For your baby’s sake, learn to speak dog

I am just amazed at what well-meaning people allow their babies to do with their dogs. I really can’t blame them, they just haven’t yet learned the dos and don’ts. And they have no idea the dog has been stressed out by the child’s behavior all along. Until a bite happens.

At last night’s Baby Meets Bowser presentation, we spent a good portion of the evening learning what is a bad idea for babies and children to do with dogs. For example, despite what you may see on YouTube, please do not put your dog into a stay, and then allow your baby to crawl right up to them. That is putting them both in a vulnerable position, teaching the dog that the baby is a source of stress from which he cannot escape, and teaching the child bad habits that can lead to a bite. Is this fair to the dog or to the baby?

We also learned what some of the signs of stress are in dogs. When we humansstresssigns expect our dogs to tolerate anything we or our children do to them, dogs show warning signs that stress is building. The good news is that you can learn to “read” these early signs of stress. Then when you see the signs, you can get your dog out of the situation, coach your child more carefully next time, and therefore avoid being one of those 4.7 million people each year who really believes “the bite came out of the blue.”

The dog in this photo is showing some of the warning signs that come long before the obvious signs like a growl, a snarl or a snap occur. (I count six.) What is the human doing from the “don’ts” list that may be causing the dog to become stressed?


3 thoughts on “For your baby’s sake, learn to speak dog

  1. eyes are fixed, ears are back, mouth, is drooping, head position shows that restraining arm is unwelcome

    How am I doing?

    My 5-year old Sasha is a well-behaved, affectionate companion, thanks to early training in the puppy class and at home. He has gotten me through some very rough times.

  2. You are on the right track! Yes about about the ears–they are held back stiffly (if they were held back in a floppy, loose way that would be a different story). And the dog is turning his head away, that is a biggie.

    And you identified the human behavior correctly! Restraint like this, otherwise known as a hug, elicits stress signals from most dogs. Many of our dogs tolerate it, but it’s not really a nice thing to do to them over and over, just because we feel like it. (Check out the dos and don’t page for the correct way to show affection to a dog.)

    Now, there are some very specific things about the eyes and the mouth that are going on in this photo. See your copy of Happy Kids, Happy Dogs for the answers and more photos. The Dog Warning Signs link at has a bunch of them, too. I’ll check back and give the other answers, or maybe someone from last night’s class with chime in!


  3. So here are the six signs of stress that this dog is showing:

    turning away
    flicking tongue
    eyes opened wide and round
    pupils dilated
    whites of eyes showing
    ears held back stiffly

    If you are in the habit of hugging your dog, watch what he or she does during or after the hug (you may need a helper to describe it for you). Most dogs look away, some lick their lips or flick their tongue, and others yawn, all signs of stress in that context.

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