As our babies age, we have books and the internet telling us what to expect. We anticipate these milestones and are preparing for the day our babies make that first trek across the living room. With all of the excitement, it can be easy to forget that our dogs are not anticipating these same milestones. Our dogs wake up expecting the baby to be an immobile creature who takes up most of mom and dad’s time during the day, and instead they get a small human who is suddenly coming towards them. For some dogs, they can take this in stride and continue living in peaceful harmony. For others, this can be extremely startling. Whether it is because your dog is now fearful of this moving baby, or because movement gets your excited dog overly aroused, it is important to remember that this is going to be a big change for your dogs. Expecting your dog to ‘just get over it’ may not be the best approach in this scenario, as it can place both your baby and dog in harm’s way.
The Fearful Dog
It’s hard to know exactly why your dog becomes fearful of your baby when s/he suddenly starts moving, but it may be due to the fact that dogs do not generalize well. They also do not have the mental capacity to reason, which would tell us that we expect our babies to eventually walk. What we mean by generalizing, is that once dogs get used to something being one way (our baby doesn’t move), a sudden change in environment (our baby crawls) can be very unnerving for them. This can take some time for our dogs to get used to the change. Some may not get over it without help from you or a trainer if it is particularly traumatizing to them.
The Excited Dog
Some dogs have a little more spice in their lives than others. If your dog has a tendency to get overexcited about things in their environment, a moving baby can definitely be one of them. It may be they are a little anxious about this new change, or that the baby may be invoking just a little bit of their natural prey drive. This does not necessarily mean that your dog thinks your baby is the new squirrel of the neighborhood, but it is the same reason we tell people not to run away from strange dogs. The game of chase is quite exciting for our dogs.
Management is Key
Managing the baby and dog household was important as an infant, but I believe it is even more important once they begin moving. Making sure your baby and dog are never left alone in the same room will become very important at this time. Not only to keep your baby safe, but to keep your dog safe. Every interaction between your dog and your baby should be supervised. Children, especially toddlers, do not automatically know how to correctly interact with dogs. Teaching toddlers about gentle hands and keeping away from the face is extremely important. Your knowledge as a parent on dog body language is also important. Many people do not realize how uncomfortable their dogs actually are with children until their dog gets to the point of growling, snapping, or even biting. Many parents claim that bites were ‘out of nowhere’, however, the dogs had been giving off major signals that the parents were not aware of. Whale eyes, turning their heads away, freezing, and yawning are all signs that your dogs are uncomfortable with the interaction. I urge every parent to read up on body language before allowing interactions between children and dogs.
Another part of the house that needs to be constantly supervised is where your dog eats. Children should never be allowed to bother a dog that is eating or drinking. While your dog may show no signs of resource guarding, we do not appreciate our dogs in our faces as we try to eat dinner, and our dogs would also appreciate the same respect. Food bowls can be quite interesting to children, but they should be taught from day one not to play with them. Placing the bowls in a baby free room is an option until our children are older. We can then begin to incorporate them into feeding time by allowing our children to help up prepare our dog’s food. The same rules would apply to any food toy or chew that your dog is using.
If you begin to find that management is not enough to help your dogs feel comfortable in the house with a moving baby, it may be time to call in a professional dog trainer or veterinary behaviorist depending on the severity of the issue. Since there are no national regulations on dog trainers, it is important to do your research before hiring one, especially when children are involved. Finding a trainer who utilizes a ‘least invasive minimally aversive’ training protocol is the best plan to help your dog become comfortable with your children. This means that the trainer will work with you and your dog to help your dog feel confident and safe around your children. The use of punishment in this situation can be detrimental to your dog’s well being.
A Child's Best Friend
Starting the relationship between your dog and children off on the right foot can lead to an amazing relationship down the road. Teaching our children that they do not always have to interact with dogs will go a long way to building a trusting relationship between dog and child. Your dog will learn that just because the child is in the room doesn’t mean he has to interact. And your child learns how to let the dog come to them to interact instead of forcing the dog to interact. This will teach both of them how to relax in each other’s company. Relaxation is key to a cohesive relationship between dog and human.
Monica Callahan BS KPA-CTP is the owner of Anything's Possible LLC in North Olmsted, OH. She graduated from The University of Findlay in 2011, double majoring in Pre-Veterinary Medicine and Biology. She also has a minor in Chemistry. Monica went on to attend Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior, and graduated with distinction in January 2012. That is when she decided to open Anything's Possible LLC.
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