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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Features May 2013 Issue

A Dangerous Mix: A Dog and a Child Under Six Without You In the Room

One of the bonuses of getting a dog before you start a family is that you then raise your child with a pet and all the wonderful benefits that will afford him. But we strongly urge you to think twice about having a baby while your dog is still a puppy — under the age of a year to a year and a half. Puppies need a considerable amount of care for their proper development and bonding, much more than an older dog. They have to be not just walked and fed but also cuddled, coddled, socialized, and trained. So, of course, do infants. In other words, it’s really hard to be raising two “babies” at the same time. Make sure you’re up to it if you’re going to go that route. If so, more sleep deprivation than usual for new parents is in your future.
Keep in mind, too, that a child younger than the age of six and a dog of any age should never, ever be left alone together, no matter how gentle the dog and no matter how sweet the child. We cannot stress this enough. Even the most wonderful well-behaved baby or preschooler in the world, as yours most certainly will be, can end up causing harm to a dog — no matter how much you instruct him not to pull the dog’s tail and otherwise treat him right.
An infant who has started crawling will think nothing of startling a sleeping dog by bumping into him. And a toddler may want to press a dog’s eyeballs to see if they’re squidgy, like those on his teddy bear.
The dog, of course, needs to protect himself and doesn’t know his own strength. You don’t, either — and don’t want to find out should he perceive a threat from your child and take matters into his own paws while you’re out of the room. Keep in mind that even loving acts by your child may be seen as threatening and in need of retort. For instance, a toddler may want to hug a dog around the neck as a sign of affection, like he does with you. But a dog may see that as aggressive and act accordingly.
For that reason, regard a dog as you would a pot boiling over on a stove or an unprotected electric outlet. You wouldn’t leave your young child with one of those for even a second, and so it should go with your pet. If you must be out of the room, take your child under school age out of the room with you, or secure your dog in his crate or exercise pen.

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