Growing up with a dog can add a special dimension to your child’s life. You can help build the best possible relationship by taking some simple steps. These include socializing and training your puppy early, adequately preparing the pert for the new baby, and shaping safe interactions between your pet and young child. By doing this, you can help build a wonderful, lasting relationship between your child and your best friend.
If you are thinking of starting a family and have just gotten a puppy, you can do some simple things immediately to begin the socialization process to children. Enroll the puppy in a socialization and obedience class at eight to ten weeks of age. Once the pup learns to sit, ask children you know to request a sit for a small treat in calm situations. This teaches the puppy to look forward to being around children and having hands close by. Always supervise your dog around any children to ensure that no unpleasant experiences occur.
Teach your pup to be relaxed while eating. As he eats, sit on the floor next to the bowl and gently pet and talk to him. Occasionally give you puppy a small treat. This teaches him to enjoy having someone nearby at mealtimes. Also teach the pup to accept all types of handling. Touch his ears, paws, tail, collar, and so on while offering him a small treat.
Before your baby arrives, be sure your pet is up-to-date on veterinary visits and free of pain. If he has exhibited aggressive behavior or has shown any fear toward babies or children, get a referral from your veterinarian to a behaviorist. Also address other behaviors that could lead to dangerous situations, such as jumping on people or furniture, pawing for attention, and acting boisterously. If you dog will need a leash and head halter or muzzle for safety reasons, you should train him to wear these products before the baby arrives. Also, practice basic obedience commands with your dogs so you have the control you need.
Because you will be caring for your baby, your pet will no longer be able to get attention upon request. Therefore, teach your pet that exhibiting calm behavior like sitting and staying is the only way to get attention. If your dog does not have a regular routine, you should develop a schedule so he learns that there are predictable times for play and attention. Provide your pet with a confined resting area (such as a crate or room), so he has a place to rest or play with toys when you are busy with the baby. If at all possible, plan for a dog walker after the baby arrives.
Prepare your dog for the changes to come by carrying a doll around. Put it in the crib, lift it out of the crib, sit on the sofa with it, pass it between family and friends, and pretend to feed it. Recordings of baby sounds are also available. Whenever your pet approaches the doll gently or responds calmly to the recording, ask him to sit or stay for a treat. After your baby is born, bring home a blanket with the baby’s scent on it, wrap it around the doll, and continue the exercises.
Your pet will be excited to see the new mother when she returns home, so have someone else bring the baby into the house. Delay the introduction of the dog to the baby until the pet is calm. You can allow the dog to approach and sniff the baby (swaddled in a light blanket), but use the leash and head halter (or muzzle, if necessary).
Give your dog lots of praise and even a small treat whenever the baby is present, especially when the baby moves or vocalizes and the pet responds calmly. You can also distract and satisfy the dog with a food-stuffed toy when you are tending to the baby.
Your pet needs to learn that a crawling baby is not something to be feared. Try the following exercise. Start the pet on a short lead securely held by an adult. A second adult places the baby on the floor approximately fifteen feet away and allows the child to crawl about three feet toward the dog. Then ask your dog to sit or stay and give the dog a treat for remaining calm. Repeat the exercise, gradually allowing our baby to crawl closer to your dog, but not close enough to put the baby in danger. You can also use this type of exercise when your child begins toddling.
As soon as your child begins talking, you can involve the child in training using the following simple exercise. Begin with the child sitting in the lap of one adult and the other adult sitting across the room. Each adult takes turns calling the pet back and forth to sit for a treat. Coach the child to say “come” and “sit” with the grown-up and toss the treat to the pet. As the child learns the words, the adult’s voice can be phased out.
Babies and young children should never be left alone with any dog and must be closely supervised when a dog is present. When you cannot supervise, you can use a room or crate in a quiet spot to keep the child and dog separated. Even friendly dogs and family dogs can pose a danger to small children.
Teach your child safe behaviors around dogs. Tell the child to avoid dogs that are resting, eating, or playing, or dogs that seem hurt. Discourage the child from hugging dogs and petting their faces. Also instruct children not to run when playing with or near dogs. Tell your child to always say the family dog’s name before a pat so the dog isn’t caught off guard.
You must teach by example because kids typically mimic their parent’s behavior. If you are ever concerned about your pet’s proximity to your child, use a happy tone to call the dog out of the situation, and when you cannot properly supervise their interaction, confine your dog. Never use physical punishment or harsh words to correct the pet. When your child and pet are next to each other, never scold either one.
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