Your New Baby Safely Met Your Dog … Now What???

Last updated on September 2nd, 2019 at 07:52 pm

So you followed the guidelines I wrote to “Safely Introduce Your Dog to Your New Baby“, maybe added a few of your own ideas, everything went so well, and your dog seems pretty well adjusted to the baby’s arrival… but what can you do to ensure this relationship remains solid for the next several years, so they grow up and stay best friends?  There are actually a few things you can do….starting with:

Canine etiquette.

happy-mom-baby-petting-family-dogIt is not only important to teach your dog to accept the change in his life and be well behaved around the baby… it is also important to teach your baby what we refer to as ‘canine etiquette’ around dogs.

What is ‘canine etiquette’? Canine etiquette is teaching the baby from a young age what is okay and not okay to do around your dog. Before I go too far – the most important thing…. NEVER leave baby alone with the dog. I don’t care how wonderful they are together, or how well your child has learned canine etiquette. I touched briefly on how dogs rely on instinct in my last post, but I would like to get into it a bit more. When a dog (or any animal for that matter) feels nervous or threatened in any way, they are not capable of recognizing a helping hand in that moment, and can easily strike out at anything around them when they are afraid. Has your dog ever gotten their paw stuck, and nipped at your hand when you were trying to help them? All they know, in that instant, is they are in pain.

My Mom used to tell the story of the very calm collie mix we had when I was a baby named Nosie. I was a very hyper child, and one day when he was sleeping at the top of the stairs, I flung myself onto him to give him a hug, and he went flying down the stairs. Going forward, when he heard me coming, or when I called him, he took off and hid. What we didn’t know back then was how lucky I was that our dog’s reaction was to run and hide when he saw ‘the threat’ (me) coming instead of reacting aggressively.

When you are holding your baby and they grab your hair, it hurts! Well, it hurts the dog too. The difference is, you can rationalize that the baby is not meaning to hurt you. You also have two hands; you use one to hold their hand, while you use the other to disentangle your hair from their grasp. And as you probably know, it is not a simple task! They have an amazing grip at that young age!! Dogs do not have two hands to accomplish this task, and they also don’t understand why this baby hurt them. A dog does not want to be around something that consistently causes pain. You may be reading this and thinking “But the baby doesn’t know any better! They don’t mean to pull the dog’s hair!” And you are absolutely right. But they can learn by consistency, just like the dog can. So when the dog approaches you and the baby, you take the baby’s hand and make long strokes along their fur. (Many parents coo “Nice Doggy” as they do this.) You are holding the baby’s hand and constantly moving it, so they do not have the chance to grab a hunk of hair. Now your dog associates your baby as gentle and loving, and learns to enjoy the baby’s company.

Baby Gates (AKA Puppy gates)

Many new parents make the common mistake of thinking they do not need to put the gates up until baby is mobile. And some of you may have put gates up when your dog was a pup, but have not needed them in years. Even if your baby is not mobile, your dog is. There are many interactive newborn toys to keep baby’s attention that feature a mat that you put on the floor to lie them down on, and a mobile that they look up at. These are great toys to stimulate their senses, seeing, touching, etc. But if the dog is on the move, this is a potential recipe for disaster. Remember, dog and baby should ONLY be together when you are there to supervise.

Respect and Dominance

One thing I explain to all of my customers is about being the “Pack Leader”. There are certain actions that a dog takes as submission, and these are things to be aware of between your baby and dog. Your baby will not always be a baby, and there must be a certain level of respect that your dog needs to learn. Your dog needs to see and respect your baby as a small human, not as a weak and helpless creature; and definitely not as puppy that is theirs to correct. How does a dog correct a puppy? With growls and little nips; which are harmless to a puppy, but not so to an infant. I am going to give you a few insights into the dogs mind, so you can understand this dynamic a bit better, which can help you to avoid these situations.

Eye contact: In the wild, the dominant dog (or pack leader) will perceive it as a threat when a member of the pack stares them down. They will go nose to nose with them and the leader NEVER looks away first. When the pack member looks away, they are showing their submission to the leader, and the dominant dog ‘wins’ the battle and maintains their role as leader. Babies tend to ‘stare’ at everything. This is how they are learning their environment.  Now, since a baby’s attention span is short, they will stare at the dog for a few seconds, and then with a jerky type of movement, look away. So back to my example of in the wild, how did the dog perceive the baby’s dead-on stare and then baby looking away? – Dog has “won” – they are the leader.

You can easily shift this dynamic so your dog still sees your child as “the leader”. While you are holding the baby, be aware. When the baby stares at the dog, and you see they have caught direct eye contact, calmly shift baby up to your shoulder so the baby’s back is to him. You’ve accomplished two things: the baby didn’t show submission by “looking away first” plus – added bonus – your child has turned their back on the dog – something that only a pack leader can do.

Top Dog: In layman’s terms – the pack leader’s head is higher than that of all the rest of the pack, he is always “on top” or above. For this reason, it is important that your baby not be lying on the floor with the dog standing over them.  So put up the baby gates if you want to lie baby down on the floor. It may be a bit annoying, but it guarantees the only time your dog is around your baby is when they are up in your arms and their interactions are being monitored – and baby’s head is always higher than your dog’s head.

Add Some New Commands.

Dogs are happiest when they are learning; so now may also be a good time to introduce the command “PLACE” if they do not already know it. For this command, you want to pick a bed of theirs or a mat, and pick a space where they can pretty much see everything. Remember that it is their ‘job’ to keep an eye on things, so you don’t want to put the bed or mat in a corner or area where they are isolated from everything. Use their leash in the beginning if you need to, and walk them to their mat or bed, and say, “GO TO YOUR PLACE” and guide them onto the bed. When they are completely on the bed, give them a treat and praise. Repeat this several times each day until you can say it and they will go there without the leash. Once they are consistently doing it, add the “SIT/STAY” to the command. If you make them sit and stay every time they go to the bed, it will become second nature to them to sit and stay on the bed when told to go to their place. The other positive about this is that everything in the beginning is about the baby, and the dog can tend to feel a bit ‘left out’ and rely on some negative behaviors to get attention. This assures that he will also get some attention from you every day.

At this point you’re probably thinking:  “canine etiquette, watch out for baby staring down the dog, keep baby’s head higher at all times… this is all a bit much!” And it’s all on top of dealing with a new infant. But really, what are we talking about? Just a few simple things that will keep BOTH your baby and your dog happy and safe.  You love them both…and you want them to be best friends.  A few simple guidelines established right from the beginning and you’re setting them up for a lifetime of love and friendship.

I will end this similarly to how I ended my last post….. Why take chances, or leave things to ‘luck’ when just a few simple steps can ensure a great outcome?

About the Author

I trained as an EMT in NY, than recertified in Atlanta. I loved being an EMT and was involved with it for several years. I worked on the “Rainbow Response Unit” at Egleston’s Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, and when not on a call, worked in the PICU and NICU, which was both a blessing as well as a heartache because I learned and saw so much. Helping to create a child safety seat for ambulances was my way of making sure children who were already compromised health-wise, would not be put in any more danger. When I realiized I could no longer be an EMT due to medical reasons, I found an alternate outlet for my desire to nuture and protect; I became a dog trainer...something that was always a second love and passion for me. Now, whenever possible, I combine my passion for children and canines by working to make the world a safer place for both. Suzanne is a member of the PedSafe Expert team

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