Q: Now that he's crawling, my 7-month-old has been tormenting our dog. He pulls his ears and tail and tries to crawl on top of him. The dog seems okay with it, but I'm concerned he'll lose patience. What should I do?
A: Join the club. This is almost as common as 10-month-olds trying to stick their fingers into electrical outlets. Both stem from babies’ intense curiosity to learn all about their world. And for better or worse, animals offer some of the most enticing fodder. They have many different textures for your child to explore. They are furry and cuddly. They are more responsive than most toys. And they can also make children feel special and loved. This is a wonderful relationship your baby is developing that will help him one day learn to be responsible and care for another being.
Chances are that if your dog has been this tolerant so far, he will continue to be. Nonetheless, you certainly don’t want to take any chances. Therefore, it is very important that you be present and closely monitor the interaction between your baby and dog. Limit their face-to-face contact and be on the look out for any signs that your dog is getting irritated. (One of our dogs, who doesn’t bite, will, however, growl and try to mouth us when we do something he doesn’t like, such as brushing him!)
In addition, teach your baby to touch your dog gently and not to pull on his body parts. At his age, this will require direct action—taking his hand and showing him how. But in just a few months he will understand what the word “gentle” means and he will be better able to control how he interacts with the dog. This is important both for helping your baby learn empathy and how to lovingly interact with others. It will also make it much less likely that your dog will rebel.