Can my dog and baby get along?
January 28, 2014 1:47 PM   Subscribe

I have a 6 month old baby. I have a dog who is around 8 years old. How can I help the dog and the baby get along?

Some background: We adopted the dog when she was 1.5 from the humane society. They thought her almost unadoptable due to her fear of men in hats. My husband fell in love with her immediately and they have been best buddies ever since. Her issue with men in hats has completely vanished. She's not the biggest fan of yappy, high-strung dogs and isn't the best behaved on walks (distracted by bunnies and other dogs).

When we first got the dog, she would eat paper - mail, rent checks (!), tissues from the bathroom garbage can - but got over it. Until my husband starting going back to school 1.5 years ago. So leaving her out of her crate isn't possible anymore because we don't trust her not eating something.

This past summer, my husband switched from an evening position to a day position, so the dog has gone from only 2-3 hours in her crate a day to 9.5 hours in her crate a day. The year before, my husband started going to class a few days a week, so that was less time to hang out with the dog, too.

Enter baby. The dog was previously my husband's baby. Dog has mostly been uninterested in the baby (baby has been only recently remotely aware of the dog) but has been extra attention-needy. Example: dog is fine laying on the floor without attention until the baby needs to be fed. Then she gets up and begs for scritches from me while I am trying to feed the baby.

Infants are a lot of work and I know we aren't giving the dog as much attention as before. Enter all of these below-zero temperatures with the Polar Vortex and she doesn't get many walks this winter, either. But after baby and I go to bed, my husband has made an effort to hang out with the dog and give her one-on-one attention at least a couple nights a week.

Our concern however was this weekend. We had two friends over visiting, sitting calmly on one couch while I sat on the other couch with the baby in my lap. Dog was sitting on the floor next to me. Baby reached out to touch the dog, which the dog seemed OK with until she suddenly was NOT OK and viciously vocalized at the baby.

We made the dog sit in her crate (in the same room as us) for a bit to cool her off.

The dog has, a few years ago, snapped at a toddler she didn't know when the toddler was kicking at her face in an aggressive manner (no physical biting occurred). In a high-stress situation once with lots of excitement and people and dogs, the dog once bit my cousin's smaller dog with a little bit of blood drawn.

Should we be worried? Is this a lost cause? We love the dog, although we are not perfect pet parents. Is there hope for baby and dog to get along or should we surrender her back to the humane society?

TLDR: Is there a way to make our dog more baby-friendly?
posted by jillithd to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, I would be worried. I am a dog lover and a parent and I would not be OK with having a dog in the house that could be even remotely potentially aggressive with a small child.

Many dogs are not good with small children. We had to go to five different shelters before we found a dog that was sufficiently calm and gentle enough to be around our toddler. Because this is ONLY going to get worse; we have to tell our 3-year-old multipe times per day -- multiple times per HOUR sometimes -- to leave the dog alone. Our dog is very patient and gentle, and my son tests her limits sometimes. Any dog who would growl, snap or bite is dangerous to a small child.

Find a new home for the dog. I'm very sorry.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:58 PM on January 28, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm not a parent, but your dog's behavior sounds pretty normal to me - I don't think it's reasonable to expect any dog to put up with babies or toddlers without very close supervision. If you can, you can work with her on acclimating to the baby - there are a bunch of tips in this ASPCA article that might be helpful, especially in the "Dogs Who Don't Love Kids Enough" section.

I don't think there's any shame in rehoming a dog - I took in a returned dog and I'm grateful to her previous owners - even if the reason is "I don't have the time or energy to work to acclimate her." Personally I don't think it's a given that your dog will graduate from snarling to biting, especially if she's demonstrated great bite inhibition in the past (seriously, kicking in the face?), but if you're not comfortable then you're not comfortable.
posted by muddgirl at 2:13 PM on January 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't think it's a lost cause, IF you treat it immediately and take it very seriously. A warning is just that, a warning. If the dog meant to bite, she would have, but it is a good indicator that the dog is not super comfortable with the kid. The baby is new and strange and has been pretty disruptive to the dog's life - it's not super surprising that she's wary, but it very well may calm down over time.

Behavioral Adjustment Training is pretty good for these kinds of situations - basically, you teach the dog that their first response to situations they don't like are to get up and walk away. If she doesn't like the baby, she can get up and avoid the baby.

If it clearly isn't working, be warned that if she goes to the ASPCA as an elderly dog, she doesn't have very good odds of finding a home. If you want to ensure that she goes to a good home, you should find the new home yourself.
posted by zug at 2:26 PM on January 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

TLDR: Is there a way to make our dog more baby-friendly?

Probably not, but there are maybe ways to make him more baby tolerant. One, obviously, you know this but just to go ahead state the obvious, if you want to keep the dog you need to be in a state of fairly high vigilance all the time. When baby gets mobile -- high alert, all day long.

