One of the most common reasons for surrendering a dog is the arrival of a new baby. The storyline varies – the baby has allergies, the dog jumps at the baby, the dog growls, there’s no time for the dog…it goes on.
It’s simply not true that babies and dogs don’t mix. Of course playtime and interactions should be supervised. If anything, children, with their quick movements, high pitched voices (and often screams), and a desire to hug the dog, hard, is often the issue. Dogs and kids (of any age) just need to be introduced properly and supervised. And before the arrival of the baby, you need to prepare your dog, with solid training. Yes, it’s a little bit more work, but isn’t keeping your loyal pet worth it? We think so.
Contrary to popular belief, it is the dander, which traps dust, pollen, and other allergens, not the hair/fur, that is the issue. This means that there are really no hypoallergenic breeds, and even within the same breed, individual dogs elicit different responses. So getting a dog like a poodle or even a designer breed like a labradoodle will not guarantee against allergies.
If the parents have allergies, it’s more likely that the child will as well, but not necessarily the same ones. There seems to be some genetic predisposition. So if you are planning to have a kid, perhaps it’s best to wait until your child is about five or six years old before getting a pet. Children tend to grow out of allergies and this seems to be the age.
Because the symptoms of “dog” allergies are similar to those of hay fever, it is necessary to determine whether your child is in fact allergic to your pet. This can be done with skin-pricking allergy tests. Even if your child turns out to have allergies, there are actions you can take before making the drastic decision of rehoming your pet.
Try to minimize your child’s exposure to dander by keeping the pet out of the child’s bedroom and playroom and off the furniture, changing the child’s clothing after playing with the pet, grooming your dog more frequently, and thoroughly cleaning the house, using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA (high-energy particulate air) filter. Other considerations include removing materials that easily trap allergens such as carpets, curtains, and upholstery, and using natural cleaners to minimize chemical sensitivities which can compromise your child’s immune system. Good housekeeping and creating a chemical- and smoke-free environment will greatly improve your child’s symptoms.
Allergy shots are available but do not eliminate the actual allergies. Alternative therapies such as NAETS have helped many people and it’s worth exploring. Growing number of studies show that having a dog in a child’s first year is in fact better for their health, even having a lower risk of asthma and allergies.
Dogs need training, no matter if there is a child or not. I think there is a general perception that only big dogs need training and little dogs can get away with knowing cute tricks. After all, if the little ones misbehave, owners can easily just pick them up. Obedience training is not only for you, but also for the safety of the dog so every dog should know at least the basic commands.
It’s when owners coddle their dogs and treat them like babies that trouble is just around the corner. Your little Jack Russell LOVING his toys, being protective, running away with them from you, and growling at you on approach is NOT a good sign. Your cute little Jack Russell is the boss.
The time you spend training your dog is a great time to bond. It allows you to understand your dog even better, and to establish his baseline behaviour and recognize his signs of stress.
It is now essential, before the arrival of the baby, to identify any nervous tendencies or undesirable behaviours such as nipping or jumping. Correcting these through alternative therapy such as flower essences or using a behaviour specialist will help your dog be better adjusted and create a safe environment for your dog and the whole family.
The key to successful integration is preparation. Without instituting any of the necessary changes prior to the arrival of the baby is only setting your dog up to fail, especially one not normally exposed to children.
Start to engage your dog in positive experiences involving kids. If you have any new-mother friends, invite them over with their infants so your dog can get an idea of what’s ahead – the smells, the cries, the fuss, the attention over this bundle, etc.
Dogs are highly inquisitive and they know the world through their nose. Setting up the nursery, with all the normal supplies (baby powder, lotions, diapers, etc), will allow your dog to explore and be acquainted with it early on. Using a doll to simulate scenes like you carrying the baby around, having the baby in the stroller, and changing the baby will help you and your dog understand the dynamics of having a new family member. Try using recordings of baby sounds to make the scenes more realistic and complete.
Often, the dog has been the “baby” and is used to being the centre of attention. Suddenly withdrawing your affection or shutting out your dog from activities will only confuse and frustrate your pet. Gradually minimize the time the new mother spends with the dog now. If he is particularly attached to her, it’s a good idea to have another person start to form a closer relationship.
Don’t forget to make arrangements for your dog when it’s delivery time, to make sure he is taken care of, and not feeling neglected and stressed. When you return home with the newborn, have a happy reunion first with your dog, without the baby. Always use positive reinforcement whenever the baby is involved, even if it’s only having your dog sit quietly next to you and the baby. As much as possible, return to a normal routine. This will help alleviate stress and help your dog feel secure.
There is a lot you can do to prepare your dog, and the family, for the arrival of a baby. There are lots of books, internet articles, and maybe some real-life experiences from your friends that can help. It may sound like a lot to do, but there are quite a few months to get all your ducks lined up. With forethought and planning, you can definitely prepare your dog to accept and bond with a new family member.
We believe that growing up with a pet makes a huge difference in the development of an individual. The companionship and love that a pet provides makes a positive impact on the self-esteem of a child. Building part of the foundation of a happy and well-adjusted child is certainly worth a few months’ of “hard” work. Don’t forget to make it fun and positive!