When you come to my house, my 22-pound one year old, and my 130-pound Great Dane will always come running to greet you. When both are barreling at you, one is far more intimidating than the other. My Great Dane has no idea that he is big, and a little bit scary to people who don’t know him. He also has not idea that he is not a human member of our family, and he most certainly has no idea what to make of the one-year-old. For all of these reasons, it was important to my husband and I to encourage a safe relationship between toddler and dog. Regardless of size or type of pet, however, putting in the work to teach both your child and your animals how to respect one another is important.
Even before baby was born, we started involving our dog in the set up process. We taught him to lay outside of the baby’s room as we set it up, establishing a boundary at the door. We started putting the baby’s toys and blankets out on the floor. When he would try and step on the blanket or take a toy, we redirected him to his own dog toys. Before baby was here, our dog was very aware that a change was coming and he was learning some new rules to help him prepare for this change. This was the easy part.
The next part: after baby was born, is still a continuous work in progress. Our dog is not the kind of dog who automatically loves our little one unconditionally. He is generally a nervous dog who doesn’t do well with the unknown and especially change. He is gentle and kind and loving and anxious and afraid of his own shadow. When I say getting him to love our son is a work in progress it is because he has loved him in stages. When we first brought our baby home we would find the dog curled up in a corner trembling at the sound of our infant crying in the middle of the night. Soon though, he was lying next to him, never leaving his side, watching his every move, until he started to crawl. Once he got used to a crawling baby, he started to try and play with him and bring him toys. Now he is walking, and again our dog is afraid of this new development. Now, as parents, we have to train both the toddler and the dog to try and maintain a safe, respectful relationship.
Our dog knows he doesn’t belong in the baby’s room, or on his play mat. The baby, however LOVES the dog's bed. It is important, not only to train our dog to respect our one year old, but to teach the one year old how to treat the dog. When he climbs into the dog’s bed, we tell him no and remove him, because it is important for the dog to have his own safe space in our home. We are also teaching our toddler which toys are his and which are the dogs. Lastly, we are working on teaching him how to handle our dog- how to pet him gently, let him sniff his hand, and give him treats nicely. As our son becomes more verbal, we’ll start teaching him how to give the dog commands, so that the dog knows to listen to all members of the household, which is important to keep everyone, including the dog, safe.
Remember when you are bringing a new baby into a home where you have a pet (undoubtedly your first spoiled baby) it is important to remember that this is a big transition for your animal as well. Help him feel like a part of the changing family and make sure he still feels loved and important. That being said, it is most important to make sure that your child is safe around the pet. No matter how gentle and loving your pet can be, there are still steps you can take to encourage a safe relationship between pet and child.
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