HELP, My Dog Just Nipped My Baby! What Do I Do Now?
As parents, you never expect your beloved family dog would nip your baby. Unfortunately, this horrible occurrence is all too common. The moment when your dog nips your child makes you look at your dog as exactly that: a DOG. This is a big red flag for you to make some big changes around your family and home environment to keep your baby safe, and also to ensure that your dog still fits in with your family dynamic.
It is normal to feel a mixture of guilt, betrayal, and anger in this situation. In most cases, the dog was already a member of the family before the baby arrived. Often times, owning my pet business, I will get a panicked call from a client after an event like this happens. They normally preface it by saying “The dog has never shown any signs of aggression around the baby.” or that “The dog has been so great with the baby, even allowing the baby to crawl all over them.” The reality is that the dog most likely has been very tolerant of the baby up to this point, and we may have been missing some of the avoidance/displacement behaviors that the dog has been trying to show us. When these signs go overlooked and ignored, we are leaving it up to the dog to “correct the baby.” This is where a first time nip could occur. Some dogs will even just muzzle punch the baby and won’t use their teeth at all. That type of behavior occurs when the dog has to take their warnings to the next level.
A lot of families expect their dogs to tolerate extreme amounts of stress around small children. That is why dog bites are on the rise. Getting bitten by a dog is the fifth most frequent cause of visits to emergency rooms among kids. You are not alone if you find yourself in this position, and many families wish they knew the steps to prevent this.
I know this is a very delicate time for you and your family, and here are the steps to help make sense of what happened, and create a management plan to prevent this happening again in the future.
These steps were intended for families with dogs who have never had a history of aggressive behavior and this incident was an isolated nip. I also want to note, in my opinion if the dog nipped a newborn under the age of 6 months when the baby was not crawling, walking, grabbing, etc, then that is a case where the baby is truly in danger, and you need to rehome the dog.
Immediately put your dog on a management program.
The dog’s environment and routine needs to be altered so the dog temporarily has no contact with your baby.
You many need to get baby gates, a dog crate, or arrange to have a separate room away from the baby.
Please remember the dog still needs adequate exercise, stimulation, and training during this management time. The use of interactive toys such as Kongs, Nylabones, and bully sticks are great ways to keep the dog occupied.
During the babies sleeping times, the dog can have complete freedom of the house. I would use those times to train the dog and create new rules and boundaries around the house.
Reevaluate the circumstances leading up to the bite.
- At what stage in the babies development did this happen?
- Was the baby crawling, walking, running?
- Where was the closet adult when the bite occurred?
- What was the context around the bite? Was the dog’s food/water involved? Was the dog on furniture, a dog bed, inside their crate? Was there a bone or a toy involved? Was somebody petting the dog?
- How old is the dog and what has been their tolerance level up to this point? Are they a nervous dog or a confident dog? What state of mind was the dog in? Was the dog sleeping, playing, or excited?
- What is your size and breed of dog?
- Did the dog break skin? Did the baby need stiches? Where was the bite located?
- What did the dog do after the bite?
Gather all the facts and information, and try to do it as soon after the incident as you can so that none of the details are overlooked. You might need to recall this information for further training.
Now that we have those answers, it is important to understand the entire situation so that it makes sense from your dog’s perspective. Every situation is individualized based on the scenario around the nip. Here are some examples of real situations that have happened and how I would evaluate them from the dog’s perspective:
Scenario 1, taken from www.whattoexpect.com Forum.
A mom writes:
“Baby is all over the place. We generally let him roam since we’ve got the place pretty well baby proofed. We pull him away from things like the dogs water bowl but let him go.
Yesterday one of our dogs was asleep in the sun. Both our dogs are amazing with the babe. They’ve been really gentle and aware. If the boy goes after a toy or treat that they have, they let him have it. Well dog in the sun got grabbed and reacted with a snarl and nipped at the baby – I think he was startled awake and it was a reflex but still. Baby immediately starts wailing and I’m flying across the room. Dog has his tail tucked and is now trying to lick the baby who wants no part of it. I’m yelling at the dog and trying to comfort the boy and our other dog is hiding. It was a mess. Everyone was upset – baby, mama, dog 1 and dog 2.
Baby is fine – has a bit of a bruise and the skin was scraped (no bleeding). His boo boo was cleaned up and there no lasting damage. But boy do I feel guilty for letting the boy get to the sleeping dog and grab him like that.
