The first rule to keeping your child safe from your dog is keeping your dog safe from your child – LJ Edwards, “Please Don’t Bite the Baby…”
“How do you keep your child safe from your dog?”
Professor Boo, I have an 11 year old female German Shepherd and a 10 month old baby at home. My dog has always been friendly towards my baby girl and usually kisses her and licks her a lot. My baby is always after the dog, using her as a “ladder” to stand up, grabs her tail and face and usually my dog just walks away but today was the first time she growled at her and showed her teeth when my daughter tried to grab her (my daughter was in my dog’s sleeping area.) Does that mean she might bite her? I love my dog dearly but my baby comes first. What do I do?
This is common when little ones begin to toddle around and use the dog as a walking “helper.”
All dogs can bite if they feel they have no other way to stop something that either scares them or hurts them. Cute as it may be to see baby loving the dog, most dogs are not comfortable with this kind of grabbing. It can hurt your dog when a little one tugs on them especially an older dog.
It should not have to come down to a choice between the dog you love and the child you love.
To keep your child safe from your dog, always remember that your baby doesn’t know she may be hurting the dog and your dog is “please stop,” when they growl. Your job is to stop your child before your dog gets to the point where she feels the need to “correct” the baby. There are some simple rules that will help keep your child safe from your dog.
Please start out by thinking of your dog like an open pool in your back yard. You would never turn your back on your baby around an open pool. You would never let her dangle her feet in the pool without you right there, next to her. And you would always be right there to catch her if she fell, etc…
Please follow these rules:
Dog and baby are never alone together.
You are always right between them for now.
Your child can only touch the dog when you are guiding them as to how to gently touch your dog.
Your baby never wakes the dog, pokes the dog or lands on the dog when your dog is sleeping.
Your dog is never chased by baby – not with walker, not with toys and not on her own.
No dog is ever used as a walking helper for a toddler.
The first rule to keep your child safe from your dog is to keep your dog safe from your child.
In addition to the above, review of basic skills that allow parents to get their dog out of a potentially dangerous situation quickly. It is often easier to call the dog away from the child than to ask a toddler to stop advancing on a resting dog. This may mean some new or review training either individually or in a classroom. In my book “Please Don’t Bite the Baby, and Please Don’t Chase the Dogs,” I cover a number of quick techniques to get your dog out of a situation before trouble occurs.
Too many dogs are euthanized each year because they are viewed as aggressive to their toddler. Much of this can be avoided if we try to understand that for most dogs, toddlers can be scary. Most dogs try to warn the toddler away and too many parents punish the dog for the growl. This leads to a dog who feels like they have no alternative but to bite.
When your dog growls, she has given you a great gift – she has told you she is uncomfortable with what your child is doing. Take that gift and return the favor to your dog by following the rules above and teaching or reviewing some really basic skills to keep your child safe from your dog.
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A family adopted a six-month-old puppy who was anxious and afraid. When she was introduced to the family’s young cousins (four-years and eleven-months — TODDLERS) she seemed curious but then barked and lunged at them when they made any sudden movements. Toddlers and dogs are not always safe together.
The family tried to ‘firmly correct’ their dog’s behavior, but it didn’t work.
Correcting the dog will NOT teach the dog the right thing to do. Nor will it teach the dog to love the child, it will probably do the opposite.
It is not uncommon for a rescue dog to have no positive experiences with small children. Even dogs who have had good experiences with kids, will still be triggered by the movements of a toddler.
Regardless of new-rescue-dog or dog you’ve had for years, all toddlers and dogs need to be supervised and taught how to be safe around each other. For some dogs this is a quick lesson but for others with fears and anxiety, this can move at a slower pace.
This process will include desensitization and counterconditioning when a dog already has some anxiety around children, or good socialization when a dog is simply unfamiliar with small children.
What is it about toddlers that gets to so many dogs? This question should be asked more often. But because many people feel their good dog can or should withstand anything their child has to throw at her (literally and figuratively), the question is not asked, and without questions there can be no help in the form of answers.
I knew even before having a toddler that they are bundles of energy with quick, unsteady bursts of movement. The literature about toddlers is filled with buzzwords that should scare the dick- ens out of anyone approaching this milestone: defiance, pitching fits, tantrums, and getting into everything. From the dog’s perspective many, if not all, of those can be difficult to process.
Quick, unsteady movements are triggers for your dog’s predatory or flight instincts.
Dogs have been honed by nature to react to quick movements for survival. Such movements signal that their dinner awaits. Your dog may not be looking at your toddler as a prey animal, but they are still programmed to chase anything that moves quickly and erratically. Think squirrels, bunnies, and even darting deer, and then ask if your toddler’s play movements resemble any of these animals. In this stage your toddler is triggering a very primal instinct in your dog. Some dogs learn not to chase the child, but they are in the minority. Most homes with toddlers and dogs report multiple nippings of ankles, pants legs, and hands as children move through the house.
So, what can you do?
Teach your dog to love your child.
While you are training, keep them separated by baby gates to prevent mistakes. When your dog is watching your child, your dog will get some great treats, toys, etc., so they make the association that when the child appears, they all have fun!
Don’t let you child grab at or run towards the dog – this can scare your dog and they will then have to choose how to respond to that fear. Fight is one of the first choices a dog can make when afraid.
Train your dog to know an escape route so you can quickly and easily send them out of the way of the toddler.
Teach your dog how to settle near your child and PAY your dog WELL for all the little zany things your child might do.
If you take your time and do this right, your dog and baby can grow old together safely.
Please Don’t Bite the Baby, and Please Don’t Chase the Dog has more suggestions than I can fit a blog.
For more helpful tips, on keeping baby safe around dogs, pick up a copy here or…
Lisa Davis brings her twenty-five years of health experience and her love of dogs together in her PodCast “Dog-Eared” to interview authors of dog related books, memoirs like A Dog Named Boo and other advice and inspirational dog-related titles.