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Behaviour Articles
By Donna Brander, Animal Behaviourist

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This information is to be used as guidelines only. Decisions made about the future of any pet should be based on a professional assessment and a course of treatment that is personalised for the pet's individual situation.

Predatory Behaviour involving Infants

All situations involving young children and pets are potentially dangerous. Your dog or cat should never be left unsupervised with the baby and every effort should be made to avoid any risk to the baby.

Take your time to slowly build your confidence in your ability to control your pet in stressful situations. Use the techniques of reward (titbit, toy) and discipline (removal to area of isolation) in non-stressful situations first.

Start teaching your pet the command “Leave it!”. This command is to mean “Stop whatever you are doing and look at me!”. This command can also be reinforced by placing a titbit on the floor and when your dog goes for it, you say “Leave it!” and pick it up. Then ask her to “sit” and reward with titbit. This command is to be used when she gets too excited with the baby.

Reinforce the bite inhibition (See sheet on Prevention of Problems with Children). This command is also to be used in conjunction with the baby but teach with titbits.

Try to arrange as much supervised time as possible with yourselves, the new baby and your pet. Your dog should get a lot of positive attention during these periods but should be required to obey the new rules.

Arrange some of this training time with a soft toy wrapped with the babies blanket, nappy, etc. Your dog/cat is allowed to sniff but “Gently”. Jumping up or too much excitement with the baby is met with “Leave it”. If command is ignored, the dog/cat is to be removed to the boring isolation. Much praise and attention for calm behaviour. Used baby nappies and baby blankets can be placed on the far side of a door so the dog/cat can smell these new items.

Make a tape of the baby crying (or baby noises in general). Play this tape in conjunction with the above exercise or any time when you are all together. Remember - lots of praise and attention for your dog/cat in these situations (in comparison with being ignored most of the time). A remote “Baby Minder” can also be placed in the isolation area with the dog/cat so it can habituate to baby sounds.

If you decide to use a muzzle to allow your dog free access (safely), remember to use it off and on during the day - not just when she is to be with the baby.

In any “control” situations, optimum success can only be achieved if the owner has a high status with the dog. (See Status-related aggression).

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