Dogs and Babies

Dogs and Babies

Preparing Your Dog for a New Baby

When you bring a new baby home, your dog will face an overwhelming number of novel sights, sounds and smells. She may find some of them upsetting, especially if she didn’t have opportunities to spend time with children as a puppy. You’ll drastically alter your daily routine, so your dog’s schedule will change, too. And, out of necessity, she’ll get less of your time and attention. It may be a difficult time for her, especially if she’s been the “only child” for a while.

To make things go as smoothly as possible for everyone, it’s important to take some time to prepare your dog for the arrival of your new addition. In the months before the baby comes, you’ll focus on two things:

  • Teaching your dog the skills she’ll need to interact safely with her new family member
  • Helping your dog adjust to the many new experiences and changes ahead

Making a Plan

Your dog will benefit from any training you can accomplish before your baby’s birth.

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  • Teaching your dog some basic obedience skills will help you manage her behavior when the baby comes. Please see the section below, Teaching Your Dog Important New Skills, for specific training guidelines. Consider enrolling in a group class to get a head start.
  • Four months before the baby arrives: Gradually introduce your dog to the new experiences, sights, sounds and smells she’ll encounter when you bring your baby home, and associate these new things with rewards. This will help your dog learn to love life with the baby.
  • One to two months before the baby arrives: Anticipate the changes you’ll make to your dog’s daily routine, and start making those changes.

Teaching Your Dog Important New Skills

Having good verbal control of your dog can really help when it comes to juggling her needs and the baby’s care. The following skills are particularly important.

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Basic Manners:

  • Sit and down
  • Stay, wait at doors and settle: These skills can help your dog learn to control her impulses, and they’ll prove useful in many situations. For example, you can teach your dog to lie down and stay whenever you sit in your nursing chair.
  • Leave it and drop it: These two behaviors can help you teach your dog to leave the baby’s things alone.
  • Greet people politely: A jumping dog can be annoying at best—and dangerous at worst—when you’re holding the baby.
  • Relax in a crate: If you crate train your dog, you’ll know that she’s safe when you can’t supervise her, and she’ll have a cozy place of her own to relax when things get hectic.
  • Come when called

Special Skills:

  • Hand targeting: If your dog is nervous or timid, teaching her to target your hand with her nose will give her something to do when she’s around the baby, which might make her feel more comfortable and confident. After your dog learns how to target your hand, you can even teach her to gently touch the baby with her nose!
  • Please go away

Teaching your dog to go away when you ask will enable you to control her movements and interactions with your baby. For example, you can use this cue to tell your dog to move away from the baby if he’s crawling toward her and she seems uncomfortable. Many dogs don’t realize that moving away is an option! If she learns that she can simply walk away from the baby when he makes her nervous, she’ll never feel trapped in a stressful situation—and she won’t be forced to express her anxiety by growling or snapping. Here’s how to teach your dog this invaluable skill:

  • Show her a treat, say “Go away,” and toss the treat four or five feet away from you. Repeat this sequence many times.
  • The next step is to refrain from tossing the treat until your dog starts to move away. Say “Go away,” and move your arm as though you’re tossing a treat. When your dog moves in the direction of your gesture, even if she only takes one step, say “Yes!” Then immediately toss a treat four or five feet away, in the direction your dog started to move.
  • After more repetitions, try waiting until your dog takes several steps away before you say “Yes!” and toss the treat.
  • Play fetch: Teaching your dog to play fetch with a toy can prepare her for safe, fun interaction with your child.

Preparing Your Dog for Lifestyle Changes

Many dogs experience anxiety when their lifestyles are drastically altered. Although things will change with the arrival of your new baby, you can minimize your dog’s stress by gradually getting her used to these changes in advance.

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Plan and Practice Changes to Your Daily Routine

If you can predict how your schedule will change when the baby comes, begin a slow transition toward that new schedule now. If you plan to nap in the afternoon when the baby is sleeping, start taking occasional afternoon naps. If you plan to walk your dog at different times of day, gradually switch to the new routine.

Life with a baby can be hectic and sometimes unpredictable. It may help to prepare your dog for a less consistent daily schedule. Try varying the time you feed your dog. For example, if she gets breakfast every morning at 7:00 A.M. sharp, start feeding her at random times between 6:00 A.M. and 10:00 A.M. Alternatively, you can plan to stick to your dog’s regular schedule with the help of an automatic feeder,. These products have built-in timers, so you can set them to deliver food at set times each day, whether you’re around or not.

Consider hiring a dog walker to take over the responsibility of exercising your dog, at least for the first few weeks after the baby arrives. Interview dog walkers and choose one now. To help your dog get used to leaving your house without you, you can have the dog walker start taking her on occasional walks.

If your dog enjoys playing with other dogs, consider taking her to a doggie daycare once or twice a week after the baby comes. Investigate your options now, and have your dog spend time at the daycare so that she gets used to this new activity. Alternatively, you can plan to take your dog to friends’ or family members’ houses once or twice a week for some quality time with people she knows and likes. Begin these visits now.

