When it comes to babies our dogs are very perceptive, for some strange reason they seem to automatically get that there is a difference between babies and adults. In fact, they seem to understand that there is even a difference between babies and children.
This perception about dogs is very obvious when you look at the way they act around babies, they seem to go extra lengths being careful when they come around babies. Some dogs are even very protective when it comes to babies around them, but does that mean dogs understand that they are looking at a human baby. Do they understand what is happening at the moment or is it some mystery?
Even though canine experts have not been able to exactly understand what goes on in a dog’s mind when they see babies, there are common agreements on how your dog views babies and maybe why they act the way they do around them.
So, how do dogs view babies? Here are some explanations as to why your dog may be acting differently around babies.
They view babies’ appearance as different from adults.
Babies have an appearance that is far different from children or adults, their heads appear bigger than their body and limbs which are folded in and make them appear defenseless. There is also the fact that they are small in size.
These physical features combined tend to trigger a protective response in our dogs. Dogs are not complex by nature and dogs that are protective or herders by nature instinctively understand that they need to take care of this new member of their pack who appears weak and defenseless.
There are situations where your dog may exhibit its overprotective nature for the baby even to you as a dog parent, this is not something to be scared of, it is only an indication that you have not trained your dog properly on how to act around the baby.
We will explain later on how to manage such situations and get your dog on their best behavior but let’s first conclude on how your dog views babies.
They smell babies differently.
We as adults enjoy the fresh smell of babies, the smell is somewhat refreshing and satisfying to our sense of smell making us want to hold on to the baby for a longer time.
Now imagine our dogs with their heightened sense of smell. On average, our dogs have about two hundred million olfactory glands which are extremely sensitive to scents and smells. A baby carries the natural human smell in its purest and most unadulterated form. This makes their smell even more attractive to our dogs with their heightened sense of smell.
If we can enjoy the smell of a baby, imagine the joyful sensation our dogs would feel experiencing the same smell raised to tens of thousands. It will be a Nivera experience, almost close to the experience of getting high on drugs.
This is one of the reasons you will notice some dogs get very excited when a baby is around.
They get a release of oxytocin.
Oxytocin is also famously known as the love hormone. This hormone is known to strengthen the bond between parents and babies by connecting everyday social activities to the reward centers in our brains. The release of this hormone causes an endless cycle of interaction and oxytocin release leading to an endless loop of pleasurable experiences between the parents and the babies.
If you ever wondered why you get such joyous and happy experiences playing with a baby even when he or she is not yours, you have the reason now.
Fortunately for us, our dogs also experience the release of oxytocin in their systems. This is also heightened when they come around babies. Their cuddling around a baby that gives them a sense of joy, protecting the baby, nurturing the baby in their own way, and interacting with the baby gives your dog a sense of purpose and also lights up the reward centers in their brain making them feel accomplished by just being around and being involved with the baby.
Our dogs are social creatures.
Dogs before their interaction with human beings survived as pack animals, they moved in groups thereby needing to socialize with each member of the group properly to survive. Usually, the best provider with experience and strength led the pack with the puppies being the lowest in rank in the pack.
Dogs instinctively understood that maintaining their position in the pack was very important to the survival of the pack and theirs as well.
Fast forward to today, a new baby is being welcomed into the pack, your dog sees the way you act around this defenseless baby and rightfully assumes that the baby is a very important component of the pack. Naturally, your dog would want to get involved and be of some use in this situation. This would be their way of stamping their usefulness and importance to the pack.
Your dog would need to understand and bond with this new member to interact properly with the baby. Bear in mind our dogs are emotional creatures and hence if it is possible to get more attention from this new member of the pack, why not!
Your dog instinct to bond and protect this new member would be stronger than anything you can imagine even for well-trained and socialized dogs which makes it very important for you to control the interaction between the two.
TIPS TO KEEP YOUR BABY SAFE AROUND DOGS
- Engage your dog in an Obedience Training program
A dog that cannot follow basic instructions is a danger not just to the baby but to itself. Make sure your dog can obey simple commands like “sit”, “stay” and more before even considering having that dog around your baby.
Note that even though a dog’s natural instinct is to guard members of its pack, there can be wrong impressions on first meetings and internal conflicts even in packs and close family units. Some dogs have been known to attack babies on first meetings as their hunting drive can override kicks into overdrive in these instances.
Having a dog that you can control early on before bringing a baby into your household is key and should be the first thing to do before bringing in the baby. Start early with the program, usually three to four months ahead of the baby’s arrival.
Learn basic dog training commands here DOG TRAINING GUIDE: BASIC DOG TRAINING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
- Start the introduction slowly.
With new pets, it takes our dogs a long time to adjust to them, it is estimated that this can take about two to three months before our dogs accept other pets as part of the household, why then would we assume that our dogs would fall in love with a human baby on first sight?
The same logic applies to a new baby in the household, the best approach would be to introduce the baby gradually to the dog. The baby should not be exposed to the dog at this early stage, but you can start introducing your dog to the baby’s scent by exposing them to the baby’s clothing, blankets, etc.
