Babies, Toddlers and Dogs: Helping Babies and Dogs Get Along
I’ve never been the kind of person to refer to the dog as my furry baby, or buy her outfits, or attempt to carry her around in a fluffy pink crystal embellished dog handbag. Still, I love my dog and I think she’s a bit fond of me, in a “oh, there’s that person who walks me and puts food in my bowl” way.
So when I got pregnant, I wasn’t too worried that the dog would feel like she was replaced and get upset or jealous of the baby. And she wasn’t, as long as she kept getting food and walks. Well, there were a few instances when I was especially sleep deprived with a newborn and the dog was hungry and my brain couldn’t work out what she wanted. Dog barks. I look at her dimly. Dog stands by her empty food bowl and whines. The gears start to turn slowly in my mind. Dog tries to hack her way into the dog food bin. Oh! Food. Yes. That only took about five minutes to work out.
And so things went smoothly, until the baby started crawling. Do you know what the most fascinating thing in the whole world to a crawling baby is? Dog or cat food bowls. No toy can compete. Mom and dad are dull in comparison. There’s water to splash, either squishy wet food or interesting kibble (yum), dog cooties and dog drool, and the dog or cat will appear and query what baby is up to, plus mom will scream and remove baby which is the best way to make a baby want to do it again.
The dog (or cat) is also a bewitching creature. I have a theory that babies with a pet in the home start crawling earlier than those who don’t, because they want to be like the dog.
And they feel good too. Tail to pull, fur to grab, ears to poke fingers in, whiskers to yank. Sharp claws and teeth do not mix well with delicate baby skin so babies must always always always be supervised around animals and that includes the gentle creature that you’ve had since she was a puppy/kitten and who has never hurt a fly. Any animal can snap or scratch if baby is hurting or annoying them.
I’m currently trying to teach Daycare Baby to be gentle with our dog. The routine goes like this. Daycare Baby crawls up to dog, attempts to whack dog in the face. I grab her and hold her hand and stroke the dog gently. “Gentle, gentle” I say. So far, this has not worked.
It took my toddler son a while to understand the concept of “gentle” so I know that I have to persevere and try to protect the dog as best I can until she does get it.
Did I say that my toddler son understood the concept of “gentle”? Yes, I did, and he does understand. But one caveat: he understands but he’s quite capable of pretending he doesn’t. He’s also much faster than me and has pulled the dog’s ears several times. Toddlers are rarely being mean when they hurt animals, there’s no malice when they pull tails, they are interested in the reaction it gets, and it’s often a good one from the animal and the parent.
So my policy with toddler and the dog is keeping calm, removing him from the dog and quietly but firmly telling him that he’s hurting the dog when he does that, and he must not pull her ears or throw things at her or poke her.
That one is taking some time to work too, but he’s getting better. And the spontaneous moment of kindness to the dog – stroking gently, wanting to help feed her – make me hopeful that he’ll grow up and be nice to animals.