If you’re really ambitious, you can practice getting up in the middle of the night with your dog. Teach her to settle quietly in an area where you plan to nurse the baby.

Minimize Changes in Attention

Resist the temptation to lavish your dog with extra attention in the weeks before the baby’s due date. This will only set her up for a bigger letdown when the baby comes and takes center stage. Instead, start scheduling short play and cuddle sessions with your dog, and gradually give her less and less attention at other times of day. Schedule your sessions randomly so that your dog doesn’t come to expect attention at any particular time.

Make New Rules Now

When the baby comes home, some of your dog’s privileges will likely change. It will be easiest for her to accept these changes if you institute new rules in advance.

If you don’t want your dog on the furniture or the bed after the baby arrives, introduce that restriction now.

If you don’t want your dog to jump up on you when you’re carrying your new baby or holding him in your lap, start teaching her to keep all four of her paws on the floor.

If your dog is used to sleeping in bed with you and you want that to change with the baby’s arrival, provide a comfortable dog bed that she can use instead. If necessary, you can place the new bed in an exercise pen or a crate to prevent her from jumping up onto your bed during the night. Likewise, if you want your dog to sleep in another room when the baby arrives, establish this habit well in advance.

Even if your dog adores children, she might accidentally scratch your baby’s delicate skin while riding beside him in the car. Consider installing a car barrier, purchasing a dog seatbelt or teaching your dog to relax in a crate when she’s in the car. You can find barriers, special seatbelts and crates at most major pet stores.

Having a vocal dog in your home can be a great deterrent to burglars, and many people appreciate their dog’s watchdog skills. However, when your baby’s trying to take a nap, your dog’s barking at falling leaves, neighbors and scurrying squirrels outside will get old very quickly. Now is the time to start teaching her that she doesn’t have to be quite so vigilant. To learn how to discourage her from continually sounding the alarm, please see our article on Barking.

If the Baby’s Room Will Be Off-Limits

Some people decide that they’d like their dog to wait outside the baby’s room unless invited in. The easiest way to accomplish this is to teach your dog to sit-stay or down-stay by the door.

When you’re not training, keep the baby’s door closed or install a tall baby gate in the doorway so that your dog gets used to restricted access.

If the Baby’s Room Won’t Be Off-Limits

Put a dog bed in an out-of-the-way spot in the baby’s room, and keep a container of dog treats in the room. Every once in a while, leave a few treats on your dog’s bed when she’s not looking. Later on, she can discover them on her own. She’ll learn to love her new spot in the baby’s room!

You can train your dog to settle on her new bed in the baby’s room when you need her to stay out of the way.

If you plan to spend time in the baby’s room when you’re nursing or rocking him to sleep, teach your dog to spend quiet time in the room with you. While you sit in a chair, your dog can relax on her bed. Try giving her a new chew bone or a food puzzle toy to work on during your quiet-time sessions. After the baby comes, when you rock or feed him, you can occasionally toss a treat to your dog while she’s lying on her bed. This practice will make her happy to be around the baby and reward her for staying in her spot during quiet time.

If you don’t have time to teach your dog the Stay cue, you can use a leash or tether attached to a heavy piece of furniture to remind her to stay on her bed. If you prefer, you can screw an eye hook into a baseboard to secure the tether. This practice will allow your dog to enjoy time with you and the baby but prevent her from jumping up or pawing at you.

To some dogs, a crib might seem like the perfect place for a cozy nap! If your dog is agile enough to climb into your baby’s crib, it’s important to let her know now that she’ll never be allowed to curl up there. If she approaches the crib and spends more than a few seconds investigating it, simply call her to come to you. If she complies, praise her warmly. If your dog tries to jump up to put her front paws on the crib, immediately clap your hands and say “Off!” in a firm tone of voice. Then take her by the collar and lead her away from the crib. If you think she might try to sneak into the crib when you’re not supervising her, keep the baby’s door closed or use a baby gate to block the doorway.

Preparing Your Dog for New Experiences

For dogs who haven’t spent much time with them, babies can seem like pretty bizarre—and even frightening—creatures. They make loud, screeching noises, they smell different, they definitely don’t look like grown-up humans, and they move in strange ways. It’s a good idea to introduce your dog to as many baby-like sights, sounds, smells and movements as possible so that some aspects of the baby are familiar when you bring him home.

Introduce Your Dog to Baby Sights, Sounds and Smells

Unwrap new baby supplies, such as toys, car seats, highchairs and swings, from their packaging and introduce them to your dog one or two at a time. You can also place smaller items on the floor when you’re around to supervise your dog. Let her investigate them, but if she picks them up, immediately redirect her attention to one of her own toys or chew bones. (Keep in mind that it might be difficult for your dog to tell the difference between her things and the baby’s! That’s why it’s important to help her start learning now).