The big thing is the time in the crate -- the dog is probably bored out of his mind and bitchy from lack of exercise. The crate thing, that's a really long time. I don't understand about the eating things -- is it really just paper? Put the paper up high and bungee cord the trashcan shut.

But reliable exercise, every day, supervision, and a consult with a dog trainer and vet would probably be the places to start.

If you can't do these things, just can't, and are looking for permission to rehome the dog, you already have that -- the dog isn't happy and doesn't have a nice life. If you feel like you can't give him what he needs, maybe you can invest your resources in rescues and so on that will help you find a great home for him.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:31 PM on January 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not to threadsit, but we signed a contract with the local humane society when we adopted her that we agreed to return the dog to them if we ever could no longer keep the dog.
posted by jillithd at 2:31 PM on January 28, 2014

When was the dog's last vet check-up? It wouldn't hurt to bring her in for a checkup now just see if there is any pain or physical ailment that may have cropped up recently. She is getting older, and because you are not spending as much time with her- you may be missing some behavioral changes that could indicate illness or injury. I'm not saying that's THE reason for her snapping like that, but it is a potential reason, and worth ruling out. Other than that if there is any way you or your husband can find a little more time to spend with her that might help too. Dogs struggle as they age in ways that we are not always attuned to...they can't speak to us and tell us what's going on.
posted by catrae at 2:37 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is doggie daycare a possibility? Your dog will be so tired (in a good way!) by the time it gets back, it will probably conk right out. A well exercised dog is a very happy dog.
posted by longdaysjourney at 3:03 PM on January 28, 2014 [8 favorites]

You should definitely be concerned, but this is something you should be able to manage with effective training. My mum has a little dog, the sweetest dog ever, who was constantly around small chdren with no problem. However she had growled at my sister's youngest (aged 2) when niece dropped some blocks on her, so we thought it understandable. The dog was immediately removed and we were more vigilant after that. Unfortunately a couple of months ago niece leaned right across the dog as she sat beside mum on the couch, and she bit her (thankfully she's ok but she does have a small scar.) My mum was devastated and we called in a dog trainer for some one-to-one advice which I'd recommend you do also.

Firstly, there are warning signs that people often miss that show the dog is unhappy before it even gets to growling stage, for example yawning (when not tired) or licking its lips a lot. Learning how to spot these can make it easier to deal with the behaviour before it escalates. Also you need to get the dog used to wearing a muzzle. We always associated these with "dangerous dogs" but the truth is that any animal can hurt a child and dangerous is as much about context as the animal's character. If the dog feels its under threat then it will react as nature intended it to. It's important to be consistent in training the dog how to use it and its not that hard, basically lots of treats for sniffing it, then letting the dog eat treats out of it, then wear it for five seconds and another treat etc over a period of time. Getting it used to the muzzle now means that it won't be distressed by wearing it around the baby and you don't need to be stressed out that something unpredictable might happen. The baby can still interact with the dog without the risk.

A few other training tips on making sure the dog is stimulated enough, is rewarded for good behaviour and how to get it to immediately come on command, for example, also can help minimise the risks in that it won't be acting out, and if there is any move you're concerned about you can instantly recall it.

TL;DR You should be able to keep your dog and keep baby safe with good training techniques that a canine behaviour expert in your area can offer you. Good luck.
posted by billiebee at 3:06 PM on January 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you're both away for almost 10 hours a day it's certainly going to make the dog more likely to act up, not less. I think one of the things you need to do is find a dog walker or day care so your dog is not feeling alone and unloved while you are both away. Secondly, I'm not sure that putting the dog in the crate after your dog barked at your child was the right message. You dog is doing the best she can to communicate that she is threatened by the baby reaching out, and you don't want to punish her for that, nor do you want to use the crate for punishment. I think a good dog behaviorist is going to be very helpful to you.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:30 PM on January 28, 2014 [9 favorites]

If I was kept in a crate all day, I'd be grumpy too. Can you afford a dogwalker or doggie daycare? The dog needs exercise and attention and isn't getting it.

If you, dad and baby are out all day at work and at daycare, she has no pack and no stimulation, and not much when you get home.

If none of that works or you guys aren't able to make those changes, then you might have a long-term problem that means she needs a new home.

I do understand how stressful it is, you can't help the cold weather or having to work or the demands of a baby, but your dog has no idea why things are the way they are, so try giving her some slack or improving her situation.
posted by emjaybee at 3:49 PM on January 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm a bit shocked at the above answers. Yes, the dog is probably "grumpy" but you know what? Your baby is completely defenseless and a bite now can lead to permanent scarring for the rest of his/her life. You don't have time for the dog anymore, and forcing it to spend the rest of its life muzzled and crated is inhumane. There are plenty of people out there looking for a dog.. take a look at some of the recent askmefis and their comments(1,2). I know it's a hard decision but I honestly believe people come before dogs. Especially when those people are infants.
posted by valoius at 4:57 PM on January 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

In my book this isn't even a question. An infant is defenseless. A dog has sharp teeth and can act out unexpectedly and quickly. You are not even providing a good home for the dog at this point.

