Guide to Creating a Good Safe Bond Between Dogs and Babies
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.
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.
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.
The Dominant Dog and Babies
The dominant dog is that somewhat pushy, overconfident and willful individual whose behavior often ranges from independent to demanding. Features of dominance include possessiveness over food, toys and other objects, resistance to petting, nail trims, and discipline, and space guarding.
These apparently moody dogs are fine 98 percent of the time, but in the other 2 percent are downright irritable or frankly aggressive. Their response to certain interventions from the owners ranges from a growl to a lip lift, snap or bite, and occurs when there is competition over a resource or in response to challenging gestures or unwelcome demands. The actual expression of this condition may be as mild as an occasional growl in a few specific situations all the way through to a dog that has so many signs of dominance that even the owner can diagnose the problem.
Dominant dogs are rarely a problem with newborns, though it is highly recommended that they be introduced only under strict supervision, just to be on the safe side. Typically, the dominant dog’s response toward the infant is one of mild interest or even indifference. Indifference often prevails for the first year or so of the baby’s life until he starts to ambulate confidently and presents an annoying challenge to the dog. Some dominant dogs don’t appreciate the arrival of the newborn and may sulk, compete for attention, or even start urine marking.
However, they are usually not a frank threat, at least until the toddler delivers the first challenge. Sometimes the toddler’s “transgression” is completely inadvertent or a miscommunication from the child to the dog (i.e. kissing the dog on the muzzle or giving him a hug around the neck). A slightly older toddler may purposely push the dog to his limits by grabbing him by the ears or tail or attempting to ride the dog like a horse. There comes a point in any dominant dog’s life when, if challenged at the wrong time or by the wrong person, he will react. The reaction may take the form of a warning growl or may be as severe as a bite directed towards the face. The response is fast, short-lived (a few seconds), and afterwards the dog might appear contrite or remorseful.
Dominant dogs are very sensitive to the circumstances under which a challenge occurs. Their response may vary depending on the time of day, the location of the perceived insult, and the level of the challenge. In general, they are more aggressive in the evening, when they are tired, when they are in possession of favorite food, and when they are in an elevated position with respect to the child. A combination of such circumstances is frequently responsible for triggering an aggressive event.
To paint a picture of this type of aggression, imagine a child approaching a dog lying on a couch. The dog has a bone nearby. The child suddenly throws his or her arms around the dog’s neck and kisses him …on the muzzle. As innocent as this scenario sounds, it is a behavioral “full house” for a dominant, protective dog.
Dominant dogs should always be supervised in the presence of children and should always be separated from them when close supervision is not possible. Devices that come in handy are X-pens, dog crates, baby playpens, outside runs and so on. Once the child is old enough to follow directions, around 6 years old, the adults in the house can teach the “Nothing in Life is Free” philosophy to the child and then assist the child in implementing it. This will elevate the child into her rightful social position within the home – above the dog.