Start to use a little bit of the baby’s lotions, shampoos, creams and powders on yourself so that your dog associates them with a familiar person. If you can, borrow clothes and blankets that smell like a baby to get the dog used to that smell, too.

If your dog is sensitive to strange noises, she might become agitated or frightened when she hears the baby cry. To help her get used to the sound in advance, purchase a recording of realistic baby noises and play it frequently. Whenever you play the recording, give your dog plenty of attention, treats and anything else she likes. After 5 to 10 minutes, turn the recording off and ignore your dog for half an hour or so. Do this several times a day. Instead of becoming afraid or upset when she hears baby sounds, she’ll learn to look forward to them because they predict attention and treats for her! If you try this procedure and find that your dog seems really afraid of the recorded baby noises, you may need to start with the volume very low. When she gets used to the sound at a low level, you can gradually increase the volume. Remember to give her plenty of delicious treats, like bits of cheese, hot dog or chicken, every time she hears the baby sounds.

Practice with a Doll

Some behaviorists recommend purchasing a lifelike doll and using it to simulate common activities you’ll do with the baby, such as feeding, carrying and rocking. Of course, your dog will quickly discover that the doll isn’t a real baby, but her initial reactions to it may help you determine which obedience skills you should focus on before the baby’s arrival. The doll can also help you practice caring for the baby and interacting with your dog at the same time.

Some dogs will jump up when you lift a doll and hold it your arms. It’s important to plan what you’ll do if this happens. A good solution is to ask your dog to stay in a sit or down whenever you hold, lift or handle the doll.

You can use the doll to teach your dog to gently give kisses. If you have sanitary concerns, you can teach her to lick the doll’s feet only. Praise your dog for any kind of gentle contact with the doll, and give her plenty of treats.

If your dog tries to bite the doll (knowing that it’s not a real baby, she might think it’s a toy), say “No.” Then immediately redirect her attention to an appropriate toy, and praise her enthusiastically if she plays with that instead. Teach her to be extremely gentle with anything you’re holding in your arms like a baby.

Prepare Your Dog for the Baby’s Touch and Movement

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Handling

When your child is old enough to understand the lesson, you’ll teach him to handle your dog gently. However, not knowing any better, young babies often grab dogs’ fur, ears, tails and anything else within reach. To prepare your dog for this inevitability, accustom her to the types of touching you can expect from your baby, including grabbing, poking, pushing and pulling. If you teach your dog that good things happen when she gets poked and prodded, she’ll be able to better tolerate potentially uncomfortable interactions with the baby.

Poke the Pup

Poke your dog gently and then give her a treat. Gently tug on her ear and then give a treat. Gently grab her skin or pinch her and then give a treat. In a cheery voice, say something like “Oh, what was that?” each time you poke, pull or pinch your dog. Later on, when the baby does these things, you can say the same phrase. With repetition, your dog will start to anticipate tasty treats and simply look to you each time she gets pinched or grabbed. Practice these handling exercises four to eight times per day, and use especially exciting treats, like cheese, chicken or hot dogs. (Training sessions can be short—about five minutes long). When you start your training, be very gentle. Over time, make your touches more intense, like they will be when the baby delivers them.

Movement

Some dogs have never seen a human crawl, so it can be an intimidating experience—especially because crawling puts a person right at their eye level. So it’s a good idea to help your dog get used to crawling before your baby starts to become mobile. Accomplishing this is easy! Crawl toward your dog. As soon as she lifts her head to look at you, pet her and give her treats. Eventually, she’ll start to anticipate fun and goodies when she seems you crawling in her direction. Everyone in the family should participate in this exercise. When your baby comes and your dog is completely comfortable with this new game, incorporate the baby into the picture, too. Have him sit on your back, supported by your partner, when you crawl. Remember to cuddle your dog and give her treats so that she continues to enjoy this strange, new human behavior!

Bringing the Baby Home

First impressions are important. Your dog should have pleasant experiences with your baby right from the start.

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When bringing your baby home from the hospital, send everyone else into the house first so your dog can express her usual excitement to see people. After she’s had a minute or two of greeting time and expends some of her energy, have someone leash her. This is important, even if you have no reason to believe that she’ll react poorly to the baby. That person should also get some small treats ready to use during your dog’s first few moments with the baby. (It may help to prepare these treats in advance and keep them in a container near the front door).

It’s crucial to stay calm and relaxed when you and the baby enter the house. If you seem nervous and jumpy, your dog will pick up on your feelings and may become nervous as well, thinking that the bundle in your arms is something to worry about. Instead, speak to your dog in a soft but cheerful voice as you walk into the house. Have your helper distract her with plenty of treats so that her attention is divided between them, your baby and the other people present. The helper can ask your dog to respond to obedience cues, like sit and down, using the treats to reward her polite behavior. Praise your dog for any calm interest in the baby. Avoid scolding your dog. Remember, you want her to associate the baby with good things, not your displeasure.

