Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dogs and babies

My 6 month-old granddaughter has come to visit, and Chuck and I are really enjoying being silly grandparents. We talk in silly voices, and dance silly dances to get her to stop fussing. One place we are not being silly, though, is in the interaction between our dogs and our granddaughter.

When we brought our first son home from the hospital in 1980, we had 3 dogs- 2 elderly Cairn Terriers that had come to me as strays a few years before, and a young adult mixed breed we had raised from a pup. We thought about how we would introduce the baby, but we didn't do anything elaborate. We were lucky. Sam, one of the Cairns, was very unhappy that we had brought this new person into our pack, and literally turned his face to the wall. For about 3 days he would not look at the baby, or at us. Fortunately there were no other problems, and Tanqueray, the mixed breed, was extremely good, not only with our first son but also with our second 4 years later.

Our current dogs are terrific. They bring joy to our lives. However, they are also large, alien predators who operate on motivation that we don't share and I would never make the mistake of leaving the baby with the dogs unsupervised. This is not the world of Good Dog Carl, much as I would like it to be.

This is only the fourth time we have been able to spend time with our granddaughter, as she lives 1000 miles away. The first two times we went to visit, the dogs stayed home with a wonderful house sitter, and had a terrific time. By Thanksgiving, though, we thought the new family had enough time to acclimate, and we took the dogs with us to visit. We were able to fence off the bottom level of our son's house so that there was a "dog-free" zone and a "baby-free" zone. The dogs did pass through the upstairs on the way to and from the back yard, but they didn't spend a lot of time in close proximity with the baby.

This visit is on the dogs' territory, and I had a few more concerns. I didn't want them to be locked out of parts of the house they were accustomed to entering- mainly the kitchen and the TV room. The bedrooms are always off-limits, so that was no problem, but the kitchen and the TV room are the main places we spend time as a family.

As it happens, there hasn't been an issue- the baby is still non-mobile, and has never been alone except when in the closed bedroom, sleeping. The dogs have been curious, but have mostly stayed at a small distance. This is as close as they have gotten- and I am holding on to Boodle's collar.

I have been surprised- Juniper, who is the most dominant, comes alert when the baby cries, but for the most part hasn't shown any other interest. I was actually more worried about Boodles, the most submissive dog in the world. Despite her submission, she is very active, (we call her the ADD dog) and we haven't been able to reliably train her to greet people appropriately and less enthusiastically. Boodles thinks all people in the world love her and want to be kissed. She has big paws and I was afraid of scratches more than anything.

Because we see them so infrequently, we will have to reintroduce the baby each time. This year the baby has been mostly in some adult's arms, and has not invaded the dog's space. Next year will be different and we will have to be vigilant in other ways. For more information about introducing dogs to babies or small children, see below:

Here is a Cesar Milan video about working with dogs and small children.

Or look at these web sites:
Petpourri library article from St. Huberts Animal Welfare Center, NJ
Pawprints and Purrs Inc. Introducing an infant to a resident dog
WikiFido interview with Cesar Milan
Dog Meet Baby (Haven't tried this one, but it certainly is interesting.)

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