I now understand why they say never to leave baby and pets alone. Even our sweet disposition dog can have a reflex that hurts that fragile baby skin
How I would evaluate this scenario:
- There needs to be boundaries created so that the dog can have times away from the baby, especially during sleeping and eating.
- Toys and resources are not a competition game between the dog and baby, and shouldn’t be left to chance.
- The baby is at a stage that unless there is constant supervision on interactions, you cannot trust that things will go well. It is better to have activities that the dog and baby could do together that are not stressful for either, such as stroller walks, or sitting and petting together.
I would feel safe to say that this could be an isolated incident if the parents take this as a huge warning and now manage their household completely different. Adding baby gates and the use of crates or a separate room for feeding are a must. The dog could have felt trapped and had enough of sharing space with a baby that doesn’t know how to read dog body language. She stated that the dog was resting, and unless the dog is old or truly in a deep sleep, I find it hard that it was startled. A baby approaching is not a stealth activity unless the dog has been so tolerant of the baby constantly invading its space it has learned to ignore him. Avoidance behaviors like the dog getting up and leaving were not an option to avoid a bite. The underlying reason the dog corrected the baby is because the dog needed boundaries and space from him. The icing on the cake was that this was an isolated incident. From the dog’s perspective, imagine if you were in a dead sleep and somebody pulled your hair. I bet you would wake up swinging,
Scenario 2, taken from www.babycenter.com
Our 4 year old sheltie snipped at our 14 month old twice within 24 hours.
The first time, DH (dear husband) and I were dropping our van off at the mechanic and LO (little one) was with my parents. My Dad was eating and LO (little one) was sitting next to him. The dog nipped her in the face. It left two scratch marks and LO (little one) didn’t cry. We were upset, but it is more understandable with there being food involved.
Today she did it again! It is thundering and the dog was antsy. She walked up to LO (little one) and nipped her in the face again. It pushed LO’s head into a book shelf and she cried and cried. This nip was worse. It left an actual tooth/welt mark.
I’ve never posted here before, but I’m looking for more advice than “get rid of the dog!” Our LO (little one) come first and we will give the dog away if it becomes too dangerous, but I would rather try to solve the problem. She is a good dog other than that, though she has started to pee on the floor. Also, a few months ago she would mouth LO’s feet when she wanted to play. It didn’t hurt LO, but I stopped it by telling her to sit down when she got too excited. It wasn’t a big deal, but I’m starting to think she might just be treating LO (little one) like another dog.
How I would evaluate this scenario:
- The bite escalated in intensity from the first to the second.
- The owner is trying to make an excuse of the first bite being “understandable.” There are many dogs that wouldn’t have snapped in that situation.
- The dog appears to be anxious and have a low threshold for stress.
When I read this, the first thing that stands out is the two incidents in less then 24 hours. It takes a conscious effort for a dog to bite somebody let alone walk up to them from across the room with the intent to bite. The first bite around the food definitely could have been resource guarding, but the second bite is a big red flag for me as a trainer. It sounds like this is a nervy dog, which is trainer-speak for a dog that lacks confidence and easily becomes nervous. She states that the dog walked up to the baby and bit the baby with the only trigger being the storm. That is a huge red flag because the dog associates any stress with the baby. On top of that, an adult dog who is nervy or anxious is a bad combination for the crawling/toddler stage. These dogs normally have a very low threshold for stress. At best, this home environment needs to be put on a management program where the dog and baby don’t share space.
Scenario 3, taken from www.whattoexpect.com
I don’t really know what to do. We have had this dog a little over a year since a pup. He is a cocker spaniel and was supposed to be my 3 year olds dog. For some reason he just decided that he is more my mine and my husbands dog. She plays with him, but he gets real tempermental and sometimes just wants to be left alone and she is soooooo rough and rowdy. The dog tries giving her warnings, I try warning her and disciplining her for what I call dog torture. I just can’t seem to get it through her or the dogs head. So the dog was sleeping on the other end of the couch a few mins ago and my daughter was sitting next to dog and me. He is sleeping and she starts poking at him and grabbing him around the neck, mind you she is playing and not actually being vicious at this time. he growls I tell her leave the dog alone. She does for a minute and starts again and the dog just bit her in the face. broke skin just puncture straight in and out by her ear, on cheek and chin. I think it was probably more a warning from him, but now I am super freaked out about him biting her or the baby. Especially when baby starts exploring and crawling. Hubby doesn’t think we should get rid of him as of yet….I mean what are we waiting for, him to take out an eye or worse? It took all I had not to choke the dog out.