Meeting the Baby

Whether you choose to allow your dog to investigate the baby right away or to wait until a later time, orchestrate the event carefully. Choose a quiet room, and sit down with the baby in your arms. Have a helper leash your dog and bring her into the room. Again, avoid nervous or agitated behavior. Talk to your dog in a calm, happy voice as you invite her to approach. Convince her that meeting and interacting with her new friend is fun, not stressful.

If your dog’s body language is relaxed and friendly, have your friend walk her toward you and the baby, keeping the leash short but loose. If she wants to, let your dog sniff the baby as you continue to speak softly to her. Praise her warmly for gentle investigation.

Even if your dog seems curious and calm, you may feel a little nervous about letting her get close to the infant. That’s normal for new parents and perfectly reasonable. Initially, you might feel most comfortable allowing only brief interactions. Let your dog sniff the baby’s feet for a couple of seconds. Then gently interrupt her investigation by praising her and asking her to sit or lie down. Reward her for complying with a few small, tasty treats. (Your helper can hand them to you or deliver the rewards to your dog himself). If you like, repeat this sequence a few times. Then have your helper distract your dog with a new chew bone or a food puzzle toy.

Daily Life with the Baby

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Teaching Your Dog to Love the Baby

As the baby settles in, continue to focus on associating him with good things for your dog. You may be tempted to give her plenty of attention when the baby’s asleep and then try to get her to lie down, be quiet and leave you alone while the baby’s awake. It’s actually much better to do the opposite. Try to give your dog lots of attention when the baby is present. Teach her that when he’s around, she gets treats, petting, playing—and anything else she likes. When you feed the baby, you can feed your dog, too. When you walk your dog, do your best to take the baby along. (Baby “backpacks” and slings are great for dog parents). This strategy, though it requires some skillful multitasking on your part, teaches your dog a valuable lesson. She’ll learn to love it when the baby is awake and active because that’s when good things happen for her.

Obviously, giving both the baby and your dog attention at the same time is easier if there are two adults in the home. But when that’s not possible, you can still accomplish a lot by holding your baby in your lap while you talk to your dog and stroke her, give her treats or toss a ball for her.

Also teach your dog that when your baby isn’t around, things get very boring. Your dog can be with you, but try to ignore her most of the time. This will make her eagerly anticipate the baby’s next active time and help her bond with him.

Out from Underfoot

It can be really hard to care for an infant if your dog insists on being underfoot. To make things easier and safer for everyone, you can teach her to move away when you ask.

  • Say a cue, like “Go away” or “Shoo!”
  • Show your dog a treat.
  • Toss the treat on the floor, a few feet away from you.
  • Repeat this sequence 10 times.
  • The next step is to refrain from tossing the treat until your dog starts to move away.
  • Say your cue.
  • Extend your arm and point, using the same motion that you did when tossing the treat.
  • The moment your dog moves in the direction of your gesture, say “Yes!” Then throw the treat past her.

Over your next few training sessions, gradually increase the number of steps your dog must take before you toss her a treat. Eventually, you can wait until she moves several feet away before you toss the treat. Once your dog has mastered this skill, you’ll be able to use it in other situations, too. When your baby starts to crawl, for example, you can use the cue to teach your dog to move away from him when she feels uncomfortable.

Quiet Time Together

Another great way to encourage your dog to stay out of the way while you’re tending to the baby is to teach her to settle down for some quiet time. Keep a dog bed or comfy mat in the room where you usually feed the baby. When it’s time to nurse or give him a bottle, provide something tasty for your dog, too. You can reward her for doing a nice down-stay on her bed, tossing a piece or two of kibble every few moments. Alternatively, you can give your dog an exciting new chew bone or food puzzle toy to work on while you care for the baby in the same room.

Polite Manners Around the Baby

As often as possible, reward your dog for behaving politely when she’s close to the baby. Encouraging calm, controlled behavior now will pay off in the weeks and months ahead—as your baby becomes more and more interesting and exciting to your dog. If someone in your family has time, consider taking your dog to a group obedience class or hiring a private trainer to show you how to teach the basics in your own home. A well-trained dog will make your first few days, weeks, months and even years with your child much easier!

What Was That?!

Baby sounds, especially those that are very loud, may upset and confuse your dog. Most dogs simply learn to ignore them, but some need extra help. If your dog seems distressed when the baby makes noise, associate the sounds with things your dog loves. If the baby squeals or cries, toss a tasty treat to your dog right afterward. After a little repetition, your dog will discover that baby sounds don’t signal anything bad. In fact, they predict the delivery of food!

Troubleshooting

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If Your Dog Is a Little Nervous About the Baby

Sniff the Baby

Some dogs are nervous about babies or even a bit afraid of them and go out of their way to avoid contact. If your dog seems a little worried about the new member of your family, you can teach her how to touch the baby with her nose on cue. This exercise will give her a safe way to interact with him and get used to his scent, appearance and sounds—without being forced to stay close for more than a few seconds at a time.