Mrs. alms and I had to separate from a beloved cat because it couldn't deal with the new baby in our lives. It was sad but ultimately for the best all around.
posted by alms at 8:48 PM on January 28, 2014

We rehomed a cat that mauled our toddler enough to leave a scar, and I feel zero guilt over that. Then we adopted a dog specifically that had been socialised and was really submissive to our toddler while playing on the get-to-know-you day at the shelter. The dog lets the toddler - and the cat! - climb all over her and is adorable and wonderful. I would rehome her if she showed aggressive behaviour though because we lived with a child-aggressive dog previously and it only worked because that dog lived outdoors as much as possible.

If you decide to rehome her, be upfront about the need for a household without young children. The Humane Society might be okay with you finding a new home for your dog on your own as long as you notify them and the new home is good with them.

Babies shouldn't be left alone or within reach of a dog, no matter how nice the dog is. We didn't leave our kid around the dog until the baby was able to walk and push back. There are still times when the toddler is knocked on her butt playing with the dog because the dog is tall. But the toddler is very clear on safety rules and has been taught to never ever hurt the dog, and the dog was made to eat only from the toddler's hand for a while, and to always let the toddler go first into a room and so on.

It's a risk. One place wouldn't let us adopt from them because we had a toddler. I grew up with dogs and have dog bite scars, but so so many good memories of dogs that I felt it was a reasonable risk. With good training of child and dog, the risk is lowered but it exists. It's less than a swimming pool risk, but it's there.

CDC has some good links and resources.
posted by viggorlijah at 9:22 PM on January 28, 2014

Any dog who would growl, snap or bite is dangerous to a small child.

All dogs would growl, snap, or bite under sufficiently provoking circumstances. All of them. There isn't a simple dividing line between aggressive dogs and non-aggressive dogs, just like there isn't a simple dividing line between nice people and mean people. Behavior depends both on the dog and on the context. While I agree that the dog in this question has shown some worrying behaviors, I disagree that growling and snapping in particular are problems - these are the ways that a dog can communicate that it is feeling threatened, and so give you important information that can help you prevent bites. Dogs that are punished for giving these warning signs are much more likely to bite "unprovoked". Only knowing that the dog growled is not that much information.

There are lots of websites and books you can look at to get more information. Two that I like are Living with Kids and Dogs and Family Paws.

The Family Paws site includes a link to find a trainer in your area, which could be helpful to you. Having a trainer help you evaluate your dog's behavior to find out how dangerous the current situation is. Maybe you do need to rehome your dog, but you might want to get a professional opinion about that.

A trainer could also work with you to make a training plan for your dog and you and your baby to make a training plan. From what you describe, it sounds like you don't have a lot of experience with dog training could use a specific plan to manage your baby's interactions with the dog. For example, being crated should never be used as a punishment. For another example, given that you have a dog who has in the past snapped at a toddler, I would definitely not allow any kids to approach or touch the dog until the dog has been through a lot of positive training to associate kids with good things.

It also sounds like lack of exercise could be a problem. Is the dog getting 30-60 minutes of exercise every single day? If not, is there a way you can make this happen?
posted by medusa at 9:27 PM on January 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

I just got my rescue dog on Halloween from a local animal services/rescue place (obligatory photos here and here). She was surrendered by a family with a child who just didn't have enough time for her (she gets - and needs - at least an hour of running/fetching/swimming daily now, versus being crated all the time and only walked every couple weeks before). If you can't keep her, try finding a no-kill shelter. There's someone out there like me who's always really wanted a dog, has the time, and doesn't have kids around who will be happy to adopt her, so don't get anguished if you have to make this choice. We're just doing obedience training now in a's worth noting that this takes multiple daily practice sessions, and sometimes many months before behaviors change, so I'm all for that solution if possible, but it's no quick, easy fix.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 10:42 PM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

TLDR: Is there a way to make our dog more baby-friendly?

As gently as possible, the root of the problem here is you and not the baby. The dog's basic personality and behaviours have not changed, but you've changed everything around her. You've literally replaced her in your affections with your child and the dog sounds starved for attention and geeze I'd be jealous, too. Dogs are a daily commitment. 9.5 hours a day in a crate is way, way too much.

She needs walks, play time, crate relief, and some more training if that doesn't ramp down her issues. If you are absolutely unable to provide that, then please do not put her in a shelter, which is a highly stressful environment for most dogs. Instead, make the effort to rehome her through your social networks and then, if that fails, a fostering organisation. It won't be quick but it will be kinder than the pound.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:41 AM on January 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

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