I recently read that a 5-day old baby girl was brutally attacked by her family’s pet in their Dunnellon, Fla. home. What’s even more haunting about this story is that this also occurred in Florida just one month ago when a 7-month-old girl was mauled to death by her family’s dog while sitting in her car seat. Both families assumed that their babies were in safe places, but we should always remember that there is generally no safe place for a child to be left unattended with a dog, cat, or any other animal that is likely to bite under stressful situations.
Dogs are cute and cuddly and quickly become members of our families just like children. This is where we fail as humans. We quickly forget that they are still animals with animal instincts and needs. As a two-time pet owner, I’ve adjusted my thoughts to accept this and we take care of our family pet accordingly. Our first dog, Rambo was like our child because at the time we did not have children. We hugged him, allowed him to roam through our house unattended, he sat under our dinner table every night, he even slept at the foot of our bed a few nights during the month. He was a part of our pack. Family members that were frequent visitors were allowed to come into our home without him freaking completely out, but others were not. Yes, we had a crate to subdue his mighty and harmless roars, but he was clearly expressing to us that those people were not welcome as a part of our pack. This is how all dogs think no matter how cute they are or how many sweaters they wear.
Three years into our bond with Rambo we welcomed our son. We did not introduce our son to Rambo the way that we should have because we were ignorant that this was a very important solution for forming a bond between a pet and a new family member. Our son’s first night in our home included lots of attention and of course a lot of crying. It was simply too much change for our dog to take in so suddenly. With every whimper and cry that our baby gave, Rambo began to express his disapproval of our tiny baby by growling, howling, and barking loudly and uncontrollably. Of course, my husband told him to “shut it up” several times, but to no avail, he did not stop. In fact, he amped his bark up a few notches. This scared me, shocked my mom who was briefly staying with us to help me with our new baby, made the baby cry louder, and made my husband upset. We decided that it was best that he go into our backyard until we could properly train him to be around our son.
It took almost two years for this to happen. This is where we go wrong as pet owners. We rush the process. Dogs sometimes take time to accept change just like people. My husband slowly allowed him to lick our sons toes sometimes and smell our son. We would allow our dog to see us interact with our son and ask him as our pet to join us. We walked as a family and my son would join my husband in feeding and bathing our dog. Our dog, like all dogs in families, needed to understand that our son was a member of our pack. He also needed to know that my son’s position in the pack trumped his. This concept has to be taught to pets because it closely resembles their natural instincts with their parents, siblings, and breed. The biggest steps that helped my son become a part of our pack was when he began to give our dog treats and play with him. We never left them unattended together. Never! It is really easy for pets to assume that babies or small children are a threat. Here are some helpful tips to introduce your child to your family pet and to prevent your child from becoming a victim of pet attacks.
1. Children sometimes touch animals inappropriately in places that they may find sensitive or target areas for confrontation. Begin to teach them soft touch or no touch. Babies will not understand this concept, so it’s best to hold your child in a safe distance when they are interacting with your family pet.
2. It is also a good idea to teach children to allow dogs to eat their food uninterrupted. Most animals are sensitive about their mealtime. Unlike humans who are able to fix food for themselves whenever they like, pets have to wait on scheduled times. If the pet is really hungry or frustrated during meal time this can lead to aggressive behavior from the pet towards your child.
3. The high pitch sound of a constant cry can be disturbing for a dog’s sensitive hearing, so it may also be helpful to remove them from the room during the introduction phase if your child is visibly afraid or unable to be calmed. Dogs are very smart in sensing energy and moods.
My husband and I initially sought help from a professional dog training academy in our area, but soon after arriving, our dog being to suffer from severe separation anxiety. At the recommendation of our Veternarian, we decided to stop the training and bring him back home. We began to read and watch information from the world renown dog trainer Cesar Milan. Cesar Milan is a great dog expert. Most of his tips can apply to cats or pet pigs as well. Cesar recommends a few helpful tips for introducing your baby to your family pet. You can read more of them here.