To get started, you’ll need to first teach your dog to touch your hand with her nose. Once your dog will touch your hand on cue, you can transfer this behavior to the baby.

Put your hand on the baby, palm facing toward your dog. Say “Touch,” and then reward your dog for approaching and touching your hand.

After a few repetitions, change the rules a little. First, say “Touch.” Then, right as your dog moves forward to touch your hand with her nose, quickly move your palm a few inches so that your dog inadvertently touches the baby. The instant she does, say “Yes!” Then give her a few extra treats. Repeat this exercise until your dog clearly tries to touch the baby with her nose instead of your hand. (For some dogs, this might take just a few repetitions. Others may need a few training sessions before catching on).

At this point, start pointing to your baby instead of presenting your hand after you say your cue.

If your dog enjoys this activity, she might soon start taking the initiative to gently sniff or nose the baby on her own. If this happens, be sure to praise her enthusiastically and give her a treat. Praise may be enough to maintain your dog’s new friendly behavior, but it’s a good idea to keep periodically rewarding her with treats, too. Doing so will help her learn that being close to the baby isn’t scary—it earns her your happy attention and, sometimes, something delicious.

Handouts at the High Chair

Timid dogs often have a hard time when babies start to become more active, more vocal and mobile. Luckily, this period coincides with the time when babies start learning about gravity by throwing finger foods from the high chair onto the floor. Allowing your dog to help you clean up these tasty experiments may convince her that having a baby in the house is a very good thing!

What NOT to Do

Never force your dog to interact with your baby. Let her approach him on her own. When she seems nervous, speak softly to her and praise her for bravely investigating.

If Your Dog Responds Aggressively to the Baby

Dogs who show aggression toward a new baby in the home often do so because they have not been well socialized to children and find them foreign and frightening. Some dogs don’t fear babies, but they become aggressive when guarding their food, toys or chew bones. Babies and young children can’t understand that they should leave the dog’s things alone. They may also have difficulty recognizing a dog’s warning signs or find growling and barking amusing. A child’s failure to heed such warnings can have disastrous consequences. A small percentage of dogs seem to react to babies as though they’re squeaky toys, and this response can be extremely dangerous, too. All of these situations put children at great risk of receiving a bite.

What to Do

Get help. If your dog shows aggressive behavior around your baby in any situation—or if you think she might—keep her away from him at all times and immediately contact an animal behavior expert. Please see our article on Finding Professional Behavior Help to locate a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or Associate CAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) in your area. Make sure that the professional you hire is qualified to help you. It’s important that he or she has extensive experience in successfully treating aggression in dogs.

Should You Correct Your Dog for Aggressive Behavior?

Obviously, it’s important that your dog learn to inhibit her aggressive behavior toward your child. However, the best way to deal with an aggressive dog is not to verbally or physically punish her. Punishment can backfire because it teaches your dog that bad things happen when your child is present—which is yet another reason to dislike him. If your child becomes a signal for punishment, your dog may fear or resent him even more. In particular, it’s important to avoid punishing your dog for growling, snapping, showing teeth or otherwise giving aggressive warnings when she’s upset. If you are fortunate enough to have a dog who warns you before biting, never scold or otherwise punish her for this behavior. If you inhibit her warning system, it may disappear—and you may not have a way to know when your dog is feeling uncomfortable or aggressive. She may just suddenly bite! As long as your dog growls, you have the opportunity to remove your dog or your child from bad situations.

The most effective and humane way to resolve aggression problems is to focus on changing your dog’s motivations for behaving aggressively. If your dog is aggressive toward your baby, you can improve her behavior by teaching her to like being around him. Again, it’s crucial to seek professional guidance. A qualified behaviorist or trainer can come to your home, thoroughly evaluate your situation and walk you through a systematic, safe behavior modification plan.

Preparing Your Dog for Life with a Toddler

Many dogs who haven’t spent time around children find toddlers confusing and intimidating. Some find them downright scary! Read on to learn about what you can do to influence the developing relationship between your dog and your growing child.

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Prepare in Advance

A wonderful thing about babies is that they start out not doing much at all and then become more active and mobile as they develop. These slow changes will help your dog get used to your newest family member gradually, setting both of them up for successful interactions. But before you know it, your baby will be a poking, grabbing, crawling machine! When your baby’s still young, start preparing your dog for a toddler’s touch, movements and unpredictable behavior.

Handling

As they explore the world, young children do a lot of grabbing, poking and pulling. You’ll eventually teach your child to treat your dog with gentleness and respect—but he won’t be able to grasp these concepts as a toddler. So before he starts crawling around, it’s important to help your dog get used to rough and even painful handling.

Poke the Pup

To prepare your dog for the way your baby will touch her, teach her that wonderful things happen when her various parts get poked and prodded. Use small, delicious treats, such as chicken, cheese or hot dog, to “pay” your dog for tolerating each and every slightly uncomfortable sensation.

