People love their pets. And in many homes, Fido is simply another member of the family — so much so that little thought may be given to what to do when a new baby arrives. But when it’s time to bring a newborn home to meet the dog, parents need to keep a few things in mind.
According to a dog bite fact sheet from the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA), it is estimated that 4.7 million Americans will be bitten this year alone, most of them children. A study published in the March 2006 issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, concluded that children under the age of 10 represent a high-risk group when it comes to dog attacks. Of great concern is the fact that researchers also found children under one-year-old were even more likely to be bitten than older children. Worse yet, the majority of the bites (73 percent) involved dogs the victim knew.
Which dogs did most of that biting? Household pets were responsible in 33 percent of those incidents. Other familiar dogs included those that belonged to friends, relatives, and neighbors.
While it’s true that some dog breeds are more likely to bite than others – German Shepherds and Dobermans accounted for 37 percent of the bite cases studied, parents must remember that all dogs – even small breeds – are capable of biting. And the family dog, however lovable, is no exception. In fact, newborns may be more at risk in homes where the dog is an established member of the family because it’s natural instinct for the dog to see the new arrival as a threat to his position in the “pack.”
Preparation, awareness, and vigilance, however, can keep your baby safe.
Before baby arrives
Doggone Safe, a non-profit organization dedicated to dog bite prevention, recommends that families review and firm up obedience. Obedience is particularly important if you own a large dog. Practice giving commands from a variety of positions and be consistent.
Make changes gradually. The American Kennel Club suggests that owners make any anticipated changes, such as those in sleeping arrangements or daily feeding, play, and exercise routines, before baby comes home, so that your dog does not associate the changes with baby.
Visit your veterinarian. According to the Humane Society of the United States, you should take your pet to the veterinarian for a health exam and any necessary vaccinations. A routine exam keeps your pet healthy and allows you to discuss any behavioral concerns you have. It’s a good idea to have your pet neutered or spayed, if he or she isn’t already. Sterilized pets are usually calmer and less likely to bite, according to Humane Society literature.
Finally, introduce your dog to baby-related sights, sounds, and scents. Allow your dog to investigate new baby-related objects, such as the baby swing and stroller. Play a recording of a baby crying. Introduce him to the smell of lotions or powders you’ll be using on the baby and let him sniff a blanket with the baby’s scent on it before bringing baby home.
When the day arrives to bring baby home, following a few simple steps can help ease the transition for the whole family, especially Fido. The AKC recommends that you greet your dog without the baby at first. This gives him time to settle down before meeting baby. If possible, give your dog a few days to adjust to the sights, sounds, and smells of your new baby before the close-up introduction. When baby and Fido finally do meet, don’t force him to get close. Instead let him take his time investigating. The Humane Society also suggests keeping a few treats handy to distract your pet, if necessary. Rewarding your dog for appropriate behavior around the baby helps him make a positive association with the baby’s presence.
Be certain to give your dog plenty of positive attention when the baby isn’t around and, as much as possible, maintain regular routines. When your dog gets into baby’s toys, as he inevitably will, don’t scold, the AKC advises. Instead, make a trade by replacing the item with one of his own toys.
Perhaps the most important advice, however, is: Never leave your dog alone with baby.
With a little extra care and attention, you, your newborn, and the family dog will continue to be one big, happy family. For more tips and information on dog bite prevention, consult Doggone Safe, www.doggonesafe.com; the Humane Society of the United States, www.hsus.org; the American Kennel Club, www.akc.org; and the AVMA, www.avma.org.