Dogs and baby – the secret to success

Things are going really well in our household since Puppy E came home several weeks ago. And it’s not just good luck — we did plenty of preparation ahead of time to get the dogs accustomed to the routines, sounds, smells, and general presence of a baby in the house. But there’s a lot more to it than that, too. The biggest success factor, in our opinion, is to make sure that the dogs feel calm, relaxed, and safe in every single interaction with the baby.

The other day, a friend was bragging to me about how good her dog is with little kids. Several toddlers had been over at her house, and decided to play with her dog. The dog tolerated their ear tugging, tail pulling, and wrestle moves, my friend boasted, even though he was clearly unimpressed. According to my friend, the dog was looking to her, like: Mom, I know I have to tolerate this, but I am really unhappy. What struck me about this story was that my friend chose to observe and allow this behavior to continue even though her dog was uncomfortable, rather than intervening on his behalf.

This dog is nervous -- a good moment to let her know it's ok to walk away.

This dog is nervous — a good moment to let her know it’s ok to walk away.

What my friend didn’t realize is that on that day, she sent a message to her dog: you are on your own. Luckily, her dog is laid-back enough to have tolerated this particular interaction with these children without acting out. But there is no telling whether a day will come when he decides he has had enough and, fairly, tells the children in no uncertain terms to back off –– or worse. If the dog did growl, snap, or bite, he would most certainly be blamed. Called aggressive. But in reality, he had looked to his people the whole time to help out, but no one paid any mind. Can you really blame the guy?

It is our responsibility to be our dogs’ guardians. It is our duty to keep them safe and happy, and protect them in situations that make them uncomfortable. Even when the children are our own, we must look out for the dogs –- as well as the kids.

Doodlebug wasn't too sure about the puppy. We rewarded him for staying cool and didn't push the interaction any further.

Doodlebug wasn’t too sure about the puppy. We rewarded him for staying cool and didn’t push the interaction any further.

A new baby coming home creates a lot of excitement in a household. Dogs, accustomed to living in a house with no tiny humans, may be nervous or over-excited when the new human first moves in. Obviously, this is understandable. But it is during those moments of over–arousal that dogs tend to make poor choices or act un-gently. And and un–gentle dog, even if it is super friendly, can spell trouble for a tiny human.

So in our house, we were especially careful about one thing. Before the dogs were allowed to interact with Puppy E at close range, they had to be totally over it. We did not want any tap-dancing paws, fast–wagging tails, or excited puppy kisses. We wanted total boredom. And we got it. How? Simple. When the baby first came home, we kept the dogs busy with plenty of enrichment activities. Lots of walks, stuffed bones and kongs to chew on, puzzle toys to play with, and slow, controlled–based exercises in the presence of the baby. Things like sit-stays and down-stays. After a few hours for Chick and a couple days for Doodlebug, they thought the baby was the most boring thing in the world. A total non-issue. And that was exactly what we wanted.

Chick calmly investigating his puppy's swimming plans.

Chick calmly investigating his puppy’s swimming plans.

So now, all of our interactions are monitored. If either dog shows the slightest sign of being nervous or too excited, we gently invite him to walk away. The message? If you are nervous, you don’t have to stay. The dogs both seem to appreciate this, and now enjoy spending time in the presence of Puppy E without feeling any pressure to stay or to go. As Puppy E gets older and becomes mobile, new challenges will pop up. But we are betting that by setting up the relationship between the dogs and baby correctly from the start, we will be better able to face these challenges gracefully.

Doodlebug chillin' with his little sister.

Doodlebug chillin’ with his little sister.

For more about preparing your dogs for a new human addition, check out our Preparing for Baby Mini-Series:

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40 responses

  1. In love this. Puppy E is a gorgeous girl, and Chick and The BUg are doing great. Wonderful how you relate to them!

  2. I love that you are breaking this down and showing that it IS possible to have a baby and keep your dogs safe and happy too. It’s just so sad when people think that because they now have a baby, they no longer need to protect and care for their dog too. Thanks for being the best advocate ever!

  3. I’m going to be re-reading this post when it comes time to have my baby – we’re going to try for IVF next week! So excited and scared. My Millie loves children but we’re always supervising her, as children can be more boistrous and intimidating to her.

  4. What a great post. Thank you! And little puppy E is adorable. Thank you for sharing all you have learned – I know it will be super helpful when we have our own little puppies. Thank you again 🙂

  5. I wish more people realized that just because their dog hasn’t done something doesn’t mean they won’t if pushed hard enough, long enough. I hope you told your friend what could happen if she continues to let the kids disrespect her dog’s space. I like how you’re showing that it is possible to have a child and be a responsible dog owner too!

  6. Good post – and very important, too. My dog likes kids but had never been around an infant until my newest grandson arrived. I always pay attention to his body language and never leave them alone together. He is comfortable laying near him now but not real interested in interacting – which is good. I am sure they will be great friends in the coming years.

  7. Great post! My wife and I will be having our first child at the end of September and we have 2 dogs as well. Both of them are great with kids, but can get extremely excited so we will definitely have to work with them!

  8. I love you for writing this. Even when people start out as dog advocates and seem to be aware of dog behavior, I’ve seen this fall by the wayside once a baby has entered the picture. I was recently talking to my brother (father of a 2 yr. old and a 3 month old) and he mentioned that one of his danes “allows” the toddler to jump all over him, pulling at his tail, etc. His other dane mix has started removing herself from the situation, even leaving the room all together. In the nicest way possible, I explained that while it’s great the dogs are being so tolerant and respectful, he should really be looking out for signals and teaching his son as early as possible to respect animals and their space. I would hate for either dog to reach their limit and be blamed for something that’s been building up for months and months.