How I would evaluate the situation:
- There are zero rules and boundaries in this household
- A 3 year should not have been given a dog for herself as a buddy.
- The dog has given plenty of warnings and the mom is still leaving it up to the dog and toddler to figure out.
I would highly recommend they rehome the dog because the way this household is managed. There is too much freedom, no control over managing the dog and baby together, and the dog will continue to correct the child because the mother’s corrections are not effective. When she said the words “dog torture” she hit the nail on the head!
Scenario 4, taken from www.whattoexpect.com
I have a 3 year old American bulldog and she is literally like my second child. She is one of the sweetest dogs I have ever met. She is in love with my 16 mo old and My 9 year old ss always has his friends come over and she is amazing with all the kids in the neighborhood. We have never even suspected her of having any form of agression. She will lick you anywhere there is skin showing and not stop. Lol. I always exercise her and she had been trained by a well known trainer who has actually taken dogs from cesar Millan and trained them to be working dogs of some sort like cop dogs, personal protection dogs, drug dogs and so forth. He can train them to do pretty much anything. Anyways….she is very well behaved. I have always teach my 16 mo old to not pull on her ears and annoy her ect. I am very persistant when it comes to him and my dog But she always just lays there no matter what and just licks him to death. Well this morming we went on a nice run and she has just layed down all day like she usually does because she is tired so nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Tonight my ds was annoying her and I pulled him off a few different times and told him “no” but he continued to go back and annoy her. I removed her from the area to give her some time to lay in the living room then she wanted to come back in the bedroom with us. I was on the phone with my ml and ds was on my dog and then she nipped at him. It all happened so fast. His skin was not broken and she didn’t leave a scratch so I think she scared him more than anything so that’s why he was crying. I called my husband and he said we need to find another home for her and I know it might be the right thing to do but at the same time I have invested so much time and energy into this dog and this such a hard decision. She is literally like one of my children and I just didn’t ever see this coming. I am still in shock and am so confused.
So my question to you is….if the skin was not broken and there wasn’t a single scratch then do you think I should find a way to work with her and call my trainer and take extra precautions or should I listen to my husband and find her a new home?
How I would evaluate the situation:
- The owner understands how important training is and the dog she feels is very well trained.
- The dog is getting proper exercise and the incident happened after a run which tells me the dog did not have any pent up energy.
- The dog has been extremely tolerant of the baby crawling all over her in the past so the owner just assumed the dog was ok with it. The owner stated that the dog would just lick him to death. If the owner understood dog body language that is a displacement behavior that means the dog is uncomfortable or stressed. It is not from some Disney movie that it means the dog is giving kisses, that is what we are taught to believe.
- No matter how much you tell a baby or toddler not to do something, they just don’t understand boundaries at the age.
Unfortunately, this is why the shelters are packed with dogs, and the number 2 reason a dog is surrendered is because of a new edition to the family. This dog was left to stand up for herself and now she most likely will be rehomed. It’s a shame.
Develop a training plan for your dog so they are clear of the new rules around the baby.
Gradually start reintroducing the baby and dog in low stress scenarios, such as stroller walks together.
Have supervised petting sessions where you teach the baby how to pet the dog calmly and respect the dog’s boundaries.
Help the baby to give the dog treats throughout the day for good behavior.
Feed and water the dog away from where the baby can’t get to the bowls.
Create a safe place for the dog to go if they need space away from the baby at any time.
Learn your dog’s body language so you can recognize when they are getting stressed or uncomfortable.
Make sure all interactions between dog and baby are supervised and you are constantly monitoring the dog’s body language.
If at any point mom or dad is uncomfortable with the baby and the dog being together anymore, then it is time to either re-home the dog or create a full time management schedule so that the dog and baby won’t have any interactions together at this season in life. The entire family has to be on the same page to create a successful environment for the dog and baby. Remember, this stage with the baby could last a few months or a few years.
The hardest stage for the dog is the crawling and toddler stage. We also can’t teach a child this young to respect the dog’s needs.
Nothing is wrong with the dog needing space to adjust to all of these changes as the baby keeps evolving.
You can still give your dog a great life by making sure they are getting the attention they need from an available family member, as well as proper exercise and training.
If you have any further questions about the scenario, please feel free to reach out at email@example.com