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Dogs and Babies

Many parents swear that keeping a dog is great practice for looking after young children. Both require attention and teaching, both will try and get into your bed at night unless you train them otherwise, and both will force you to fit your life around their basic needs.

Dog with baby
Dogs and babies can be great friends - as long as you manage the situation properly from the beginning

A well-trained house dog will accept a new baby as part of the pack, and will recognise how important the newcomer is to you. As soon as the child is at the toddling stage you need to reinforce the fact that the small human is above the dog in the pack hierarchy. See the dog training section of this guide for more details of how to go about that.

One point where some people fall down is the simple problem of time and priorities. A baby can soak up all your time, leaving the dog feeling confused and abandoned. What happens to the dog then, and who will be there to keep him exercised, loved and entertained? These are questions you need to ask if you are thinking of buying a dog at a time of life when children are a future possibility.

If the baby enters your life before the dog, a new puppy can teach your little ones some very valuable life lessons about caring for others. But there are hazards, too, which can only be neutralised through careful supervision.

How To Teach Your Dog To Behave Around A Baby Or Child

Dogs and children can develop strong bonds, and the dog will usually become the child’s great friend and protector. Dogs tend to act differently in the company of children, with an implicit understanding that they have to be more patient. They often put up with thing they wouldn’t stand for with adults – ear-pulling, screaming and sticky hands, for example. This may not come naturally to your dog and you may need to train him to be super-patient. At the same time, you should teach your children how to behave properly around your dog.

Dog with young  girl on a walk
Children and dogs can be great friends for life

The key to making sure the dog “knows his place” is to make sure he realises that children are part of you, and therefore “alpha” in the scheme of things. Begin the process by letting your dog sniff an article of the baby’s clothing. This should be done before letting him meet the child face-to-face. Hold the clothing at a distance from the dog’s nose to start with. Do not let him make physical contact with it. This will teach him to respect that the smell belongs to you. When, after several days, he gets to see the baby, he will recognise it as that “new” part of you he first met when smelling the baby's clothes.

It should be underlined here that you must NEVER leave your baby alone with your dog, even if he’s the most trustworthy dog in the whole world.

The elephant in the room in any discussion on this topic is that latest story in the press about a dog attacking a child. The dogs in these kinds of stories are usually ones bred for fighting and aggression, and to bring such an animal into a household with small children is inviting disaster. But the same hazard is there with an untrained, or poorly-trained, dog of any breed.

As a basic rule of thumb, never let children near an untrained dog, or one of the naturally aggressive breeds.

Dog Breeds Elo jumping up in snow with child
Boisterous play is fine as long as there's no aggression involved - this Elo is simply having a good time

Things That Can Go Wrong

  • Children can find winding up a dog funny. If they repeatedly provoke your dog then it will eventually snap and may even bite your child, so stop this behavior as soon as you notice it.
  • Children who are scared of dogs might choose at some point to run away from the dog or scream. It’s a good idea to teach your children to stay calm around the dog, otherwise you might find that this kind of behavior will provoke play-fighting or outright aggression in a dog.
  • Dogs can often be protective of their toys, food or chew bones. Teach your dog that he should not show aggression when somebody approaches, but equally, teach your children not to try to take away a toy, food, etc, that the dog is engrossed in.
  • Children can sometimes get a little too playful with dogs and might even pull its coat, ears or tail. If this happens there is always a chance that your dog might bite in defence. Teach your children that this behavior is unacceptable so that your dog is never provoked.
  • Some breeds of dog are exceptionally good with children. For example, dogs with a calmer temperament like the Labrador are the perfect choice for a family with small children. The section of this Guide on dogs and children suggests some suitable breeds.

  • NOTE: Breed descriptions are not the entire story, as all dogs have individual personalities.

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