Introducing a New Baby, Part 1 - Safety

How Do I Make My House Safe For My Baby And My Dog? This is the start of a new series on preparing your dog for your baby’s arrival.  There are lots of good sites out there that deal with this topic, and I highly encourage you to look at them!  In this blog, my plan is to share my personal experiences in preparing for our first baby – what worked well, what I wish I had done differently in hindsight, and why I think these steps are important.  Everything I write is based on information I’ve collected as a behaviorist and dog trainer, combined with what has worked anecdotally in my own house.

Does every dog need lots of preparation for the arrival of an infant?  Probably not.  There are probably super mellow, old dogs that are truly unflappable and couldn’t care less about the huge change in their environment.  I would hazard to guess, however, that nearly every dog needs some sort of preparation, and most dogs need a fair amount of groundwork to make sure they are truly comfortable and relaxed once there’s a new baby in the house.

There are several aspects to this preparation that I plan to cover:

So… the topic of the day is Safety!

I chose to cover this topic first, because it is clearly the most vital.  Eventually, you will have to worry about keeping your dog safe from your baby, but your initial concern is naturally keeping your infant safe from your dog.  Almost all family pets are lovable, tolerant, wonderful members of our families – I don’t doubt that your dog is amazing! – BUT all dogs are dogs.  All dogs are animals.  And all animals can bite if they get scared or confused.  The good news is, bites can be avoided with some careful planning and precautions!

Never, ever, ever leave your baby on the floor where your dog can reach them, unless you are actively paying attention to your baby.  NEVER.  We’ve all heard the tragic stories in the news, and it just is not worth the moment of inattention to check your email, run down to change the laundry, or step into the other room to get the phone.  If you are not actively paying attention to your baby, they should never be within reach of your dog.  And no, I don’t just mean this if your dog is a “scary breed” or big dog, I mean this for all of the little, fluffy dogs, too. In fact, a 2008 study found that “Breeds with the greatest percentage of dogs exhibiting serious aggression (bites or bite attempts) toward humans included Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers (toward strangers and owners); Australian Cattle Dogs (toward strangers); and American Cocker Spaniels and Beagles (toward owners)” (Duffy, D.L., Hsu, Y. and Serpell, J.A.: Breed differences in canine aggression Applied Animal Behavior Science 114: 441-460, 2008).  I’m not saying this to malign any breed, just to emphasize that all dogs are capable of biting and that regardless of their breed you have to be careful!

Of course, like the rest of us, you will want to give your baby floor time and get chores done.  There are several ways to handle this:

  1. Crate your dog.
  2. Put your dog behind a baby gate (if they can’t jump it)
  3. In our house, our infant spends a lot of time in his Pack ‘N Play.  He’s not old enough to need more room than that, and that way he is safe and, as an added benefit, his toys are also not all over the floor.
  4. When you stand up, take your baby with you.  Put them in a carrier, a car seat, a stroller, or a swing for the few minutes you need.  Just make sure they are securely contained and up off the floor.

Keeping your infant safe from your dog is not rocket science, but does require vigilance.  While it is statistically unlikely that your dog will hurt your infant, there is always that possibility and so you have to be careful.  I know that from the moment I found out I was pregnant my hopes and dreams for my child almost all included our family dogs by his side— sleeping next to his bed, playing with him when he was lonely, and greeting him when he got out of school.  I would hate for anything to happen that might disrupt that future relationship.  So far, that carefulness has paid off and we have a home with two happy dogs, two safe children, and no looming fear of bites. :)