Before I had kids, I would randomly get clients that needed their dog trained because a baby was on the way. I was naïve to think that I had the knowledge for such a responsibility. Fortunately, no baby was ever bitten because of my ignorance. I just walked into the situation like it was just another obedience case, and figured if the dog had some training that the dynamic with the child would just naturally fall into place. I rarely ever took into account the age of the dog, breed of dog, history of the dog, how the household was managed, or if there were multiple dogs in the house. I can honestly say that I had the best intentions with no clue of what the repercussions could have been. If most trainers are honest with themselves, this is the foundation of how we evolve into the trainers we are today. There’s that age-old saying; “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
I want to share my experiences and knowledge with my fellow trainers so that together we can educate new parents and help to reduce the amount of baby/toddler dog bites.
Here are some things I wish I knew before my years of studying and being submerged in this field.
- The first thing you need to do is take into account the dog’s age, breed, history, and temperament. Educating the client on the needs and characteristics of their dog’s breed and age can help them to understand the common traits associated with this information. For example, if they have a senior dog that has health issues, that dog most likely will have a very low threshold for a baby crawling on top of it. If they have a wolf hybrid, don’t be afraid to tell them they have no business letting a baby and that dog coexist. There is too much of a risk.
- Explaining the different bites that dogs genetically have is critical. That herding breeds could nip a running child, where a terrier breed is predisposed to have a full mouth grip while shaking their prey.
- It is also important to talk to the client if there are multiple dogs in the house and make sure they have a clear understanding of pack mentality.
- The second observation is how the household is run. Is it a completely free zone with very little rules or management? Are the parents very organized and structured? This will help you to know how to guide them during the changing months after the baby is home with the dog.
- Having solutions such as; incorporating a crate if the house is a wide open space, or having rooms for the dog during down times. Maybe a baby gate is the best option. Start implementing these changes around the house with your client before the baby arrives. This will help get them to change some of their habits and routines with the dog.
- This is also the time to foresee if the situation is going to be a successful one for the dog. If the client has an extremely nervy dog with a low threshold and the people seem very relaxed with a free zone house, that is the time to tell them they could be setting the dog up to fail. Another example is if they have a dog that jumps all over people and furniture.
Start treating the situation as if the baby is already in the picture by roleplaying and making them realize that if the dog jumps on a sleeping baby, they could injure such a fragile newborn.
- Whenever you start your first lesson with your expectant parents, bring a soundtrack of different newborn cries. Observing the dog’s reaction to the noise can give us instant information about the level of predatory drive in the dog.
- Make sure to ask questions like, Does the dog chase small animals? Has the dog ever killed another animal? Does the dog get extremely aroused if kids are screaming, running, or playing? Has the dog ever jumped up at you or somebody else trying to nip at you or your clothes? If the answer is yes to any of these, you need to evaluate deeper to make sure this dog will be safe bringing home a new baby.
- Remember in the first 3 months, a dog might not perceive the newborn as a human. That is why there are so many accounts of a dog killing a newborn that was in a bassinet or a swing. That is prey to them, and predatory drives are instinctual with very little signs before the attack.
- It is critical to try to pinpoint the red flags before the baby arrives so that the client understands how to manage their dog and household accordingly. Don’t be afraid to tell a client if the dog is too dangerous or risky to be around a baby. Then they can start to find a home that is better suited for the dog, or prepare themselves to set up a management plan with the dog while the baby is young.
- A bite does not need to happen to validate the dog should have never been around a kid in the first place. When all the signs are there, don’t leave it to chance because it is not if it will happen, it is when it will happen.
- Test the dog around its bedding, a toy, a high drive bone, and it’s bowl of food for what their levels of resource guarding are. If a dog will show signs to an adult, they will definitely do the same with a young child. Resource guarding is one of the major causes of aggression towards small children. Toddlers carry around toys and food constantly. They don’t understand how to respect a dog’s space or possessions. The majority of these types of bites happen to the baby’s face or upper body, and that could cause serious damage.
- Ask if the dog resource guards with other dogs as well, because that could help you determine the level of the guarding.
- All dogs have some level of this, but what the severity of the dog’s individual go-to behavior could be the end result of a baby getting seriously injured. Some dogs will simply move away during the test, while others could show behaviors such as lifting their lip, growling, freezing, or biting when you approach or reach towards the dog.
- The purpose of doing this is not to correct the dog, but rather to evaluate the raw dog and what could potentially be situations that could arise once a baby is in the picture.
- No pet client wants to believe that their dog is capable of biting a child, but they need to see this in testing to understand. I use a fake arm or a real-life robotic crawling baby during my assessments on the first evaluation in the client’s home.
Dogs biting babies and toddlers are a bigger problem than most of us realize. Bite statistics are off the charts, and I get notified of every dog bite/killing that shows up in the news. I average about 2-3 a week. Most of these incidents are from the family dog or a friend’s dog. Babies under the age of two, who can’t understand dog language, are mostly the victims. You might read this and feel bad, but I want this to ignite an emotional response to you. You won’t feel nearly as bad reading those statistics as you will when you have to see the wounds on an innocent child or witness the trauma that these children go through when they are attacked by a dog. A trainer that hasn’t seen what a dog is capable of doing won’t truly be able to grasp the level of terror that runs through a family after a tragic event like this. I strongly suggest you expose yourself to these reports before taking on another client that is expecting. For information about how to introduce a dog to a baby, watch our film here.