The Family Dog & Your New Baby

February 12th, 2013 posted by Growing Up

Bringing that first child into the home is a joyous occasion for any parent, but it may give your “other baby” a serious case of sibling rivalry. The presence of a new infant can cause a lot of tension for a dog, says Dr. Bonnie Beaver, professor and animal behaviorist at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“Owners may not recognize the disruption that occurs for the dog, and the dog’s resulting behaviors, like urine marking and attention seeking, are inappropriately handled,” says Beaver. Severely disciplining a dog may prevent misbehaving while the owner is in the room but, if the dog is left alone with the baby, the claws may come out – literally.

“The best time to begin minimizing the impact of the newest family member is several months before the arrival,” says Beaver. Gradually putting a dog on a schedule of feeding, exercise, and attention that can be followed after the baby comes may help the dog adjust to its changing environment, she says.

// Also, don’t underestimate the importance of simple obedience training. “It gives owners better verbal control and a higher comfort level in their ability to handle situations when baby and dog interact.”

Since babies have their own unique sounds and smells, Beaver suggests bringing used items of baby clothes and a taped recording of a baby crying into the home to introduce them to a dog.

“When the family comes home from the hospital, someone besides the mother should carry the baby into the house,” says Beaver. That way, the dog will have plenty of room to give its owner a proper “welcome home” without accidentally hurting the baby.

Instead of roping off the baby’s room with “caution” tape, make it a place the dog associates with fun interactions. Incorporate play with the dog in the baby’s room, says Beaver.

In fact, having the baby present for positive owner-dog interactions anywhere in the house will help the dog associate good things with the infant. Try asking the dog to “sit,” “stay,” or do a trick and then help the baby reward it with a food treat, suggests Beaver.

Just like any new addition to the home, the baby will spark curiosity in a dog.

“This should not be confused with jealousy, nor should it be punished,” says Beaver. Give the dog time to explore the bundle of joy but never allow the two together unsupervised, warns Beaver.

Even with the best preparation, not every dog will accept a new baby, says Beaver. “A greater likelihood for problems exists if the dog has had little or no contact with babies, has already shown aggression toward other babies, is aggressive to adults, or has a history of predatory aggression toward small animals.”

When the baby cries, crawls or begins to walk, owners should be particularly alert to the possibility of problems, says Beaver. Cries can be especially upsetting to a dog. “They may respond by pacing back and forth between the baby and the owner,” she says. Although it looks like the dog is playing “Lassie” by displaying protective behavior, it is actually seeking comfort from its owner.

“Dogs also want quiet time away from the two-legged pest,” says Beaver. “If the dog is unable to get peace from a loud or busy child, remove it from the area for a little while. Even Fido needs to an occasional break from the joys of having an infant in the house.

“With a little preparation and some extra attention, your dog might get over no longer being an only child.”

Do you like to talk about dogs? Discuss your canine friends with others!

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