My Baby Hates My Dog
Not every baby walks out of the womb loving our furry companions. In my case, my second wee one really didn’t care for my canine crew. When she was old enough to even notice that they were present she was very irritated by them being near her so she would scream, and push their faces away! In fact, her first word was “GO!” and she would shout it while she waved her arms hysterically at the dogs, shooing them away from her. It was really upsetting for me, because I just couldn’t understand why she didn’t adore my dogs as much as I did! Even my son loved our dogs immediately! When I took a step back and thought evaluated the situation, I knew it would be a mistake to force them to interact before they were ready, because it would create resentment from both parties. I took my time, and let my years of working with behavior help me determine the best course of action, and I broke it down into a few steps.
-Provide everyone with his or her own safe place
When you introduce a new living being to your family, be it a dog, or a child, it’s really important that everyone has a safe place they can call their own and use to get away from whatever is stressing them out. We have our bedrooms, or as a mom of 2 little ones, and 3 big dogs, I hide in the bathroom because it has an awesome lock on the door! I have a couple ways of creating a safe space for the dogs, and for the kids that really help them learn to respect each others space. When you introduce these spaces, such as crates, pens, and baby-gated areas, it’s important to remember that you can’t allow the others to infringe on that space. It stops being a safe space if they can’t use it to get away, so when you pick these items, make sure you keep in mind they shouldn’t be shared, and no child should be allowed access to your dog’s crate, and not dog should be allowed access to your child’s pen/crib.
I have three kennels in my basement that are always open for the dogs to use as they please. When we leave, if someone is sick, or maybe has had a bit of a set back being loose in the house, they will go in their kennels. It’s safer, and easier to clean when you have a sick dog! These kennels were introduced at a young age to all 3 of our dogs, and always in a positive manor. The kennel is like a bedroom, and it’s only fair that I teach my kids to respect that space. I never allow the kids to climb in and out of the kennels, and if the dogs feel overwhelmed and go into the kennels (or “safe space”), I shut the door, and usher the kids away. Everyone deserves some relaxing time to himself or herself; even our dogs! It’s never safe to allow your young ones to stick fingers and hands into a crate and bother a dog when they are trying to relax.
I was looking for a baby playpen when I quickly noted that the dog “x-pens” were essentially the same thing, but at a lower cost to me. So I ordered one in on my monthly dog food order, and I set it up for Ava. I filled it with some of her toys, and a blanket, right in the middle of my living room. Everything I put inside it was safe to let her be alone, and it freed up my arms/hands to get things done around the house. It really did something else completely for me as well, it gave the dogs and the baby a safe barrier to work with. Ava was safe, inside her little pen, and the dogs would casually just go about their day around her, and they all learned to coexist so well. With the same idea as the crate, this baby play pen is only for Ava. I made a point to make sure the dogs do NOT go inside, and that they understand that the toys are NOT theirs to play with.
-Dividing up space
This can be achieved in a couple ways, you can use your baby gates, or your play pens. I went with a baby gate that separates my upstairs into two areas. The front half of the house is all the rooms, a hallway, and a living room area. I baby, and puppy proofed the front half, and shut all the doors to create a safe play area for all of our kiddos (both two and four legged) to hang out with supervision. I can get what I need to done in that part of the house, and they can be free to roam around. The baby gate really works for everyone, the dogs can go on either side if they are in a playful mood, and the kids can do the same! Dividing up space gives me a safe way to give everyone a controlled space, that can be separate, and lets me get things done around the house without having to watch everyone all the time!
Giving everyone a space they can call their own was just the beginning of establishing some kind of boundaries that were safe for the whole family. The dogs need space to move and so do the kids, but I can’t keep my eyes on ALL of them, all the time, and it’s just not fair to put the dogs outside all day and night! I NEVER suggest leaving animals and children alone, the variables are too great! I love my dogs, and they are amazing with kids, but it doesn’t mean something can’t happen. It’s just plain irresponsible to assume “my dog would never!”. That’s where the crates, gates, and playpens come in handy. However, I can’t just expect them to magically learn to be okay in close proximity with each other, so I had to help them build a healthy respect for each other, by establishing reasonable rules for everyone in the house.
Wait at the door was really helpful, I swear I’m always carrying more than humanly possible being a Mama, and I like having space to get in and out of my doors without tripping over dogs! Creating a boundary around the door, and giving them a command like “wait” and release word like “free”, will give you a greater maneuverability through doorways. It takes a little time to start, but it really does make bringing in baby carriers, and groceries so much easier!
When Ava started her tummy time, I laid a large soft blanket on the living room floor, and taught the dogs to stay off of it. It didn’t matter that they wanted to snuggle, or they wanted to smell her, that time would come, but not when the blanket was on the floor. I would simply establish her space, but placing her on the blanket, and using my body to essentially create a boundary around the blanket, not allowing a single paw on it. Creating this kind of perimeter allowed them to learn how to be near her, without having to be on her, or on her things. Otherwise, I’d swear they just wanted to smother her all the time! When she realized they weren’t always going to just bombard her with drool, she kind of simmered down a bit and started accepting some short interactions with them.
Once the kids started crawling and moving we had to address boundaries in a whole new way. Tiny fingers. It’s fair to teach a dog to accept children being in their proximity, or gently petting however, it’s NOT fair to teach our kids it’s okay to be rough, or disrespectful to dogs, and just require the dog to “take it”. All three of my dogs love children, but I wouldn’t allow a child to pull tails, pull ears, poke eyes, or cause any other physical harm to my dogs. I’m not doing my babies any favors by teaching them dogs will tolerate that. I often hear people say be gentle when we are talking about playing with other children, and that should be the same with animals. After all, they are sweet and tender, but they do have powerful bodies, and very sharp teeth! I’m sure if your infant stuck a finger up your nose, or in your eye you probably wouldn’t love it, and you definitely wouldn’t just “take it”. I am the greatest advocate for my dog, and my child, so teaching them to be gentle, and kind to each other will result in a safer exchange with not only my dogs, but other dogs they meet in the future as well.
I didn’t try to separate the dogs from the kids at any point. Even as babies, I allowed the dogs to smell them, and move safely around them. By bringing home a new baby, and creating some kind of stressful wall between them that doesn’t allow them to ever better understand and respect each other, I’m telling my dog something is wrong. At that point they see this new life as an uncertainty, and if I panic when they get near the baby, the dogs just feed off of my energy and pair it with the child. However, I never forced the dogs to be with the kids either. It didn’t seem like forcing them to be close to each other before they were ready was the safest way to make them appreciate each other, so we just kind of let it naturally flow. By giving them all a safe space away from each other, watching them when they were together, and teaching them all how to properly interact with each other we gave them a good foundation to grow with at home. I take the dogs and the kids on walks together, we encourage the kids to throw the ball for the dogs, and we encourage Aiden to spend some time with treats and a clicker to help enforce their relationships in a responsible way. The kids love it, the dogs love it, and my baby girl no longer screams when she gets a slobbery smooch!