Helping a Dog Meet Baby

Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC

Dear Michael:

My daughter has a 4 month old baby. Since his birth, my tiny dog has been nothing short of a nightmare around him. He wants to get close and lick him and play with him. The more we restrain him the more he cries, pants, and barks. We dare not let him anywhere near the baby unless we have him by the collar. He doesn’t bite, just licks and prods. He is fine with toddlers we meet in the street. How can we have the baby in the house without our little dog causing such exasperation?
Recently things have improved very slightly.  Whilst he is still uber uber interested in him, he now lies beside him, suffering all the involuntary arm and leg prods and jerks from the baby and rests his head on baby’s legs (when he is still, which isn’t often!).  He seems to have been wanting to be very close to him all this time and of course we were prohibiting that.  He is, it goes without saying, always supervised.
Dear Cathy:
Babies are unusual creatures to many of our dogs (and to many of us for that matter).  They move differently than adult humans.  They sound different and smell different.  From our dogs’ point of view they are new and unusual, weird even.  It sounds like your daughter’s dog is a bit nervous about the baby, or at the very least excited.  We need to help him out.

You have two goals here.  First, teach the dog that babies are cool.  Try very hard to never yell at or hurt the dog when the baby is around.  That’s only going to make things worse.  In fact, only delightful things should happen when the baby is on the scene.  If the baby does something weird, like scream and wiggle like a fish, you might even slip the dog a special treat.  That’s called respondent conditioning (classical conditioning).  Baby = good things for doggie.  The idea here is to make sure the dog doesn’t start disliking the child because being around him is so awful.