Once again Reisner VeterinaryBehavior and Consulting Services has a great post that explains what is actually going on with a common canine behavior. I am referring to when a dog covers something (in this case a child) with a blanket (or other object) in what appears to be putting the baby to bed.*
As Reisner so aptly points out:
Just for the sake of clarification and, more important, for the sake of *safety*, dogs do not exhibit this behavior with newborn puppies. They exhibit it when they are burying, caching or hoarding FOOD. In our companion dogs, this might be observed especially by worried individuals. Far from maternal behavior, the “cute” behavior of covering a baby implies that the dog is associating the newborn with food. As awful as that is, it’s important to remember that newborn babies can be at risk of predatory behavior or fear-based aggression and confusion by dogs.
I have posted before, for many dogs the addition of a tiny human to the house is not necessarily a joyous event for them and, it can make them very nervous if they have not had regular exposure to children. I have some suggestions that will help:
- Do not ever leave your baby or toddler alone with your dog, no matter how much you trust your canine best friend. When my grandkids started arriving, I had three lovely dogs who I trusted completely, yet I never left them alone with the children. Accidents and injuries can happen in an instant! To reiterate Reisner: “it’s important to remember that newborn babies can be at risk of predatory behavior or fear-based aggression and confusion by dogs.” Therefore, don’t put your dog in a situation where he may make a serious mistake. Take the baby (or the dog) with you if you have to leave the room for any reason.
- Give your dog a break! Have a place to which your dog can retreat to give himself a break from the chaos of children. Make sure older children understand that when Fido is in his crate, on his bed, in Mom’s room, wherever this safe haven is, they are not allowed to bother him. This means that they cannot get on the bed with the dog, pull him off, run around him, throw things to him, etc. If they (or you) want to move the dog, call him to you and reward him for coming. If he chooses to stay in his safe haven, respect the fact that he is telling you that he has had enough for now and will rejoin the family when he’s ready.
- In my blog Make your holidays merrier! I give this tip (which is directly related to #2) about managing the chaos of Christmas, but which is appropriate for managing dogs around babies as well:
*Reisner has also put together a series of videos of other canines showing the same behavior as they cache food. Here are a couple of them (to see more, go to Reisner):
Fox (at about 50 seconds):
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