I love walking my dogs with my baby. We all get out of the house, get some fresh air, and spend some time together. However, when you have a dog, other people with dogs often like to stop to say hi. You might also want to take your dog to a dog park where they can play off leash and socialize with their doggy friends. Doing this with a stroller would be pretty much impossible, whereas wearing your baby in a carrier frees up your hands and gives you a lot more flexibility in terms of the terrain you can tackle. The question, then, is which carrier to use. From my perspective as a behavior analyst, dog trainer, dog owner, and mom to two young sons, I have developed a strong preference for the Ergo, and recommend it to all my clients with babies. Here is why. (Please note that I am not in any way associated with the ERGObaby company; they did not ask me to write this or offer me products– it is entirely my own opinion.)
Many of the dogs we know and love are, well, a little nutty. One of my own dogs is a four-year-old Border Collie mix with anxiety issues. Although she is fantastic with my kids, things that are out of the ordinary tend to spook her. Just the other day, we were out for a walk when a man came walking in the other direction with a young child riding piggyback. While my dog is quite accustomed to walking past people on the sidewalk, she was clearly excited by this odd two-headed person that had just entered her world; she sniffed and pulled a bit toward them. The fact that she didn’t also bark is the result of lots and lots of training to help her learn that new things mean treats, which helps keep her focused on me when she gets stressed. However, most dogs do not get that level of training and are frequently surprised or scared by new things in their environments.
Have you ever seen a dog bark at a person in a wheelchair? On crutches? With a walker? On a skateboard? All of these things are outside their realm of normal experiences and can scare them. Most dogs will either pull in for a sniff or shy away. Unfortunately, some dogs will instead react aggressively, in an attempt to make the “new scary thing” go away. It is not hard to imagine that a person walking toward your dog with a second head staring out from their chest would fall into this “weird and spooky” category. Babies in front-facing carriers have a lot of potential to frighten dogs, which is clearly something we want to avoid. Surprised dogs, even dogs that are otherwise well behaved, can be unpredictable. Because my goal is to help you keep you, your baby, and your dogs happy, safe, and comfortable, I recommend the Ergo to my clients in order to prevent this possible bite risk.
I encourage expectant parents toward the Ergo for two very important reasons. First, the baby’s face is against the adult's chest; and second, the baby’s feet and hands are tucked up inside the carrier. This is also true of wrap-type baby carriers, when the baby is placed in a chest-facing position. However, those types of carriers are often difficult to have in a house with pets, because they attract fur when they touch the floor as you’re putting them on.
The majority of dog bites to children are to the neck and face. It is of primary importance to keep your baby or toddler’s face protected from dogs you are unfamiliar with. Babies tend to stare. They have big, round eyes that fixate on new objects and study them intently. Prolonged eye contact makes many dogs extremely uncomfortable. So, the number one reason I prefer the Ergo is that it keeps my infant’s face turned toward my chest. This serves the dual purpose of eliminating the long “baby stare” and keeping his face safe, if a dog does happen to jump up (whether maliciously or not). This is, to a lesser extent, also true with an older child. Although my 18-month-old can twist around to see what I’m looking at and say hi to a dog, he is not constantly staring out and presenting his entire face to the dog.
After the face and neck, the primary bite targets are the extremities- hands and feet. In the population at large (not just infants), 71% of bites are to the extremities. Do you really want your baby’s feet hanging at nose level when there are strange dogs about? I know I certainly don’t want that for my children! When the Ergo is used for an infant, their legs and arms are completely tucked inside, with nothing dangling down.
While the majority of dogs you meet are not a bite risk to your baby, there are enough dogs out there that are not properly socialized to infants, that are a little uncomfortable with staring faces, or that react aggressively when surprised, to make it worth choosing a carrier that will keep your baby as safe as possible. For me, the choice is the Ergo. I encourage my clients with dogs to choose it as well, because it is one way to eliminate possible harm to your child- and really, it’s much kinder to the dogs as well, because it eliminates one potential source of stress and discomfort for them!