Dogs and Babies
Dr. Nicholas Dodman and Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli
The birth of a new baby is a joyous occasion, but many dog-owning couples worry how their new baby and dog will interact. Knowing all the possibilities beforehand is important to prevent accidents or injuries, to the dog as well as the child. Some people feel that it is best to keep dogs and babies apart, at least until the child is old enough to exercise self-control and gain respect from the dog. Fortunately, this extreme approach is unnecessary in the majority of cases. Whether they should be allowed to interact depends on factors relating to the dog, the child, and the environment. Dominance. At least 40 of the 141 American Kennel Club-recognized breeds are now known to have more than their share of dominance. This does not mean that every member of the breed concerned is either dominant or aggressive with children, simply that certain lines and certain individuals of those breeds may be more prone to develop such behavioral characteristics.
Dog factors involve the temperament and mood of the dog, which depend on the dog's genetics and learned behavior. Two of the most important genetic factors are the tendency to develop dominance and the magnitude of the dog's prey drive.
Predatory drive. Like the tendency to develop dominance, predatory aggression divides along the breed lines. Those breeds that have been bred for predatory activities, for example killing rats or other small creatures, or breeds that have been highly bred for hunting, herding, or sporting activities, may well have high levels of prey drive. Again, it is individuals within these breeds that are particularly well endowed with predatory instincts can prove problematical.
Nurture. How a dog has been raised has a bearing on the way they turn out. The most important factors are early socialization, correct leadership and control.
a) The most serious problems occur when dogs genetically predisposed to high levels of dominance or predatory behavior are raised in a way that promotes their aggressive tendencies. For example, a naturally dominant dog raised by an overly indulgent owner makes dominance issues between the dog and toddlers even more likely.
b) A dog that is potentially dominant, is undersocialized, and has had unfortunate social experiences during puppyhood, is most prone to develop fear aggression. This type of aggression poses a different threat to children, particularly children unfamiliar to the dog.
c) Dogs with high prey drive that are misunderstood and mismanaged also pose a threat to children. The key to preventing problems of this nature is responsible breeding, appropriate selection of pups by would-be owners, good socialization, limit setting, and proper control.