With some dogs you can see their aggression straight away. Whenever we meet a dog there is an interchange of reaction. Without being conscious of it the dog is eyeing us up and we are doing the same. It’s obvious that some dogs would attack a baby or child or even an adult. What makes a family pet behave in this way though?
It’s down to scent and familiarity. A baby is new to the household and a dog has no concept of how important this small human is to us. Dogs are pack animals and governed mainly by instinct. The baby is an intruder and on the lowest level of the pack, to the dog he or she is of little importance.
However, adult dogs, even those with an aggressive nature, rarely attack puppies, even though they are vulnerable and at the bottom of the pack. At the same time they will keenly attack a new born lamb, kid or rabbit. The birthing process leaves a food scent to a dog or other predator. Puppies have their scent (dog) so they leave them alone.
The difference is in the smell of the baby. We love the fresh washed talcum powdery smell but to the dog this is only masking the exciting scent of the birth and milk and the nappy. Put a nappy on the floor and any dog will immediately go to investigate. Then the dog will start pulling it about, he will be intrigued by the smell.
A dog will see a small human as a possible food source. It isn’t his fault, how could he know any difference – milk, blood, nappy? With a family pet who is normally friendly, it isn’t aggression, it’s inquisitiveness. It starts with a lick, then a nip and it’s too late. The baby screaming only serves to make the situation worse.
The only answer is never to leave any dog near a baby or young child for even a second. As the baby grows up and scents change the dog will have a different perception. The child will have more importance in the pack. In a small house it’s difficult to keep dog and baby or young child apart and, in our busy lives, to monitor the situation all the time. One failure can lead to disaster. It’s a risk no one should take.