If possible, dedicate a little time every day to practicing the following exercises. As you work with your dog, keep in mind that it’s important for your touch and her treat to happen in the correct order. The idea is to teach your dog that uncomfortable touching always predicts the delivery of goodies. That way, she’ll learn to look forward to it! So touch your dog first, and then give her a treat. These two events shouldn’t happen at the same time.

Poke your dog gently in the side or rump, and then immediately give her a treat. Repeat the poking five times in a row, four to eight times a day, until your dog feels a poke and looks up at you for her treat. When this happens, start gradually making the pokes a little more forceful.

Gently pull your dog’s ear, and then give her a treat. Repeat until your dog happily looks for her treat right after you pull her ear. Do the same exercise with your dog’s tail. Just as you’ll do when helping your dog get used to poking, do plenty of repetitions and gradually increase the pressure of your ear and tail pulling.

Pinch your dog, and then give her a treat. Repeat until your dog looks at you excitedly right after you pinch her. Start with very gentle pinches. Over two or three weeks of daily practice, work up to harder and harder pinches.

Gently tug on a handful of your dog’s fur, and then give her a treat. Repeat until your dog looks for her treat right after you tug on her fur. Then start to gradually increase the forcefulness of your tugs.

You can say something like “Oh, what was that?” in a cheerful voice each time you do something mildly annoying to your dog. Later, when your toddler touches her in an uncomfortable way, you can say the same thing to let your dog know that a tasty treat is coming.

If your dog starts to get jumpy when you reach for her, you’ve likely increased the intensity of your pokes and pulls too quickly. Go back to very gentle touching for a while. Only start to slowly increase intensity again when your dog seems relaxed and happy after you touch her. Make sure you also touch her in your usual gentle manner plenty of times throughout the day so she doesn’t decide that all touching is unpleasant.

Movement: Introduce “Baby Moves”

Some dogs have never seen a human crawl, so it can be an intimidating experience—especially because crawling puts a person right at their eye level. So it’s a good idea to help your dog get used to crawling before your baby starts to become mobile. Accomplishing this is easy! Crawl toward your dog. As soon as she lifts her head to look at you, pet her and give her treats. Eventually, she’ll start to anticipate fun and goodies when she sees you crawling in her direction. Everyone in the family should participate in this exercise. When your baby comes and your dog is completely comfortable with this new game, incorporate the baby into the picture, too. Have him sit on your back, supported by your partner, when you crawl. Continue to cuddle your dog and give her treats so that she continues to enjoy this strange, new human behavior! She should take it all in stride when the baby starts crawling on his own.

Resource Guarding Prevention

Babies and young children have no idea that dogs sometimes get upset when people get close to their food, chew bones or toys. Even if your dog has never behaved aggressively when someone approaches one of her favorite things, it’s a good idea to do some resource guarding prevention anyway.

Before your baby starts to crawl, start teaching your dog that when someone approaches her and a valued resource, wonderful things happen—and she gets to keep her stuff.

  • When your dog is eating her dinner, walk up to her and toss something far more delicious into her bowl, like a small piece of chicken, cheese or hot dog.
  • After a week or two of daily repetition during each meal, do the same thing, but reach into your dog’s bowl and place the tasty treat right on top of her kibble.
  • The following week, start reaching down to feed your dog the delicious morsel from your hand, right next to the bowl.
  • After another week, approach your dog, pat her on her back and then reach down to feed her the treat.
  • Next, approach and then reach down to touch the edge of your dog’s bowl with your empty hand. After withdrawing your hand, reach down again to give her the wonderful treat.
  • The next week, approach, reach into your dog’s bowl with your empty hand and touch her kibble with your fingers. Then feed her the treat.
  • Finally, approach, reach down and take away your dog’s bowl. Then feed her a treat, put an extra treat into her dish and give it back to her so she can finish her meal.

Continue to periodically do this exercise, sometimes just approaching to pat your dog while she eats, sometimes putting your hands into her dish and sometimes taking the dish away. Always give her a treat right afterwards.

Eventually, your dog will start to see you coming and happily back away from her bowl so that you can take it away and spruce it up with a fabulous goodie! At this point, ask other adults to practice with your dog as well. After she learns that anyone approaching her while she eats means that she’s going to get a reward, she’ll be much less likely to react aggressively if your unwitting child happens to approach her during a meal.

You can do similar exercises when your dog is chewing bones or playing with her toys. The more good experiences your dog has when people approach her and her favorite things, the better.

Teach Your Dog to Retreat

Many dogs don’t realize that they can move away from a baby when they feel tired or nervous about interacting. If they don’t know that retreating is an option, they sometimes resort to aggressive behavior, like growling, snapping or even biting. This is natural for dogs when communicating with each other—but it’s clearly undesirable if such behavior is directed toward your child.

