I am expecting my first baby. At home I have another "child," Lucky, a six-year-old neutered male Labrador-shepherd mix. I am very concerned about the interaction between my baby and my dog. What can I do to ensure a positive interaction?

As a new mother myself, I would like to answer this question by starting out by discussing the social and parental behaviors of dogs, how to monitor your dog's behavior, and then by ending with specific suggestions for introducing dogs to babies. A booklet, "Introducing Your Dog to Your New Baby," from Gaines dog food company is available to you free at Salt Lake County Animal Services. I will be glad to send it to you.

Social and parental behaviors of dogs - The natural social structure of wolves and dogs is usually a family group, consisting of two dominant adults and related individuals of various ages. Generally only the dominant individuals breed, but all members of the pack help take care of the mother and pups, bringing meat back to the mother and pups and guarding the pups. Subordinate females in the pack may even "babysit" and help nurse the puppies. Domestic dogs do not commonly bring food back to a mother and pups but may guard a bitch during pregnancy and while she is lactating, as well as guard or watch over the puppies.

Pet dogs probably relate to the people they live with as though all were members of the same family group. Ideally, a newborn human infant would be accepted by the dog as an offspring to be included in this family unit. In fact, dogs are more likely to protect an infant from strangers or visitors than they are to be "jealous." For various reasons, most problems between a dog and child do not occur until the child reaches the crawling and walking stages, at about a year or so. Nonetheless, you should be attuned to the small possibility or a problem occurring and play it safe with your infant. Monitoring your dog's behavior - The interaction between infants and dogs that have questionable histories should be monitored very carefully over a long period. As an owner, you should monitor and supervise interactions until you are sure that either the dog is paying no attention to the infant or is completely friendly toward the baby. It is difficult to assess when close monitoring should cease, but it is better to be overly cautious than to reduce your vigilance too soon.

In order for your dog to learn that your infant belongs in your family and for you to be able to assess how safe your infant is with your dog, the dog must be exposed to your infant in a very gradual and controlled manner. The exposure should be positive so that your dog does not associate unpleasant situations with the baby nor does it perhaps learn to become anxious and even aggressive in the baby's presence.

- If you have a question about health, behavior problems, laws, etc., regarding wild or domestic animals, please write Leslie Kelson-Probert, Salt Lake County Animal Services, 511 W. 3900 South, Salt Lake City, UT 84123 or call her at 264-2247.