I am expecting my first baby. At home I have another "child," Lucky, a six-year-old neutered 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? (This is the second article in a two-part series.)
Specific suggestions for introducing dogs to babies:1 - Getting ready for the arrival
Preparations should begin months before the baby arrives. If your dog does not know how to sit, stay, lie down or come when called, it should be taught to do so. If your dog already knows these commands but is unreliable, you should practice obedience exercises with the dog. Even if you consider your dog "pretty good," that may not be good enough and could lead to your having a false sense of security. Imagine how your dog, if excited, will react when you bring the baby home. Would it reliably sit and stay or lie down and stay without rushing toward the infant?
If you have had some experience training a dog, you might try obedience procedures at home. Otherwise, it would be best to take your dog to a good, humane obedience training class.
The next step involves requiring your dog to sit/stay as you begin doing things that resemble "baby activities" around it. For example, you might pick up a doll, cradle it, rock it and walk back and forth. Periodically reward your dog with tidbits, petting or praise for remaining in a sitting position while this is going on.
If the opportunity is available, it would be ideal to expose your dog - in a controlled manner to ensure the infant's safety - to real babies of friends or neighbors. This procedure should be considered only if the dog is already reliably trained and controllable. The dog should gradually be exposed to babies until it can remain relaxed in their presence. This may require several sessions.
2 - Bringing your baby home
When mother and child come home from the hospital, it would be best if the mother greeted the dog without the baby present. The baby might be held by another family member or, better yet, put in another room as mother and dog greet each other. In this way, you can avoid having to reprimand an excited dog that merely wants to greet the owner and that may inadvertently jump at the baby in an attempt to get near the mother.
Some time should be allowed for the dog to get used to the smells and sounds of the baby and the presence of another creature in the house. When the general level of excitement in the household has decreased and the dog appears fairly relaxed, your baby and dog can be introduced to each other.
3 - The first several days and thereafter
For a time after your baby's homecoming your dog should not have unsupervised access to your baby. Times to be particularly careful are when the baby is screaming, crying or waving its arms and legs. These stimuli could elicit a predatory, investigatory or play-leap reaction by the dog toward the infant. During these times, it is wise either to put the dog in another room or to call your dog to go with you, but then put the dog in a sit/stay posture several feet away from the baby.
Frequently, dogs do begin to "act up" after a new baby arrives. It is unclear whether these behaviors occur because of "jealousy" or simply because the dog is being deprived of its usual and expected amount of social attention and affection. To ensure that your dog gets sufficient attention, you could talk to the dog for a minute or two or have the dog sit or stay for a tidbit whenever you begin to do something with your baby. This procedure allows the dog to associate pleasant experiences with the baby and gives the dog extra attention.
"As a new parent, you should not worry excessively about the potential problem of your dog injuring your infant," according to "Introducing Your Dog to Your New Baby," produced by the Gaines dog food company. The booklet concludes that by far, most dogs adjust to new babies easily, quietly and without incident. If you are observant of your dog's behavior and take precautions to introduce dog and baby to each other gradually, while the dog is under control, you should be able to avoid accidents or troublesome incidents.
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.