Dogs are protective by nature, but it’s always wonderful to see them care for young human children. You’ve probably heard stories of dogs protecting babies or might have even witnessed this behavior firsthand.
It seems dogs instinctively know that they need to handle infants and young kids differently than their adult humans.
But how do they know that babies are fragile and need special care?
Why Are Dogs Protective Of Babies?
Dogs are instinctively protective and their pack mentality along with strong herding instincts (for some breeds) makes it natural for them to look after the weakest member of the family. The way they behave gently around babies can also be something they observe and pick up from you.
Additionally, research shows that hormones have a big role to play in this display of behavior.
Reasons Why Dogs Can Be Protective Over Babies
Dogs are commonly protective and this instinct is stronger in some breeds than others. If you find that your dog is being protective over your baby, here are some of the most common reasons why:
It Is Simply Their Nature
Although domesticated dogs have left many of their wolf instincts behind, they still show signs of their pack mentality in different ways. Part of this is looking after every member of their family, especially the one they perceive as the weakest and most vulnerable.
This is most apparent among herding breeds like the German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd, and Australian Shepherd.
It Is Something They Learned From You
Dogs pick up a lot of their behavior from their humans, even if they aren’t specifically trained to do them. They simply respond according to your demeanor and body language.
For example, they may learn to be extra gentle with infants and small children because they notice that you do the same. Their guarding instincts might also kick in because they observe your own protectiveness over your child.
It’s Related To Their Hormones
Research reveals that both dogs and humans release more of the hormone oxytocin when they look into each other’s eyes. Oxytocin is the same chemical that bonds mothers and their children.
So when dogs look into a baby’s eyes, they are calm, content, and essentially in love. It would be natural for them to want to guard over and protect their loved ones.
Do Dogs Understand That Babies Are Babies?
It seems fairly obvious that dogs don’t understand that babies are babies the way humans do. However, they do perceive these tiny creatures very similarly. They understand that they are fragile and that they need to be gentle with them.
Additionally, dogs have natural instincts about rearing and caring for their own young, which can become apparent when they interact with babies and young children.
Signs Your Dog Is Protective Over Your Baby
If your dog is protective of your baby, you’ll notice some very distinctive guarding behaviors. While some dogs might exhibit their protective instincts in different ways, here are some of the signs you can watch for:
They Stay Close
Protective dogs like to be around your baby all the time. They do their best to always be within sniffing distance or at least have the baby in their sights at all times.
You may notice that the foot of the crib becomes their favorite sleeping spot.
They Remain Alert
Dogs that are protective of babies are typically watchful and alert. They are attentive to sounds and can be wary of strange things going on in their environment.
This is a natural response but make sure they don’t develop behaviors that make them protective against you.
They Sniff Excessively
Babies give off plenty of unusual odors. From their own distinctive baby smell to their diaper stuffing.
It’s no surprise that dogs use their keen sense of smell to detect any changes, which makes them sniff more than usual. They just want to be alert to anything that might need attention.
They Whine Or Bark When Apart
Dogs that are protective of babies may vocalize their uneasiness about being apart from them.
You’ll notice that they whine, bark, or even whimper when they’re made to distance themselves from the baby. Then, they’re content and quiet when they’re able to stay close by.
How To Prepare Your Dog For A New Baby
Not all dogs will have the instinct to be gentle with babies. And although they might not be aggressive, they might become overly excited or affectionate in ways that could be potentially unsafe.
To ensure a smooth and safe introduction, here are some things you can do with your dog as you prepare for the arrival of your little one:
Provide More Exposure
As soon as you know you’re expecting to bring home a baby, try to give your dog more experiences to socialize them. Apart from letting them be comfortable with the presence of babies and toddlers, give them time to get used to the new furniture and set up at home.
Practice Obedience Cues
When your baby comes along, having an obedient dog will be critical. Practice at least the basic commands until they’ve mastered them and will obey them every time.
Having this level of control over your dog will help ensure your baby’s safety and will be useful in teaching your dog proper ways to interact.
Prepare Separate Dog Zones
Plan the changes in your home as early as you can so your dog has plenty of time to get used to everything.
Use baby gates to keep your dog separate from your baby when you can’t supervise and train them to respect boundaries even before the baby arrives. A sturdy baby gate will serve as a barrier but will still enable your dog to keep watch.
A slow transition will set your dog up for success when it comes to finally meeting your baby.
You may first want to give your dog a blanket that smells like your baby and make sure that they treat it gently (i.e. not chew it or shred it to bits). Then, progress with your introduction at a pace that keeps you all safe.
Many breeds are excellent family dogs that naturally know how to handle babies and toddlers. But no matter how well-behaved and properly socialized your dog is, it’s essential to supervise all their interactions with babies.
This will not only ensure that your baby is safe but will also give you every opportunity to teach your dog proper manners and absolute no-nos when it comes to interacting with human children.