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Keep your new baby safe from dog bites

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If you're about to bring a baby into a house with dogs, it's crucial to protect the baby from the possibility of aggressive behavior and dog bites

Joy Shadden, of Chicago, and her husband wanted a puppy, and they thought their American Staffordshire Terrier was the cutest dog they ever saw. They had no idea, however, that they had just brought home a pit bull. They soon recovered from their deception and named their purchase Roxie.

A month later Joy became pregnant, and now she and her husband were anxious. Could they have a baby and a pit bull at the same time?

"Every night on the news while I was pregnant, we were watching stories about pit bulls attacking children," Shadden said. "My mother was worried sick and begged me to get rid of the dog."

But Shadden and her husband had become attached to Roxie and decided to give their dog a chance. Initially, they kept baby Bella and Roxie apart because they were so nervous about mixing the two, but after a couple of days, they relented and allowed Roxie to sniff and lick Bella.

Bella's first kiss was with Roxie, and they have been best friends ever since. Neighbors are amazed at how well the two get along together.

Where did that first bite come from?

While Shadden’s story had a happy ending, there are instances when dogs bite children, and it's important for new parents to be aware of the warning signs.

Jennifer Walker, RN, BSN, is a pediatric nurse who is part of the Moms-On-Call network to help parents of babies across the country. "As a pediatric nurse, I've seen many children with severe facial injuries from dog bites. Every one is accompanied by a frantic, yet remorseful parent, saying, 'This dog has never done this before.’”

What makes otherwise docile dogs turn on the ones they loved or turn on a stranger smaller than them?

Here are some guidelines from Walker:

  • Supervision with baby and dog is essential. 
  • Don't get between a dog and its food. Anytime a child gets between a dog and its food, there is a likelihood of a dog bite.
  • If a dog is growling or barking feverishly, remove the child from this situation immediately, and address the dog when the child is out of harm's way.
  • Animals do not like to be cornered. If a child is chasing a dog into an enclosed room or corner, the dog may become defensive and bite.
  • Babies should never be allowed to sit on, climb on, crawl on or startle the dog.

  • Never sneak up on a pet or dog that is eating or sleeping. Animals may bite when startled or frightened.
  • Never pet a dog that is playing with a toy. Dogs are protective of toys, and may think a child is trying to take it.

Teach children what is acceptable

According to the Humane Society, every year, more than four million people in the United States suffer from a dog bite. It is up to the owner to teach their puppy or dog what is acceptable and what is not.

"Most dogs and puppies are generally loving and affectionate 99 percent of the time," said Dr. Tony Kremer, veterinarian and educator in Chicago, who co-founded with his wife Help Save Pets -- Humane Society of Plainfield, Ill., to save countless dogs and cats from euthanasia. "Only one percent of the time does something specific happen that makes the dog bite,” Kremer said.

Bite-prevention exercises

If you have any concerns that your pet will not do well with your baby, seek the assistance of a professional trainer or your veterinarian. Some professional trainers and veterinarians offer classes to prepare dogs and cats for living with young children.

The classes can provide you with information, such as where is the best place to feed your pet, how to read your pet's body language, and tips on how to avoid stress for your furry best friend. If baby's arrival is imminent, now is the time to brush up on some basic training like "sit," "down" and "stay."

"Your dog could accidentally hurt your baby just by jumping up to say hi," said Kellyann Conway, director of animal training and behavior for Animal Planet Pet Video and Petfinder.com. "Having a solid 'sit' cue can help ensure that the dog won't be jumping anymore. Taking just five minutes twice a day to work with your dog on the basics should be all you need to see a lot of change while you prepare,” she said.

All dogs need training. Even Roxie benefited from the local PetSmart Doggie 101 class, and Shadden attributes those lessons, along with tender loving care and respect, to the successful bonding between Roxie and Bella.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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