When a dog growls or snaps at a baby, his parents wisely swoop in to the rescue. Although necessary, the removal of the baby is exactly what the dog wants, so it reinforces her aggressive behavior. To prevent this unfortunate cycle of events, teach your dog that she doesn’t have to defend herself—she can choose to move away instead. (Of course, until your dog has mastered the skills below, step in to remove your child whenever your dog starts to look nervous—before she feels the need to express her discomfort).

Walking Away Is an Option

If you’ve already taught your dog a “Go away” cue, you can use it to tell her how to escape from uncomfortable situations. If you see your baby crawling toward your dog or if you see your dog start to look anxious while interacting with him, say “Go away” in a calm, cheerful tone. Avoid sounding angry. Your dog hasn’t done anything wrong, and your disapproval will only intensify her anxiety. Then point in the direction you’d like your dog to go. When she moves a few feet away from your baby, toss her a treat. After some repetition, your dog will learn that when she’s uncomfortable, she doesn’t have to rely on aggression to relieve her distress. She can simply go somewhere else. Make sure, however, that moving away from the baby is physically possible for her.

  • Minimize the amount of furniture in rooms, so that your dog doesn’t get cornered behind sofas or underneath tables.
  • Pull furniture a couple of feet away from the walls to create convenient escape routes.
  • Teach your dog that it’s okay to jump over the sides or backs of chairs and sofas so that she won’t feel trapped on them if your baby reaches for her.

Designate Safe Zones and Teach Your Dog to Use Them

Choose Some Safe Zones

Note the layout of your home and designate or create ‘safe zones’ for your dog. These areas should be in the rooms where you spend most of your time. Comfy elevated spots usually make the best safe zones because your dog can easily hop up onto them to get out of your toddler’s reach. One option is to simply put a dog bed, small rug, mat or blanket on your sofa. Or, if you’re handy, build a sturdy shelf or platform for your dog to use instead. Provide good footing by gluing or stapling carpet to its surface.

Teach Your Dog to Go to the Safe Zones

  • When you’ve decided where your dog’s safe zones will be, help her learn to use them.
  • Standing right next to your dog’s designated safe zone, say a cue, like “Go to your spot.”
  • Show your dog a treat and then toss it onto the spot.
  • When your dog hops up onto the spot to get her treat, praise her as she eats it.
  • Clap your hands to encourage her to come down so that you can repeat the sequence again.
  • Repeat this sequence about 10 times. The next step is to teach your dog to go to the spot in response to your cue alone, without following a tossed treat.
  • Say your cue, “Go to your spot.”
  • Point to the spot, using the same motion that you did when tossing the treat. If your dog seems confused, try patting the spot as you encourage her to jump up.
  • The moment your dog hops up onto her spot, say “Yes!” Then immediately feed her a treat.
  • Clap your hands to prompt her to come down again.

Spend a few days practicing the steps above. (Aim for two or three 5- to 10-minute training sessions per day). When your dog readily jumps up onto her safe zone after you give her the cue, start to stand further away from it. At first, just stand a step away when you say “Go to your spot.” Then, during your next training session, try standing two steps away. Continue to slowly increase your distance from the safe zone, just a step or two at a time. After a week or two of practice, you’ll be able to stand all the way across the room and send your dog to her safe zone.

When you see your child crawling toward your dog, you can start using the “Go to your spot” cue if you see your dog become nervous about being close to him. Periodically reward her with a treat, chew bone or stuffed Kong toy to enjoy.

Teach Your Child to Respect Your Dog

As your child develops, teach him to respect your dog’s body, safe zones and belongings. Always supervise interactions so that you can guide your child as he learns to communicate and play with your dog appropriately. Playing an active role in the development of a relationship between your child and your dog will benefit everyone.

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Show your child what gentle, enjoyable petting looks like. Teach him to stoke and scratch your dog in her favorite spots. Explain that hitting, kicking or pinching dogs, as well as riding, teasing and intentionally scaring them are NOT okay.

Teach your child to play structured games with your dog, like fetch, tug-of war and hide-and-seek. Training games, trick training and clicker training are also a lot of fun for both kids and dogs.

Enroll your dog in obedience classes with an instructor who welcomes children so that your child can learn to be with his dog in a gentle, effective way. When your child gives your dog cues, be sure to back him up. For instance, if your child says “Sit” and your dog complies, help your child praise her like crazy and hand him a treat to give her! If he says “Sit” and she hesitates, immediately repeat “Sit.” If you do this consistently, your dog will learn that every time your child requests a behavior, you will too—so she might as well respond to your child and earn a reward more quickly.

Teach Your Dog to Like Other Children

Your child will eventually want to have friends over to play, so it’s important for your dog to become comfortable with unfamiliar children.

