Ask Mr. Dad: Preparing Rover to be a good dog with baby

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Dear Mr. Dad: I’m pregnant with our first child and I’m due in about four months. One of the things I’m worried about is our dog, a 150-pound male mastiff, who is truly a part of our family and not just a pet. Some friends of ours say that it’s dangerous to have a giant dog around a newborn and that we should start looking for a new home for him. Is it? And is there some way to prepare our dog and keep our baby safe?

A: There’s no way to predict with 100 percent accuracy how animals are going to react in any given situation, but you can get some hints by asking yourself these questions: What is the dog’s personality? Is he aggressive or territorial? Does he growl or bite? Does he jump on you, the furniture or guests? Has he spent time with children? Does he like children? How protective is he of his toys? Could he possibly confuse a neatly wrapped up baby with a chewable toy? Does he bark when he wants attention? Does he understand and obey basic commands? I’m sure you can figure out which questions need a “yes” answer and which need a “no.”

But no matter how wonderful your dog is, there’s always some risk. According to Michael Wombacher, author of “Good Dog, Happy Baby,” of the 4.7 million people who get bitten by dogs in the U.S. every year, 80 percent are children under five. Eighty percent of those bites are to the face and happen during feeding, petting or playing. Most of those dogs live in the victim’s home and have no history of biting.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are ways to reduce those risks. And the time to start is right now, long before the baby arrives. The goal is to get the dog acclimated to the changes that are going to happen – some of which he may not be thrilled with. That way, he won’t blame the new baby for ruining his life (exactly what most first-born human pups think when confronted with a baby who knocks them out of the center of the Universe).

Some of the changes will be fairly easy. For example, you can download some baby cries from the Internet and play them every few hours to get the dog used to the sound. If you’ve got friends or relatives with infants or small children who are willing to help you out, start inviting them over so the dog can check out what a baby looks like, acts like, sounds like and smells like.

Next, set up the baby’s room now, and let the dog check out the crib, changing table, diapers, wipes, etc. If you’ve already got a stroller, take it with you when you’re walking the dog. You want to get him used to walking beside it without trying to drag it into the middle of the street.

While you’re doing all this, you’ll also want to be getting your dog used to the new rules of the house – again, long before the baby arrives. For example, if he sleeps on your bed, you’ll probably want to break that habit. Same goes for barking indoors, jumping on the furniture or jumping on people.

If you’re able to do the re-educating, great. If not, you may want to hire a dog trainer who’s got experience preparing dogs for babies. Wombacher’s book is a great resource, as is “Please Don’t Bite the Baby,” by Lisa Edwards. And for the pure entertainment value, check out the “Good Dog, Carl” books by Alexandra Day.

(Read Armin Brott’s blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to armin@mrdad.com.)

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