Oh Baby! Introducing Dogs to Kids–Safely

A cat writing colleague called me last week after someone asked about tips for introducing babies to dogs. The person wanted to know how to teach the dog that the Baby was “alpha.”


Think about it. There is so much WRONG with that statement I really don’t know where to begin. You bring an infant home from the hospital, a creature that makes funny, weird (scary! prey-like) sounds and moves in a (scary! prey-like) strange way, and has enticing (scary! food-like) odors–milk, baby lotion, poopy-treats–

And you expect the dog that’s lived in your house, shared your lap/sofa/bed and received his share of attention and love to suddenly say, to this helpless and obviously puppy-esque creature–YOU DA BOSS!

You can try, of course. I don’t recommend it, and here’s why. A baby physically and mentally and emotionally–in reality–cannot be “alpha” over anything. That’s a contradiction in terms. “Alpha” implies being in charge. I hate that term, by the way, it’s so over-used and incorrectly thrown around. A dog may certainly tolerate the new baby and even come to love the infant but not at the baby’s behest, but because your dog respects, trusts, and loves YOU and your relationship.

My ComPETability books detail a whole lot more about how dogs think (and also how cats think), and both books include detailed step-by-step advice on what to do when you bring an infant into your home.

Toddlers are a whole other matter. The ComPETability books also have details about introducing toddlers and older kids to pets.

That’s vital not just for parents, but important for grandparents and visiting relatives to know especially over the holidays. Young kids may, indeed, think they are in charge of things and act that way, but the dog still knows better! I even covered this issue in my LOST AND FOUND thriller with the relationship between a highly-trained service dog and Shadow’s seven-year-old boy partner. How would Shadow have reacted to being struck repeatedly if he hadn’t been trained and drilled over and over again to expect and accept such treatment–and even then, that’s no guarantee a hurt dog won’t lash out.

You do NOT want a dog to try and teach a child his/her “proper place” (from the dog’s perspective–and hey, it’s normal for dogs to do this!) and so tips for introductions and supervised interactions are vital.

I’ve offered some of these tip on my puppies.about.com site for preparing dogs for new babies, and introducing dogs to young children. How have you handled these situations with your pets? This is an opportunity to create a loving and lasting relationship with pets that can build and grow for a lifetime! Please share your tips.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!


Oh Baby! Introducing Dogs to Kids–Safely — 14 Comments

  1. When we introduced Baby Girl into the household, Hoshi pretty much wanted to get away from all that noise. Sadly, she didn’t live long enough for the two to form a relationship but I think it’s up to the parents to make sure that small children are respectful of the house pet’s boundaries.

  2. Never had to do this, but glad for more affirmation that the whole dominance thing just cannot work. The thing I always heard was “make sure the dog knows that is the alpha’s puppy, because the alpha’s puppy doesn’t get touched.” Yeeeeeeeeeeeeah that’s because the alpha’s puppy, in real wild wolf-pack life, is that other wolf’s little brother or sister. Really REALLY wish people would start to learn that

    1) Dogs are not wolves. They have been living with and bred by humans for thousands of years to work side by side with us. Their social structures are COMPLETELY different

    (though stray dog packs are an interesting study in and of themselves from what I understand – they seem to behave more like the older research of wolves suggests, but like the older research, you’re dealing with a bunch of adult animals that were thrown together with no introduction and kinda had to figure things out on their own – that is NOT an ideal situation by any stretch, and not particularly “natural” either)

    I’d love to see a study done on the feral packs made up of runaways and dropoffs, as compared to, say, pariah dogs that sort of live as they are and have been around long enough to fall back into a natural structure.

    2) Even if dogs were like wolves, they’re finding out that many of the old “facts” about natural wolf behavior are utter bunk. Because the situations they were studying back then were not natural. More recently people have actually been studying wild wolves, and as it turns out, they are not at each other’s throats and trying dominance plays 24/7. Not sure why nobody came to that conclusion before, since a group of social animals in that much turmoil all the time would never be able to hunt as a successful unit. I don’t know why *I* didn’t think of it before, when I was a kid and swallowing up every book on wolves I could.

    3) While dogs certainly appreciate our being able to “speak dog”, they are not stupid. They know you’re not a dog. They know your child is not a dog. To try and assume you need to think of your baby in doggie terms just to get the pup to understand it’s not something to hurt is a bit ridiculous.

    Yes, you may have to teach your dog that this new squirmy screaming thing is not for eating, especially if it’s a breed with a high prey drive. But rather than try to teach Fido that the new kid is suddenly the big bad boss in town, I’d prefer to work toward teaching the pup: “This is your new baby human-brother. He is little. He is fragile. He is something to care for and protect and love. Let me show you how to be gentle so you don’t hurt him.” And then when the kid is older, teach the dog that kids are really awesome at throwing balls, and don’t get tired as fast as moms and dads do (ha! two birds, one stone – wear ’em both out at once! LOL)

    I would guess a good first step would be to have one room in the house that is no-baby territory until the furkids get used to the nekkid-kid (I still suspect my cat thinks I’m nuts for taking my “fur” off every night – and getting into water instead of licking myself like a normal, decent creature would do). Someplace where they can retreat when they want quiet, so they’re not bombarded ALL THE TIME with the new smells and the Loud Thing.

    LOL And here I go with comments that rival the size of the blog post again. 😉 One of these days I will learn the art of brevity. Maybe.

    • Karyl, you’re right–a no-kid-zone is very important especially when the children become more ambulatory. Babies it’s not such an issue, but toddlers and young children need to know that when the dog is in his crate/his room and/or the cat on her perch/hide-away, you leave ’em alone. *s*

    • Sure thing, August. And the picture is full of cute-icity. 🙂 I took that at a pup adoption event about a year ago, and the parents were SO good working with their kids (this was the youngest).

    • Hi Patrica, thanks for stopping in! I know you’re super busy these days with your own book projects *s* And I agree…I believe KIDS just like PETS can be “socialized” to appreciate each other, when you start early and properly.

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