Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is due to give birth in about two months and we're worried about our dog, a 120-pound Bernese mountain dog who's less of a pet and more a part of the family. We keep hearing that it's dangerous to have a giant dog around a newborn and that we should start looking for a new home for him. Is it? And is there some way to prepare our dog and keep our baby safe?
A: Unfortunately, there's no way to predict with 100% accuracy how animals are going to react in any given situation, but you can get some hints by asking yourself these questions about your pup: What is the dog's personality? Is he aggressive or territorial? Does he growl or bite? Does he jump on you, the furniture, or guests? Has he spent time with children? Does he like children? How protective is he of his toys? Could he possibly confuse a neatly wrapped baby with a chewable toy? Does he bark when he wants attention? Does he understand and obey basic commands? I'm sure you can figure out which questions need a "yes" and which need a "no."
I'd also check out the American Temperament Test Society's website, https://atts.org, for ballpark info on your dog's breed. But regardless of how much you love your dog and how high his test scores, there's always some risk. According to https://www.maxlawsc.com, of the 4.5 million people who get bitten by dogs every year, more than half occur in children under 10 (and most of those are children under five). About 70% of those bites are to the face and happen during feeding, petting, or playing. Most of those dogs live in the victim's home and have no history of biting.
That's the bad news. The good news is that there are ways to reduce those risks. And the time to start is right now, long before the baby arrives. The goal is to get the dog acclimated to the changes that are going to happen -- some of which he may not be thrilled with. That way, he won't blame the new baby for ruining his life (exactly what most first-born human pups think when confronted with a baby who knocks them out of the center of the Universe).
Some of the changes will be fairly easy. For example, you can download some baby cries from the internet and play them every few hours to get the dog used to the sound. If you've got friends or relatives with infants or small children, start inviting them over so the dog can check out what a baby looks like, acts like, sounds like, and smells like.
Next, set up the baby's room now and let the dog check out the crib, changing table, diapers, wipes, etc. If you've already got a stroller, take it with you when you're walking the dog. You want to get him used to walking beside it without trying to drag it into the middle of the street.
While you're doing all this, you'll also want to be getting your dog used to the new rules of the house -- again, long before the baby arrives. For example, if he sleeps on your bed, you'll probably want to break that habit. Same goes for barking indoors, jumping on the furniture, or jumping on people.
If you're able to do the re-educating, great. If not, you may want to hire a dog trainer who's got experience preparing dogs for babies. Michael Wombacher's "Good Dog, Happy Baby," is a great resource, as is "Please Don't Bite the Baby," by Lisa Edwards. And for the pure entertainment value, check out the "Good Dog, Carl" books by Alexandra Day.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to email@example.com.)
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