This way your dog starts to associate the scent with the baby’s cries and activities. Once your dog seems comfortable with these activities you can start working on them interacting with the baby of course under your close monitoring.
- Never ever leave a dog alone with a baby.
The internet is full of cute pictures of babies and dogs all cuddled up and seemingly having a nice time. Even though this looks cute and all, this is a big no when it comes to how babies should interact with dogs.
If you don’t get anything from this write-up, let this one stick, “Never, ever leave your dog alone with a baby”.
You and your dog may have come to an understanding of how you interact with each other but as far as the baby is concerned, their actions are still unpredictable to your dog. Moreso a dog still has instincts akin to that of a wolf and can go into predator mode in an instant.
Make sure your baby is in a room where your dog does not have access to anytime you are not around, you may also consider introducing dog gates and dog crates to keep them out of the baby area or contained when you are not around.
No matter what it is, your dog should be getting to the understanding that interacting with a baby is a privilege he or she needs to work towards and cannot be rewarded with that kind of interaction on a platter of gold.
- Start training your dog on baby behavior.
We mentioned earlier that babies are unpredictable when they start interacting with dogs, they will prod your dog and tug their ears and tails in manners that are downright impolite and hurtful to your dog.
If you are going to have your dog interacting with your baby or any baby for that matter you need to start training your dog to expect these types of actions as normal. This can be achieved by using positive reinforcement techniques.
For example, when you are alone with your dog, you can prod your dog lightly, when he or she reacts to it, you can say something like “Good Girl” and toss some treats for her. This way as the training goes on, your dog would start associating prodding to the reward centers in their brain and would even start looking towards these scenarios.
The same thing with tugging their ears and tails, start lightly and reward your dog when they react. Increase the frequency with time so that your dog would be used to more pressure intensity and still associate it with something good.
All these would help to prepare your dog for a baby’s unpredictable action and still leave your dog happy with the interaction.
- Introduce safe zones for your dog.
Sometimes a baby’s action can be too much for your dog. Sometimes a dog might growl a bit when being baby handled if you have a dog that does this. It is a good sign, your dog is trying to communicate that he or she is not enjoying what is going on.
Unfortunately, most dogs don’t understand the concept of walking away in these situations. This is where you come in. First, you need to provide safe zones for your dog and more importantly train them on using the safe zone whenever they are not enjoying their interaction with the baby.
What are safe zones? Well, safe zones simply put are places of comfort to which your dog has access but the baby does not. They may simply be an elevated porch your dog can easily climb on, your dog’s bed, your dog’s crate, etc.
These safe zones are normally filled with dog toys and games. Things that can keep your dog occupied physically and mentally. In a way, this is like providing an option for your dog whenever they get involved in something they are not enjoying or they just need a place of solace.
So now we have some understanding of what a safe zone is, next thing is to start training your dog to use these places you have made available to them. The training for the “Go to” command is usually used to achieve this.
- Exercise your dog.
Exercising and socializing with your dog usually go hand in hand. They get the workout they need and at the same time learn to interact with people around them and also their environment.
Exercising your dog helps him or her to release the pent-up energy in them, this at the end of the session helps you to have a dog that is less hyperactive thereby being in a more relaxed mode when interacting with a baby.
You can even take this a step further and involve the baby in the training sessions. Doing this will help the dog register in his or her brain reward centers that being around the baby is always equivalent to having a good time.
Your dog and your baby will also be undergoing some sort of bonding process as they get to investigate and interact with people and their environment together and share their experiences in their own way. This leads to making the baby a more likable member of the pack.
- Start teaching your baby the right way to interact with a dog.
As your baby grows, the way they interact with your dog will change, the realization would dawn on both dog and baby that there are things one can do that the other can’t.
This would be a good time to start introducing your baby to proper and polite ways of handling your dog. From petting them to interacting with a dog’s belongings like toys, games, and food. Naturally, your baby is unlikely to follow the rules set out immediately, but the good thing is that they are learning do’s and don’ts early on and this makes it easier to incorporate these habits as they grow older.
I know we have said it before but it is worth sounding the warning. “Never leave a dog alone with a baby unsupervised.
Most dogs would exhibit the natural instinct to act as protectors to a new baby. The problem lies in the reality that the way a dog would take care of a baby wildly differs from the way a human would take care of the same baby.
Training your dog well and assigning some responsibility around the baby’s everyday activity would make your dog feel more fulfilled and better about themselves and their position in the pack. Shutting them out leaves them feeling unwanted and probably blaming the baby for the change of events.
Basically, be mindful about your dog’s feelings and try to make your dog not feel left out in this situation, at the end of the day your dog just wants to be recognized in the pack whether a baby is involved or not.
Hi, I am Charles Nwankwo Editor-in-Chief, Mydoggything.com. Gleaning from Professional Dog Trainers, behaviorist, Registered Veterinarians, and Breeders. We are passionate about making dog care easy for you. My job is to make sure that you get the best-updated dog care information to understand and take care of your dog or dogs.