Introducing Pets to New Babies

It seems like every few weeks, a fresh news story about a family pet seriously injuring or killing a baby hits the airwaves.  And every time, we all say and hear the same well-meaning and accurate but tired talking points about how devastating it is, how it could have and should have been avoided, who to blame, who not to blame and what to do about the problem.  The general theme is that the ultimate responsibility lies with the parents and/or dog owners, not the children.  That any breed of dog can bite, and any breed of dog can be a good family pet.  That parents should never leave their kids alone with any animals unsupervised.  That government should focus on penalizing irresponsible dog owners, not certain breeds of dogs.

And I agree with all of that.  I've said much of it myself in interviews on national press many times.  And yet still, these tragic incidents keep happening.  And that's even not to mention the millions of dog bites that go unreported and don't require professional medical attention.  In the US alone, there are over 4.5 million reported dog bites each year, 800,000 of which require a trip to the doctor.

What we're doing is not working.

That's why I've dedicated myself and my company's resources to try and make a difference and reduce the number of dog bites that happen each year.  I'm in the process of setting up the first ever Dog Bite Prevention Task Force, which is charged with determining what the root causes of the problem are and how to effectively address them once and for all.  Comprised of trainers, behaviorists, legal professionals, legislators, animal control specialists, pediatric surgeons and reconstructive surgeons around the country, we will be bringing together the best and brightest minds to figure out how and why dog bites happen, what precedes them,  how they are investigated, who should be held responsible, and most importantly, how to stop them from occurring.

For example, by digging into the data from some of the most high profile cases involving canine homicides (the term used when a dog kills a human), we've found one fascinating common thread in almost all scenarios:  one component of the scenario is unnatural.  That means that in every case, either the child is being looked after by grandparents, the dog is being house-sat by an uncle, the whole family (including the dog) are visiting relatives in a different house, etc.  There's almost always one part of the equation that is not the everyday norm for either the dog, child, caregivers, or environment.  This important revelation can help us determine how to most effectively educate dog owners and parents of children about what to look out for in an otherwise seemingly normal situation.  If we can stop just one beautiful little child from losing his or her life, it will be worth it.

But my goal is even larger than that.

Ashlynn Dawn Anderson

Last year, I had the opportunity to meet with the lovely Anderson family.  Just over a year ago, they lost their beautiful daughter, Ashlynn, in a fatal dog attack.  I met the family when I was in Oregon, and I was struck by their determination to do everything they can to help other families avoid a similar tragedy.  They have set up a non-profit organization called Dads Against Dangerous Dogs, and though they lost their little treasure to dogs, one of the most remarkable things about them is that they have not jumped to the most obvious target.  They do not blame any specific breed for Ashlynn's death, rather they are focused on increasing awareness about the fact that any dog - any breed, any size, etc - can be a danger to little ones if not properly managed.

Obviously, education is the key to stopping this from happening.  We all know that.  But we've known it for a long time, and yet the message isn't effective enough to make a significant difference.  As a society, we must figure out a more successful way to get the message across.

Download your free copy of Pet Meets Baby here!

That's why I've decided to support the American Humane Association's safe handling initiative - Pet Meets Baby.  This is an easy-to-read, comprehensive free booklet that can help dog owners and parents of children without pets by making them aware of how to safely and effectively introduce pets to new babies and vice versa.  By widely distributing this information in maternity wards, pediatricians' offices and beyond, we hope that this will make a difference.  It's important to note that even parents of children without pets should read Pet Meets Baby, since all kids end up interacting with animals at some point, whether at grandma's house, on playdates or walking in the park.

I've donated some great prizes (Positively t-shirts, signed books, It's Me or the Dog DVDs, etc) to a free contest anyone can enter by providing some brief feedback about Pet Meets Baby.  Plus, one lucky winner will win the grand prize - a 30 minute phone consultation with me where we can talk about your dog and anything else you can think of!

Enter the contest by visiting the Pet Meets Baby homepage!

More info about the Pet Meets Baby contest.

Read my Safety Guide for Children and Dogs.


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7 thoughts on “Introducing Pets to New Babies

  1. Pingback: Win a Free Consultation With Victoria! | Victoria Stilwell Positively

  2. Blackdogxx

    I disagree with the statement Victoria made: "What we're doing is not working" . "What we're doing" is not spelled out. 'Doing nothing is not working' would be more accurate if the goal is to have a dog that will not bite a child.

    I spent enough years handling dogs in training classes (to CGC certification level and basic commands) and in dog rescue work to see the pattern that is proven in studies: Most people never take their dog to a single class. A tiny percent ever hire a private trainer or behaviorist. Even the rescue group volunteers (who are mostly kindhearted women and few men) are not knowledgeable about training. I have only met a few who even knew what a clicker is used for and the basics of its use.

    Clicker training has been available for over 10 years in most medium sized towns (like mine in Richmond, VA).

    The answer is simple (and difficult!) for most folks: Enroll in a class, practice, read and think about how dogs really 'operate' and accept and embrace that they are special companion animals.... not little furry people. It takes some money, considerable time, and commitment. But it pays off for the rest of your life. Remember that virtually all the dogs in shelters are 'give ups' from people who never trained them.

  3. Brenda Haggai

    Both are making a good point. Those of us who DO train our dogs are not getting the message out that EVERY dog needs training and work to do. Dogs are not furry humans and they need to be understood as an animal before they can be socialized and conditioned to fit into our culture as humans. I agree that it is always the handler that is responsible for the dog's ultimate behavior. That is the message that needs to get out to the general public, both dog owners and non owners alike. It should be mandatory in every child's training, how to be around dogs that they know and dogs that they don't know. That would be called good parenting.

    Good dog ownership would require training on how to handle your dog. I've always thought that dog training classes should be mandatory to owning any dog, large or small. We would have less dogs in shelters that way. Problem is, all this calls for even more regulation. It would be nice if people could just be responsible on their own. But at this point, they won't even pick up their pooches litter, let alone train their dog good manners.

  4. Tatiana

    Hi Victoria,

    I just downloaded and read the PDF and I think it's wonderful. I would like to know if there are any translations to other languages, specifically Portuguese. I'd love to give this book to my brother and his wife who are young adults expecting their first child in a household with two unruly dogs and a rather unfriendly cat who sleeps in their bedroom. I would hate to see any of those pets get given away because they were not properly prepared for the baby but I know this is what will happen if they don't get this information early. If you know of translations in the works, please let me know where I can get them. If not, please suggest this to the Humane Society…

    Thank you so much!

  5. Janet

    I just downloaded your new PDF. I think it is wonderfully done. This is a great quick brochure for new parent's, dog owners and everyone that interacts with children and animals to read. I own two therapy dogs, but I know that at the end of the day, they are dogs. We do a lot of small trainings with the girl scouts and this is something additional to give out to families.

    Thanks so much for a great resource!

  6. Pingback: RE-HOME OUR DOG OR NOT - Page 3

  7. Imogen Steele

    Great article! When I was pregnant with my first child, Sara I used a book called Tell Your Dog You're Pregnant: An essential guide for dog owners who are expecting a baby. It was really helpful and came with a baby sounds and toy noises. Max (my fur child!) took some time to get used to the sounds but the book helped on how to do it. It gave me advice on what changes will occur and how to prepare my Max for them. It also talked about the causes for aggression and why it might occur and how to avoid it. It is written by a vet behaviorist too so it cover health issues as well - I got it from http://www.babyandpet.com.au or Amazon too i guess - mayb that will help someone else!

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