Q: We have a new baby and a jealous dog. Our veterinarian is perplexed about our dog's behavior since he appears to want to be around the baby (he sits next to him, licks him, etc.) but will growl if the baby is too close or if the baby touches him. He tries to get in between myself and the baby and that’s usually when he gets upset. Do you have any information about this?
A: Have you checked out familypaws.com? This is the resource I recommend to all my human parents, whether they’re expecting a baby, planning a new puppy or kitten for their family, or having trouble commingling existing pets and young humans. But your issue goes way beyond a simple Internet resource.
The trouble with your situation is that you’re taking a whole lot of risks here. Growling is a dog’s way of warning you that he’s not happy. And you clearly know that. So why would you continue to keep your dog in licking distance from your baby?
Part of the problem is that you’re interpreting your dog’s reaction as “jealousy.” This human notion doesn’t adequately describe a dog’s point of view in these cases. “Resource guarding” may be the more correct term, since these dogs tend to react to human attention the same way they do to food, toys and other limited resources. What’s more, assigning human emotions to dogs often downplays the very serious risks dogs may pose.
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But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Your dog’s behavior may be about something entirely different. Protective behavior (in defense or you or perhaps even your baby) –– among other possibilities –– may also prove the underlying problem.
In any case, you and your dog desperately need to see a credentialed dog behavior professional, ideally a veterinary behaviorist. (Coral Springs Animal Hospital offers one of these board-certified veterinary specialists at their facility.) These individuals are best suited to appropriately identifying and treating these patients.
While the time commitment required can seem onerous and perhaps not realistic for your lifestyle now that you have a young family, you don’t have many alternatives. In fact, the only alternative to professional diagnosis and assiduous treatment is re-homing.
I do know this isn’t easy to hear. But for now, at least until you decide what you’ll do, I strongly recommend you purchase a cage- or basket-style muzzle and keep one on him whenever he’s with the baby.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.