First off, well done for coming here before your baby is moving and wanting to be so prepared. Your dog will thank you for it. Living with a baby and dog together can be so much fun and so rewarding, but it can also come with plenty of challenges. A moving baby can be a very frightening thing for a dog who has not been exposed to this in the past. Having lots of management tools in place will be so important in these early stages and so will creating positive associations.
Make sure your dog has a ‘safe’ place and never gets backed into a corner.
Implementing management tools (like baby gates, play pens, crates) are really important to help seperate your dog and child when you your child starts to move and when you are unable to actively supervise them. Plus, they are a great tool to help give your dog a break from your child as a moving baby can be stressful for your dog. Click here for a great visual handout from Family Paws for different management ideas .
When your dog is freely moving around the house, you also need to ensure that your dog always has an escape route, somewhere to feel safe if he needs it. That way, if he is feeling uncomfortable at any stage, he can take himself outside or into a room, his crate, any space where the baby can’t get in. In saying that, if your dog is freely moving around the house and your baby is now moving, you MUST be actively supervising them at all times (this still stands even if your baby isn’t moving yet). At our house, Cooper has a few different spots, including a doggy door, where he can put himself outside when he’s had enough. Make sure your child never backs your dog into a corner where he can’t escape. As this is often when dog bites occur. Also make sure that your dogs food and water bowl is now in a safe place that your baby cannot get to.
Reward your dog for communicating to you and create a positive association for your dog around your moving baby.
As mentioned, a newly moving baby can be a scary thing for a dog who has never been around a moving baby and for a dog who has been around them because they know how unpredictable they can be. So we need to create a positive association for this new scary thing, plus start to reward our dog for checking in with us in those moments of uncertainty. A dog who checks in, is often a dog looking for some sort of direction in that moment. Teaching your dog to look at you is a great skill. We want our dogs to learn to check in with us if they are feeling uncomfortable, rather than feeling the need to communicate it to the child. If you catch your dog doing this, reward them for it and if needed, redirect them to a safe place where they can relax.
Sometimes when a dog has had enough in a situation, they will get up and move away. But not always! This is a big misconception I find. Dogs are social beings and even though they might want to get away from your child, they might be feeling conflicted because they actually want to stay close to you. Often in those moments, my dog, Cooper will look up at me and give me the eye roll or the yawn, these are subtle signs of a dog who is feeling uncomfortable in a situation. But now that I know these signs, they are incredibly obvious. Sometimes it’s just a look like he’s asking for my help – it’s his way of checking in with me and I will always have his back and reward him for this. Warnings are important! Don’t ignore them and never punish them. At that point, I make sure the kids leave him alone or I let him outside for some space with a nice tasty treat. I always make sure to point it out to the kids when it happens, so they can learn to read his signs too. I don’t just want my dog to tolerate my children, I want him to feel happy and relaxed around them. Even using a little mantra like “don’t worry Cooper, I’ve got this”, when he checks in, can be really helpful for both of you! Just saying that, can relax you and make you feel more in control and your dog will feel it too. The more I reward him for the check ins, the more he will do this when he feels uncomfortable. This is much better than him feeling the need to growl or bite.
To help avoid your dog from becoming stressed or anxious around children, create positive associations and make sure that your dog knows that you have his back, that you love him and will always look out for him.
As soon as your child is interested in your dog, start teaching how to interact safely.
I know you might be thinking that this is silly as your child is too young to understand, but I can’t stress how important it is to start educating your kids as early as possible about how to interact safely with your dog. Our children mirror our behaviours so early on so we need to be really mindful of this. Think about how you give your dog affection, think about how you greet your dog, think about how you play with your dog – your child is watching. Would it be safe for your child to interact with your dog in that same way? If not, make adjustments now.
We must teach all kids NOT to:
- Climb on the dog
- Chase the dog
- Pull hair, ears, tail, etc
- Stick fingers in the dog’s eyes, mouth, nose ears, bum
- Play with the dog’s food or water bowls
- Stand over and watch the dog eat
- Annoy/wake a sleeping dog
- Take the dogs food out of a dog’s food bowl
- Take anything out of a dog’s mouth
- Tease a dog with a toy or food that you know it wants
Lot’s more on this in my article- Lead by example to show your child how to interact appropriately with dogs.
Take it Slowly. There is no rush. Your dog and baby will bond in good time.
As parents we have this expectation that our kids and dogs are going to be best friends from day one. Unfortunately safety needs to come first. Forcing a dog into situations with a baby will just stress him out. So please keep this in mind. Don’t rush the process. A crawling, grabbing and pulling baby can be a stressful adjustment for your dog. Reward your dog along the way for desired behaviours. But if you can see he is uncomfortable. Take a step back and give him that break or time out that he needs.
Get your dog used to being touched – everywhere!
Unfortunately, slip ups happen. Baby’s and kids are curious beings and like to explore with touch and feel – and despite constant supervision and your amazing management that you will put in place, your dog still might accidentally get in the firing line to some roaming baby fingers especially when your baby starts to move. So you must get your dog used to being touched everywhere. Sit down every night with your dog and give them a rub down, make it nice but also throw in a couple of tugs followed by a treat. Touch every part of their body – paw pads, tail, inside the ears, mouth, everywhere. Not only does this help when going to the vet and being examined but it also means that if your child or another child does pull on your dogs tail or step on a paw accidentally, your dog should hopefully not be as reactive to it as they have learnt that when this happens they usually receive a treat. In saying this never ever leave your dog and baby together unattended, which takes me to my next point.
Never Ever leave your dog and child alone together.
Be careful and proactive, don’t let slips up happen, active supervision is a MUST. Please don’t take any risks, never leave your dog and baby/kids unattended together. Click here for what Active supervision looks like.
Make sure to have a read of these articles too if you haven’t already:
- Our dogs are always communicating let’s learn to understand them and help prevent dog bites to children
- Good Intentions Aren’t Enough. We want dogs to enjoy their encounters with children rather than just tolerating them.
- Lead by example to show your child how to interact appropriately with dogs
- Three steps to Teach your child how to safely say hello to dogs
- Teaching your child how to interact with dogs and some important signs to look out for
- Five Important Skills to teach your Dog when Around Young Children
- How Dogs Communicate
As always, please feel free to get in touch if you need help or have questions.