Fido vs. Junior: Pet Safety with Your Baby
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You love your tiny bundle of fur like he's your baby—but now that your real baby's on the way, Fido is looking less "furry friend" and more ferocious animal. You've heard that dogs and babies can get along famously—heck, you've even seen the Internet videos of a 9-month-old cuddling with a Rottweiler! But how do you know that your baby is really safe? Simply "trusting" in your pup's goodwill is a lot to ask of a mother with a newborn in the house.
Most dogs and kids get along well, but there's a reason that dogs are man's best friend, not boy's. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 3.5 million children are bitten by dogs every year, creating a lot of exceptions to the rule. But your family doesn't have to another statistic—stick to these guidelines to ensure that everyone plays safely.
- Choose wisely. You can't pick your relatives, but you can pick a dog that's right for your family. Dog trainer Vicki DeGruy recommends that puppy-loving parents use the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test to assess your dog's suitability for your family. Work with a responsible breeder to choose the right dog based on your family's temperament, style of home and size preference—regardless of breed.
- Establish lines of communication. While pups can learn one or two word commands, they don't understand English—even if you're yelling it. Practice commands while your pregnant to let your dog know what's expected of him around the new baby. If your dog's having trouble with training, consider calling in professional help. Sit, stay, come, go away, leave it and go-to-spot will help Fido understand that he must be calm and gentle around your bundle of joy, keeping the jumping, wagging tail and kisses to a minimum.
- No roughhousing. Nada, zilch, not even outside—or you may have more than broken lamps to deal with. "Roughhousing and wrestling with dogs inspires them to use their teeth, a normal behavior when dogs play with each other," warns DeGruy. Playful wrestling can turn quickly escalate to snarling and snapping, followed by inevitable tears. Teach Junior and Fido to keep their teeth to themselves by swapping wrestling for structured play time with games like fetch, tug-of-war, hide-and-go-seek and agility games.
- Keep surprises to a minimum. Don't spring your new baby into your pup's comfort zone, or he'll likely become upset and nervous. If you introduce your little one while the dog's still reeling from pre-baby household changes, he'll associate the baby with his anxiety. Keep your pup in tune with new baby smells, sounds and schedule changes as soon as possible. Set up the nursery early, and change up your dog's feeding and walking times in anticipation of an erratic baby schedule. With time to adjust, he won't be quite so jumpy when the new arrival comes.
- Don't encourage sharing. Dogs are as bad as toddlers when it comes to sharing—and they have sharp teeth. A 2007 University of Pennsylvania study reveals that 44 percent of dog bites to children under 6 years old involves "resource guarding"—or as parents of tiny tyrant's call it, hoarding the toys. Fido's naturally protective of his food, so let him enjoy treats in peace. Remind your child that doggie food is for pups, and keep him clear of the food bowls.
- Give Fido a break. Everyone talks about keeping children safe from dogs, but what about the other way around? Kids are naturally curious—they'll poke, prod, yank, and smack your furry friend until he snaps. Step in when you see signs that Fido's becoming frustrated—tensing up, staring intensely, walking away, and baring his teeth. Your child's oblivious to the cues, so steer him away from your cranky canine, and explain the nice way to pet the doggie. Be vigilant in your observation, or Fido may snap to get his point across the way he would do with an unruly puppy.
- Heap on rewards. Most good relationships are cemented with food. Encourage bonding between your puppy and baby by surrounding their interactions with treats. Give Fido rawhide when you sit with the baby, and when he's old enough, teach your little one to dole out treats in the flat palm of his hand. There's no greater bond than the one between a fat, happy dog and his treat-giving boy.
- Always supervise. Even scientists are baffled by the magnitude of the catastrophes that can befall a room when you leave it for just a second. DeGruy's number one piece of advice? "Above all, never leave children and animals together unsupervised." Kids and dogs save all their naughty behavior for the moment you're not looking.
There's no reason why your two babies won't grow to love each other—but they'll both need guidance from you. Teach them to play nice with your supervision, and a little effort on your part will lay the foundation for a lifelong friendship.