Dogs and children can grow up to be great friends. Many of us have very special memories of being with a “best friend” as a child. But unfortunately not all dogs relish the company of a boisterous child, or immediately accept the arrival of a baby into the family “pack”. For dogs such as these, here are a few words of advice.
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It is well known that many couples put off starting a family for a few years and bring in a “baby substitute” in the form of a dog. This dog is probably shown a great deal of affection, will often be spoken to as if it is a baby and will grow up feeling it is the center of attention. In the same way that an older child realizes the competition for your attention when a new baby arrives, so will the dog feel left out if there is a sudden change to its life. The answer is to start working with the dog well before baby appears.
Help Scamp to feel less dependent. If Scamp is allowed up on to furniture, teach him that his place is now on the floor. Encourage him off the furniture with a short game or a titbit, rather than yelling at him
to get down. Sit beside him on the floor until he accepts this.
Where does Scamp sleep at night? In the bedroom? Will this still be a good idea when you are getting up and down through the night to attend to a new baby? Even worse is when Scamp is used to sleeping on the bed. Move his bed well before baby arrives – his bed can be gradually moved nearer and nearer the bedroom door over a few weeks so that he does not notice any sudden change. Once his bed is outside the bedroom, start to shut the bedroom door. This bed moving can be avoided completely if Scamp is used to perhaps being shut in the kitchen for spells during the day. Just move his bed to the kitchen and shut him in at night. The kitchen will still be disturbed when preparing feeds for baby during the night, but Scamp does not need to know that baby is the reason for you coming into the kitchen at 2 am.
Although you may be feeling more tired and emotional than usual whilst pregnant, try not to use
Scamp as your shoulder to weep on. We do not want Scamp to feel like a cast-out when baby arrives, but we do want him to get used to a bit less attention.
How well does Scamp walk on the lead? If he pulls badly, imagine him walking beside a pram! So
get to those training classes now, or get help to teach Scamp to walk at your side. Also, try to involve other people in exercising Scamp. If only one person ever walks him, he will notice a big difference when baby appears – more so if “Mum” disappears for a few days and “Dad” begins to walk him, with “Mum” not returning to walking duties when she reappears.
Is Scamp “nice to be near”? The danger to humans from dog worms is well established. When was Scamp last wormed? If this was more than 6 months ago, he is due another dose. (If Scamp has had any problems with allergies to medicines, check this out with your vet.) Is Scamp scratching? Again a trip to the vet would be in order to check that he does not have any problem that could transmit to the baby.
Drop any “baby talk” to Scamp before baby arrives. Speak to him as if to an older child or an adult. Once baby has arrived, never make fun of any jealousy Scamp may display, and never try to make him jealous. Do not “pretend” to give Scamp’s food to baby, or pretend to give baby’s food to Scamp to persuade baby to eat. Try to give Scamp some quality time every day, even if just for 10 minutes, where he has your full attention. If “Dad” is away changing baby, this is an ideal time for “Mum” to play with Scamp undisturbed.
Dogs that are not accustomed to children can be put under great stress if an unruly child suddenly invades their home. If this is an occasional visiting child, it may be best to shut Scamp away in a peaceful room, away from any risk of teasing or pestering. This especially applies if Scamp is an old dog. Children and dogs can be quite unintentionally injured by each other.
Stair gates and play-pens can become valuable pieces of equipment. If Scamp is behind the stair-gate, he can safely escape the toddlers investigating fingers. If baby is in a play-pen, he and Scamp can see each other but will do so safely. An indoor kennel/ crate can also give peace of mind to a harassed parent – with Scamp in the kennel, both he and the child will be safe.
The dog’s food bowls might need protection from a crawling child. Change your dog’s feeding pattern if necessary, so that Scamp’s food is lifted after 10 minutes. He will soon learn that his meal will disappear if he does not eat it quickly. This will then remove a possible reason for the dog to guard his bowls from the toddler.
Children who have not been brought up with dogs need to be shown how to approach a dog, and how to handle a dog, especially a puppy. Never allow your child to approach a strange dog without first asking the
permission of the owner – the cuddliest looking pooch can be a fiend with children! Crouch down beside the dog and make a fist under the dog’s chin – if the dog lowers his head in acceptance, take the child’s hand in yours and allow the dog to sniff both hands. If the dog accepts patting, still put your hand over the child’s for the first few pats. And do not let the child shriek or squeal if the dog makes a sudden movement.
Never leave a dog alone with a child, especially with a young baby. Babies make all sorts of noises that can be interesting to a dog and warrant investigating. Some child/baby noises can alarm a dog. Even
the most laid-back, friendliest dog can be aroused to attack a child.
Ask any parent of a child that has been badly bitten by the family pet, and they will assure you that they were certain the dog could be trusted with the child! But could the child be trusted with the dog?
When not writing about himself in the third person, Andy spends many an hour walking his mischievous, mixed breed rescue Mr Wox, aka Soxy Woxy. A leading authority on all dog-related topics, Andy is highly respected, deeply appreciated and widely admired.