Safety Concerns with a New Baby and the Family Dog

Making the home safe for children and pets

Bringing home a new baby with a family dog already there can be a cause for concern.  According to The Centers for Disease Control around 400,000 children a year need medical attention for dog bites.  Younger children and infants are most often bitten in the head or neck.  Those who get attacked the most often- children from 5 to 9 years old.  And the vast majority of dogs causing those injuries are not stray or unfamiliar animals, but family pets.

But with the right planning now, you can find out if your dog will be a threat long before your child grows old enough to walk and have the ability to interact with it on their own.

SOCIALIZE YOUR DOG. Make sure it spends time getting comfortable around family members, friends, and other pets.  An animal that gets left alone most of the time can often develop behavior problems.

TRAIN YOUR DOG. Take it to an obedience class so it learns to obey your commands and also learns submissive behaviors.  Or have a professional trainer work one-on-one with you and your pet.  Spending this time together will also help you learn more about its behavior, such as being able to spot when it is nervous, scared, or anxious.

Also, DON'T TEACH it how to be aggressive by wrestling with it or playing tug-of-war games.   You can just as easily teach a dog bad behavior instead of good habits.

SPAY/NEUTER YOUR DOG. This will reduce your dog's aggressive tendencies.  Studies show dogs that are spayed or neutered are less likely to bite.

PREPARE YOUR DOG FOR THE BABY'S ARRIVAL. Some experts suggest putting up the crib and bringing out the car seat a few weeks before the baby's homecoming so your dog can get used to the new equipment.  You might also want to take along the stroller on your daily dog walks to get your pet used to having it around.

But wait.  You will also need to give your children and other family members some lessons of their own in how to behave around the dog.

Teach children not to play with it unless supervised by an adult, and not to bother a dog that is sleeping, eating, chewing on a bone or toy, or caring for puppies.

You daughter or son should learn to be gentle with pets, not to tease them or poke them with sticks or other objects.

Children also need to report any dogs showing aggressive or unusual behavior.

You can also create "safe zones" by putting up physical barriers such as baby gates so both your child and the dog have separate, and secure locations to relax.

Animal behaviorists also recommend not to put your dog's dish in the same spot, causing it to associate that one location with food. So, if your child wanders over to that area the dog may bite them.  And for the same reason, do not leave the dish on the floor after feeding. Pick it up and put it out of sight.

And do not forget about your children visiting friends who also have dogs.  Make sure that you meet the animal first to determine if it is safe for your child.

Both the CDC and the American Human Society urge every dog owner to take preventative steps now to stop man's best friend from turning into a parent's nightmare.

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