I love my dog’s smile. My Lab mix rescue has a grin that’s toothy and cute, but — I’ll be honest here — it’s also a little bit scary. It reminds me that dogs are capable of hurting humans, especially small humans. These are matters of safety, behavior, and training.
Long before my husband and I adopted GhostBuster I worked as a TV reporter. Some stories I covered were fun and exciting, many others were simply forgettable — but one lives on in my memory as the absolute worst.
I remember standing outside the mourning family’s home, where a group of reporters and photographers had gathered. We were there because a baby was dead, and a beloved family dog was to blame. One reporter approached the front door and knocked. The man who opened the door shouted at the journalist. I will never forget the pain in his voice.
I went home that night and cried for that family (who, it should be noted, were experienced dog handlers who had attended a seminar on introducing babies to dogs).
Two years after that horrible day, my television career was coming to an end. During my last week as co-host of a morning show, I shot a piece on location at Animal Crackers Pet Care in Saskatoon. The piece was about preparing your dog for a new baby’s arrival. The tone was typical of our morning show segments — upbeat and bubbly — but as I interviewed dog trainer Danielle Best, I kept thinking about the family who lost both their child and their dog.
During that first interview with Best back in March I didn’t have a dog in my life. We were still a family of three — just me, my husband and Ghost Cat. I was dogless, but I knew that I wanted to have a dog in the future and I also knew that I would probably be becoming an auntie in the next couple of years. I listened to everything Best had to say about preparing dogs for tiny humans, but after adopting GhostBuster, I felt like I needed a refresher, so I called Best again.
“Most dogs absolutely can safely be around children” she says. “The issue is knowing whether or not a dog has had experience with babies or young children. There needs to be supervision, training and exposure.”
GhostBuster has been around children between the ages of three and nine since we adopted him back in July, but he’s not been around little babies yet. As GhostBuster and I frequently take walks with someone who is now expecting a baby, I want make sure my pup is ready for an infant to join our walking posse.
“The stroller tends to be a big point of fear for some dogs,” explains Best, who recommends parents introduce dogs to all kinds of baby equipment before the child arrives. She says training the dog to walk with the stroller can help ensure safe and pleasant walks for everyone involved.
“If there is no training ahead of time, in some cases the dog stops being walked because [the parent] can’t handle the stroller and the dog at the same time. You’ve got to get to that comfortable place before you get the baby involved,” she says.
Since I’m not the one having a baby, I won’t be trying to push a stroller and control GhostBuster, but according to Best I still might want to introduce him to the wheeled baby-mover before our first walk with the little one.
“It’s not as big of a deal for him, as you will still have your hands free, but it is a good idea to give him some exposure ahead of time.”
I’m going to make sure Buster has the training and exposure to walk safely with the stroller, but what can new parents do if their dog just isn’t adjusting to post-baby life?
“Seek the help of a qualified, positive-focused trainer before there is a big issue. If there’s any little hint of something, call a professional,” says Best.
While not every dog will require professional help, every single one will need attention as they adjust to their new tiny family member. Best says extended family and friends can help busy new parents by simply offering to walk the dog.
GhostBuster and I will be offering our dog walking services when my new niece or nephew finally arrives. Until then, we will be practicing for the baby’s arrival, and I will try not to dwell on worst case scenarios and wolfish teeth.
Do you ever worry about your dog being around a baby? Let us know in the comments.
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About the author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google +.