  9. My pit mix just had his first extended experience with [dog-experienced] small humans last weekend. He loved playing with the older one, and got lots of treats and praise for laying calmly for pets by the smaller one – but when the older one gave my dog a drive-by bop on the head, *I* stepped in and removed him from the situation. We don’t have kids yet, but I don’t want him to feel, as you described it, that he’s “on his own” if/when they become a part of our life!

  10. I’ve been reading this blog for 2 years and many, MANY posts have touched my heart and/or made me cry. I’ve referred it to more people than I can count….this one stands out! I’m going to share it w/everyone I know who DOESN’T have a dog!

  11. This is wonderful I’ve been in so many situations with kids and dogs where the human says ‘poor DOG’S NAME, he/she gets tormented by the kids’ and my response is, you should advocate for all your children, two-legged and four. Giving dogs an out is so important, in so many situations. Will be re-blogging this!

  12. Wonderful pictures! I liked this post as some people have to realize that some dogs don’t want to be touched by kids all day long, they want their time away from kids as well.

  13. Reblogged this on Skyline Pet Care Austin and commented:
    We’ve seen so many dogs dumped at the shelter by pregnant parents who are sure that they can’t keep their pup once a baby arrives. This post shows how easy the new baby transition can be with your dogs if some small, thoughtful steps are taken – great advice!

  14. I really like this. It sounds like you are doing all the right things. My daughter is a dog trainer, so I’m sharing your experiences with her, too.

  15. First, she is as beautiful (in a different way) from your other puppies! :). Second, I love this post, Todd and I were just talking about being our dogs’ advocates. If we expect them to behave, and not act out, then it is imperative that we are responsible and responsive to their signs and signals, and guard them from people and situations that make them feel unsafe. (I love this post, and I am sending it to Todd). Finally, can I ask how you guys “gently invite them to walk away”?

  16. Thank you for posting this. I always get nervous when I see people posing their newborn up against their dog in photos. It’s cute, yes, but seems so risky.

    Our big dog doesn’t receive a scrap of human food and has never begged for food from the table (thank goodness!) But now the dog is learning that the tiny, seven-month-old human has delicious, sticky hands that she likes to offer for licks from her high chair. It’s a new challenge that I wasn’t expecting.

    Best wishes for when Puppy E gets mobile! We’re about to experience that step in a few weeks.

    • I don’t allow table food for my girl either EXCEPT from tiny humans. I have a big energetic dog so a few extra calories won’t hurt and I always makes sure its ‘doggie safe foods.’ But pup loves little humans bc “they are awesome and drop scrabbled eggs when they visit.”

  17. Thank you for posting this! I’m so tired of seeing parents let their children ravage their poor animals (cats as well as dogs) and then society wonders why dogs bite. Duh. Don’t the dogs have a need and right to be safe too? (No i am not saying the kids deserve to be bitten, im saying both deserve supervidion and a healthy environment and healthy relationship w each other) Sigh. Its just nice to hear someone I agree with on this matter.

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  19. Great info and I totally agree about how horrible and idea it is to be pleased with how tolerant a dog is, all the while setting them up to fail in the future. And I know kids will be kids but I think it’s important for parents to also teach them from a young age how to treat animals. I adopted out a cat to a home with young children and received news that it was not going well. A week later, she wrote me again and said things were going great and she was having her 3-year-old daughter learn to feed him and give him treats while respecting his space. It was the sweetest thing!

    I have a newborn nephew who lives on the opposite coast, but my sister-in-law has already said she does not want him around my dogs because they are pit mixes(though she has been around them a lot and knows how sweet they are). I like your suggestion to make sure the dogs think it’s boring before they can interact. I’m going to work with them on that even around adult people! Yes, the tail-wagging and licking can get a bit much:/

  20. I LOVE that this has become such a big part of your blog! My Elka loves babies, but I do know a lot of preparation is going to be involved if we decide that Baby is in our future. I’m glad to be able to turn to you for a resource, and I’m glad that you’ve just been so darn smart and diligent about all of it, including sharing your process and results with us!

  21. I went through this with a dog and bringing my own two kids home several years ago. It works great that it takes awhile for the babies to become more mobile, as it gives the dog a little time to adjust to the idea of having a child around before having to be fully immersed in all the action. Love how you’re working through everything and encouraging the calmness.

  22. I do both – train my dogs to be bombproof and do not allow them to be mauled.

    My sister just had her second and it was a resounding sucess. One gave her a sniiff in passing disinterest and to other a quick sneak lick before lying down to go to sleep.

  23. Pingback: How to Introduce Children to Your Dog - Use A Clicker | Something Wagging This Way Comes

  24. This is such great information. We love our pit mix like our child and I’ve always thought about what it will be like to bring a human child into the mix. Thanks for the reminder that it’s up to us to make our pups comfortable in all situations.

  25. Thank you, THANK YOU for this wonderful post. I picked up a 4 month old pup from the shelter a month before I became pregnant and now that I’m due in Oct. with a 10 month old puppy on hand, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and nervous! He’s gone through multiple training courses and is the sweetest most non-aggressive dog you will ever meet, but I’m sure a baby will throw him for a loop. I have every intention of introducing the dog slowly and maintain routines, etc. but your post made me feel much more comfortable about it all! Thanks again for providing such an excellent resource 🙂

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  27. One of my favorite posts. Some people show no respect for their pets by letting little ones treat them like jungle gyms. What they don’t realize is that they are putting their kids in danger too. It’s a lose/lose situation.

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