Dog and Baby Safety Tips, From Birth to Toddlerhood

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His name was originally Cheech when we adopted him (which we decided to change to Chicho… Manhattanville College alumni will get the pub reference!) This poor little guy and his brother were locked in a dark closet 24/7 by their owner and somehow ended up in a high kill shelter in North Carolina. Luckily, they both found a good home! Cheech’s brother was also adopted up in Canada 🙂 We are so glad to add Chicho to our little family and for Pepper to have a new friend!

Those who know me and my background know that I was raised in a “dog household”. My mother and grandmother have been involved with local shelters for as long as I can remember. They were often contacted about abandoned/mistreated dogs because everyone on the island knew the dogs would be adopted… by us.

Since I was a little girl, I have always had 8 or 9 (sometimes even 10!) dogs at a time.

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I grew up in the sunny Caribbean, where it is 85 degrees year round.

The house I was raised in is located on a big, enclosed property (about an acre and a half) and is surrounded by lush vegetation all around.

The dogs live a free, unrestricted life and play with one another, chase lizards, stretch out in the hot sun all day… In other words, live in dog paradise.


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When I moved to the U.S. for college in 2008, I missed having dogs around me at all times; I was sad without their unconditional love, comfort, and friendship.

Impossible, though, in a small college dorm room. Even in 2011, when Joe and I moved into our Yonkers apartment, we were only allowed cats (and Joe is allergic.)

As you can imagine, as soon as we closed on our house, we immediately got Pepper.

Pepper is the greatest pup ever. We call him the “peace & love” dog. Truly the sweetest.

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 3.47.25 PM.pngLiam was a day old when we introduced him to Pepper and as you can imagine, there wasn’t very much interaction between the two. Pepper was about a year and clearly understood what was going on, but Liam had no interest in him quite yet.

Now that Liam is 8 months and super curious about literally everything, I did have to prepare ahead of time before introducing him to Chicho, who’s just about 5 months and a baby himself.


Here are some things you can do to prepare for and facilitate the interaction between your dog and baby, infant, or toddler:

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  • Set some boundaries. Start having your dog sleep in a dog bed beside you (not in bed with you) and teach him to play gently if he’s a rowdy, playful dog. If your dog is used to a lot of attention, I’d suggest cutting back on this a little bit. This will make it a lot easier when baby comes home from the hospital.
  • For what it’s worth, I spoke to Pepper a lot during my pregnancy, had him lay against my belly when the baby kicked, and really think he understood that something was going on. I’m a true believer that dogs have a sixth sense!

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  • We were told to first have Pepper smell a blanket from the hospital with Liam’s scent on it. This is to get your dog used to the baby before meeting him. We had totally planned on doing this but didn’t do it in the end. Pepper, being the sweet, gentle dog that he is, was no problem at all. On the second day, both of our babies were napping alongside each other on the couch!
  • Play or exercise with your dog before you introduce him to baby (to make sure he is nice and calm). Start from a distance, then invite your dog closer. Pay attention to his cues: sitting calmly, wagging tail, a curious nose, head lowered. A possible red flag is when your dog turns the other way and/or avoids the baby.
  • Take a lot of walks with baby and dog. Bring a lot of “baby smelling” items (diapers, wipes, powder) so that your dog gets comfortable around them. This will help show the dog he has an integral role to play with this new “pack member.”

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  • It is important to teach babies to be gentle with dogs. The earlier the better… It can prevent accidents! From the day Liam noticed Pepper and reached out to him, I’ve held his hand and stroked his fur in a gentle motion. I usually repeat “nice” or “gentle” as I stroke him. Liam seems to understand the tone of my voice and although he sometimes does get excited and pull clumps of hair (sorry Pepper!), he seems to know it’s not the right thing to do.
  • As baby gets older, explain that he or she should never sneak up on a dog (always approach from the side) and leave him alone when he is eating or sleeping.
  • When meeting new dogs, teach baby to be cautious. If the dog is calm and seems friendly (tail wagging, for example) tell your child to make a fist, palm down (no fingers poking out). If the dog comes forward, it’s okay to pet it.

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Pets can actually have a positive effect on allergies and asthma… No need to keep your home spotless in fear of allergies for your little ones! The earlier you introduce baby to dog fur and smells, the better it actually is in the long run!

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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