Dogs and Newborms: How to build safe and happy families

Good planning, expert advice and use of tools such as muzzles will safeguard children and help them bond with dogs for life, according to leading behaviourist.

With the child-canine bond dominating the headlines in recent weeks – ranging from tragic child deaths to debates about Simon Cowell letting his Yorkshire Terriers lick his new infant son’s face at the other — it is not a surprise that expectant parents may feel overwhelmed when trying to prepare their dog for a new family arrival.

However, according to the UK’s leading pet psychologist Dr Roger Mugford, the solution is easy and any anxieties can be navigated with proper planning, careful use of new humane muzzles, and guidance from all the excellent dog trainers the UK has to offer.

Dr Mugford, a world-renowned expert in animal behaviour, set up his own pet supply and training business, The Company of Animals, more than 30 years ago and is best known for inventing the world’s first dog headcollar, the HALTI.

He asserts that most problems relating to dogs and children concern over-protective, rather than dangerous, dogs. However, he urges expectant parents to undergo a pet “reality check”. Assess how your dog interacts with children and then implement easy and practical measures to get the animal used to the new baby, both before and after it comes home.

Dr Mugford outlined some of the vital questions for expectant families to ask themselves – including does your dog get on with the children of family and friends? If it is over-excited by an infant’s crying or threatening towards children then you may have to give serious consideration to whether it is possible to keep the animal when the baby arrives.

However, Dr Mugford believes relinquishment is rarely necessary and simple steps can help get dogs ready for life with a baby.

Dr Mugford’s tips for new parents

First and foremost, all parents of infants and young children must remember the cardinal rule, that despite how much you love and trust your pet you must never leave your dog and child alone together.

Some of Dr Mugford’s tips for preparing an animal pre-baby, as detailed in his new book The Perfect Dog, include making sure your dog has mastered basic obedience such as sitting and staying, putting up baby gates to get your dog used to restrictions around the house and spending time with family and friends to condition your dog around small children.

If you are in any doubt about how your dog is responding to children, Dr Mugford urges owners to speak to their vet and seek an appointment with a qualified behaviourist, such as those registered with the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association.

Once your baby’s home, Roger believes parents should introduce the dog as soon as possible, under careful supervision and restraint, and make sure the animal is always kept calm and practising its obedience.

“Get the dog used to its new family member by involving it in your baby’s everyday routine; whether it’s feeding, washing, play or, of course, going for walks,” Dr Mugford added.

Helpful tools

He also urged new parents to make full use of all of the effective training aids available, particularly if they are in any doubt about the behaviour of their dog. Modern muzzles, such as those offered by Company of Animals, could be the answer. They are made of lightweight plastic and webbing, come in a wide range of sizes and colours and allow dogs to eat and drink normally, guaranteeing both dog welfare and human safety.

He said: “Anyone who has a new born baby and is not sure what their dog might do, I want them to think about using a muzzle. Today’s muzzles do not present the same welfare challenges they used to and new products have been designed to be welfare friendly.”

Dr Mugford concluded: “Stories of children being mauled by the family pet make media headlines and serve as a salutary warning, but they are rare. As parents though, you have to be vigilant at all times, because at any age things just might go wrong between baby and dog, and if you have any worries, seek advice from a vet or behaviourist immediately.

“However, planning and practical steps can help build the bond between baby and child, and as your child grows up that relationship becomes a wonderful part of their development and life experience.”

As well as providing positive, tailored behaviour classes on a daily basis, The Company of Animals supplies revolutionary tried-and-tested pet products, including fun and effective training aids, games and feeding accessories.

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