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If you have friends with kids, ask them to visit as often as possible. Make sure your dog has a wonderful time during these visits. If she already likes kids, ask young visitors to toss her favorite toy or tell her to sit or lie down to earn tasty treats. If you don’t have friends with children, take your dog on frequent outings in well-populated areas. When you encounter friendly children who would like to interact with your dog, take advantage of the situation. Coach them carefully to ensure good experiences. Always give them treats to feed or toss your dog. If your dog is great with your own child but nervous, fearful or aggressive around other children, seek assistance from a qualified professional as soon as possible. Don’t wait until your child matures and your dog’s behavior becomes a problem. Please see our article on Finding Professional Behavior Help to locate a behaviorist in your area now.

Troubleshooting

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If Your Dog Is A Little Nervous About Your Toddler

Some dogs are nervous about toddlers or even a bit afraid of them and go out of their way to avoid contact. If your dog seems a little worried about your child, use the tools described above to prevent tense situations and focus on teaching her to associate him with things she loves. When it’s time to feed your toddler breakfast or dinner, feed your dog her meal as well. When you take your toddler out in the stroller for walks, bring your dog along. When you’re playing with your toddler, don’t isolate your dog elsewhere in the house. Find ways for her to participate in games, too.

Handouts at the High Chair

Timid dogs often have a hard time when babies start to become more active, more vocal and mobile. Luckily, this period coincides with the time when babies start learning about gravity by throwing finger foods from the high chair onto the floor. Allowing your dog to help you clean up these tasty experiments may convince her that having a baby in the house is a very good thing!

What NOT to Do

Never force your dog to interact with your toddler. Let her approach him on her own. When she seems nervous, speak softly to her and praise her for bravely investigating.

If You Have an Older, Disabled or Injured Dog

Dogs who are elderly, dogs who have chronic pain and dogs with sensory deficits, such as deafness or blindness, may have trouble adjusting to life with a child because of the unpredictability and chaos that children inevitably bring. If you know your dog may not react well to your child for these reasons, take steps now to prevent problems from arising.

Make sure that your dog is thoroughly evaluated by her veterinarian annually so that you’re aware of any medical conditions that might impact her behavior with your child.

Like other animals, dogs may become aggressive when touched if they’re hurt, confused or frightened. Always keep this in mind—even if you have a close bond with your dog and she has never shown aggression to you or other adults. Do not make the mistake of thinking that because your dog is good-natured and loves you that she’ll refrain from snapping or biting your child.

If she’s elderly or frail, you may need to keep your dog in a safe area when the baby starts crawling around. Although it will take some extra effort on your part, it’s better to vigilantly separate your dog and your child than to put the two of them in a risky situation.

A dog who reacts by snapping when touched, either because of chronic pain or advanced age, may not be good candidate for living safely with a young child. If you feel that you cannot successfully keep your dog separated from your child at all times or help control her pain with medication, it may be wise to consider re-homing her with a friend, family member or other adopter who has no children. 

If Your Dog Responds Aggressively to Your Toddler

Dogs who show aggression toward a toddler in the home often do so because they have not been well socialized to children and find them foreign and frightening. Some dogs don’t fear toddlers, but they become aggressive when guarding their food, toys or chew bones. Young children can’t understand that they should leave the dog’s things alone. They may also have difficulty recognizing a dog’s warning signs or find growling and barking amusing. A child’s failure to heed such warnings can have disastrous consequences. A small percentage of dogs seem to react to young children as though they’re squeaky toys, and this response can be extremely dangerous, too. All of these situations put children at great risk of receiving a bite.

What to Do

Get help. If your dog shows aggressive behavior around your toddler—or if you think she might—keep her away from him and immediately contact an animal behavior expert. Please see our article on Finding Professional Behavior Help to locate a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or Associate CAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) in your area. Make sure that the professional you hire is qualified to help you. It’s important that he or she has extensive experience successfully treating aggression in dogs.

Should You Correct Your Dog for Aggressive Behavior?

Obviously, it’s important that your dog learn to inhibit her aggressive behavior toward your child. However, the best way to deal with an aggressive dog is not to verbally or physically punish her. Punishment can backfire because it teaches your dog that bad things happen when your child is present—which is yet another reason to dislike him. If your child becomes a signal for punishment, your dog may fear or resent him even more. In particular, it’s important to avoid punishing your dog for growling, snapping, showing teeth or otherwise giving aggressive warnings when she’s upset. If you are fortunate enough to have a dog who warns you before biting, never scold or otherwise punish her for this behavior. If you inhibit her warning system, it may disappear—and you may not have a way to know when your dog is feeling uncomfortable or aggressive. She may just suddenly bite! As long as your dog growls, you have the opportunity to remove your dog or your child from bad situations.

The most effective and humane way to resolve aggression problems is to focus on changing your dog’s motivations for behaving aggressively. If your dog is aggressive toward your toddler, you can improve her behavior by teaching her to like being around him. Again, it’s crucial to seek professional guidance. A qualified behaviorist or trainer can come to your home, thoroughly evaluate your situation and walk you through a systematic, safe behavior modification plan.