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Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Abba Fellion plays with Maggie. Proper dog training helps prevent "sibling rivalry" with children.

Dogs may be man's best friend, but they may not be baby's best friend.

Many couples who are expecting their first baby may forget that their dog is not prepared for the bundle of joy, but it needs to be — especially if the dog is fierce enough to kill a lion.

"I was scared to death," said Angela Fellion, 36, of Kaysville.

Fellion and her husband, Kevin, bought a Rhodesian Ridgeback they named Sam almost a year before they brought home their first newborn, Jack.

"Ridgebacks are bred to be lion hunters," Fellion said. "I thought, I'm bringing a baby home to this?"

The Fellions wanted to make sure that Sam would be OK with the new family member.

This is a smart move, according to Ty Brown, a Salt Lake dog trainer who has been training dogs for 13 years. Every month he does five or six in-home dog trainings about child aggression.

"A dog views himself as the leader of the pack," Brown said, explaining dogs will think everything belongs to them — food, toys and even people.

"They have a strong sense of hierarchy," Brown said.

So, naturally, when a dog's owners bring home a newborn baby, the dog may see it as an intruder in his territory.

Stories of dog bites and attacks — many cases involving the family dog attacking children in the home — may motivate new parents to send their dog on a permanent vacation to the backyard once the baby comes.

"That's not appropriate," Brown said. "Training a dog around a child is difficult, but that's something that people need to consider before getting a dog. So stick with it."

Fellion said one reason she and her husband got a Rhodesian Ridgeback was because of the breed's protective attitude.

Two days after she brought Jack home from the hospital, she said she laid him down on the carpet and Sam stood guard over him, with his two front legs straddling the baby.

"I know they say even if you feel like you trust your dog, don't," Fellion said. "But I never got that feeling."

Aside from obedience school, Fellion and her husband had prepared Sam for Jack's arrival.

"I brought home one of Jack's blankets and let him smell it," Fellion said.

Brown has several suggestions on how to help a dog become accustomed to a new family member.

"First, the dog needs to have an idea of leadership from the owner," Brown said.

He said the owner, as the real "leader of the pack," should remind the dog that everything belongs to the leader — the baby, couch, food, etc.

This relationship is established with

simple obedience training and should be done long before the baby is born.

"The dog will have a respect for the owner," Brown said. "It wouldn't make sense that a dog would harm something belonging to the leader."

The better the practice, Brown said, the more the dog will put the leader's will ahead of its own.

"Training doesn't need to be harsh," Brown said.

That depends.

The Web site dogmanners.com says that in order to get a dog accustomed to a baby environment, people should "make a lot of noise around the dog. Act like a child by running through the house screaming."

The Web site says this technique sounds "goofy," but the dog will get used to it and is less likely to "freak out when the baby screams or a toddler runs through the house during a full-blown tantrum binge."

There is also such a thing as a CD made with just crying noises to play in the home so a dog can get used to the sound.

"I don't think it could hurt," Brown said, although he had not heard of such a CD. "If they have a negative reaction, reinforce obedience training."

That is, if the dog owner has not already gone crazy with the sound of a phantom baby crying.

Brown said chaos causes fear in dogs, so they will just react without thinking too much.

"Combat it with control," Brown said. "Keep the dog's mind occupied."

Lydia Hardy, education and volunteer specialist with Salt Lake County Animal Services, said parents should stick to a regular routine with their dog after bringing home a new baby.

"They could feel something like a sibling rivalry," Hardy said. "They need to feel loved."

Hardy said having any animal turned in to animal services due to aggression toward a child is not a frequent problem.

"Maybe once or twice in the last five years or so," Hardy said.

People can take precautions before even buying a dog. Brown said take the dog around children and then ask the owners about how it reacts to children.

To test a dog, take it for a walk to see how well it follows, or pet it all over its back, belly and legs to see if this bothers the animal.

"Children interact differently with dogs than adults," Brown said. Since crawling children are basically the same height as the dog, they grab the dog in different places.

Brown offered other tips for keeping a peaceful dog-baby relationship: Never allow the dog to chew on the child's toys. Have the dog lay or sit while activities are happening with the baby, such as eating or diaper changing.

"This way the dog knows he's lower on the totem pole when you are with the child," Brown said.

Parents really don't need to worry as much about their breed of dog because all dogs need training, the trainer said. "Typically, Labradors and golden retrievers are better, but it's tough to say one breed is better than the other."

Parents may think that they don't have to train certain types of dogs to be around children, but, Brown said, "it gives you a false sense of security."

Brown has two daughters — a 2-year-old and 8-month-old. He also has a "very powerful" male Rottweiler. Brown said he went to great lengths to make sure his dog would be good with children.

And he is.

"We have a cool video on YouTube where our daughter is sitting on our dog's back riding him," Brown said.

Angela and Kevin Fellion now have two kids — Jack, 7, and Abigail (nicknamed Abba), 5. Their dog Sam died very unexpectedly last August.

"I swore that after Sam died that I wouldn't get another dog," Fellion said.

But they did — another Ridgeback they named Maggie.

"Now," Fellion said, as Maggie ran around the house with Fellion's two youngsters, "my problem is bringing a puppy into kids."


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