin teaching him that it’s ok to have someone near you when you have your food, take your toys, or touch you by slowly invading all of these things and rewarding him when he behaves. Also play baby sounds and have out baby objects. Create an area that is just for him where he can go to get away from the baby when he wants to. At times it is helpful to have a dog trainer come to your home to assist you in preparing your dog for the arrival of the baby. You may even need to give your pet a little less attention to prepare him for the shift in your focus. If possible, bring objects the baby has worn in the hospital home for the dog to smell before the baby comes home.
When the baby comes home, allow the dog to have access to the baby and to be with you as a family. Do not, however, ever leave the dog alone with the baby. When the baby is around, pay a lot of attention to your pet and praise him for his positive behavior. When the baby is not around, do not focus on your pet. Help him see that good things happen when the baby is around.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Dogs will typically be aggressive if they are afraid. Their fear comes from the unfamiliar or when they are challenged. When they are aggressive they can bite. If you take the time to prepare your dog for the arrival of a baby and ensure he is not pushed aside nor forced to endure too much poking or prodding, he and the baby should be able to coexist and build a happy bond.
Children under the age of five should not be left alone with a dog. A dog is less likely to bite with an adult present and children are less likely to misbehave with an adult present. Children should be taught to not approach a dog they do not know, that they should allow the dog to sniff them first, and to be gentle. Teach your children that dogs do not like eye contact the way that humans do, and that they should not get in the dog’s face or pull his ears or tail. Teach your dog that good things befall him when children are present, and that he has nothing to fear.
Puppies and babies are two of life’s most adorable miracles, and they can happily grow and exist together. However, they are not the same species and do not always play by the same rules. It is important to respect your dog’s perspective, protect him from feeling afraid or overwhelmed, and give him a safe space to retreat in the event he does not enjoy all of the sounds, smells and movements a baby offers. While the preparation can take some time, it is worth the effort. A professional dog trainer can be a great service in ensuring both your pet and your baby can safely and happily grow together and form a lasting bond.