This kind of image is commonly seen all over the internet and yet good clients of mine sent it to me to show me how well their anxious dog and a relative’s child had bonded. All I could see was “danger” in this image. A child – too young to be mobile and in control of their limbs, holding a dog’s face, whilst the dog appears worried (drawn back ears and tense furrowed brow), probably interrupting the dog’s rest and then the dog connecting with a “kiss”, and despite someone taking the photograph, this is still classified as unsupervised since the mother would never be able to intervene quickly enough to prevent a bite.
When you finally bring a baby home you have been preparing for a long time – your dog not so much. Suddenly there are many changes and a new person to boot. The dog may be denied many things he has grown used to (such as sleeping on the bed) and he may have attention withdrawn (you are time-poor and sleep-deprived). You can minimize the suddenness of the changes by familiarizing your dog to the new things associated with the baby’s arrival and changes in routine by adjusting him well ahead of time.
Introduce cot, smells, sights and sounds before the baby arrives. If changes such as where the dog sleeps will be implemented begin this whilst pregnant. Carry a baby doll. Use the aids in Tell Your Dog You’re Pregnant by Behaviour Veterinarian Lewis Kirkham to assist the dog with real sounds and gauge the dog’s response. This will give you an idea of how disturbed your dog may potentially be and know ahead of time what needs to be worked on.
Teach a well-loved crate behaviour so your dog is happy to be confined safely away from you and the baby when you cannot actively supervise.
Rules for once the baby arrives;
Baby and dog should NEVER be left together unsupervised.
Supervision means the baby is on you and you are watching the dog for the dog’s reaction to the baby.
Supervision is NOT being in the same room, but being distracted. Supervision is NOT letting the child touch the dog, even though you are within arm’s reach. Bites happen very quickly. Your reaction time will never be faster than that of a dog’s.
Early interactions with a dog should be guided and directed by the parent. Your hand should be a bridge to the dog and your hand should be guiding the baby’s. A child should not approach a dog. You should not lean over a dog with a baby attached to you. You should not sit the baby on the mat with a dog and take a photo of this on your phone.
A dog who moves away from an interaction is making a polite choice and should be respected and rewarded for good manners and impulse control.
All parents should teach respect for dogs. Even dogs who are extremely tolerant of our miscommunication signals (e.g. hugging and face to face contact) may not always be, and toddlers are the most unpredictable for dogs to deal with. Dogs not used to toddlers may find them extremely confronting. Toddlers move awkwardly, fall, squeal, give direct eye contact, poke and pull. These are all events that can tip an anxious dog towards biting.
Know what your dog’s temperament is and protect him from the things he cannot cope with. To not do so leaves him no choice but to bite to protect himself and gain space. This is the aim behind a bite event. The dog is asking for SPACE. In the loudest possible way, when all other attempts have been ignored, the dog is asking to be left alone.
Good video explanation by Family Paws;