Dogs act differently around babies than they do adults. This can lead you to wonder, if they know babies are, babies. Is this a case of us attributing human thoughts and emotions to dogs, or do they really understand what a baby is?
Do dogs know human babies are babies?
There’s lots of debate around this subject. If you observe your dog around a baby, they certainly seem to understand what a baby is. There’s no scientific research done on the subject, but we can make some reasonable assumptions.
Dogs Know Babies are Human
Dogs know what humans smell like. Even though a baby looks drastically different from an adult, or even an older child, they still smell human. Dogs have about 300 million scent receptors, compared to 6 million for humans.
The part of the brain devoted to smells is 40 times larger in dogs than it is in humans, relatively speaking. Dogs use their nose to explore their world, more than any other sense. Their nose knows that a baby is a human.
Do Dogs Know Babies Belong to Their Parents?
Your pooch may not be able to identify the father of a child, but he can certainly identify the mother. Again, this comes down to smell. Mothers and their babies have a similar scent.
This will be stronger if the baby is breastfed, but there will be striking similarities regardless of whether mom chooses breast or bottle.
This doesn’t quite answer the question of whether dogs understand that babies are babies, however. It only shows that they know that mom and baby, and potentially dad as well, are closely related.
Do Dogs Know Babies are Babies?
Dogs have their own babies, called puppies. They understand that puppies are their babies, so it’s not too far a stretch to believe they understand the human version of the process.
Dogs in the wild live in packs. Even domesticated dogs have packs, which include their human owners and any other family members within the home.
The pack raises the puppies together to an extent. Dogs are a big believer in the “it takes a village” philosophy. So, even if a dog has never had its own puppies, some type of parental instinct is there. The instinct to protect babies as part of the pack is also present.
All baby mammals have similar features. These include an oversized head, eyes that are farther apart, and different body and limb proportions than adults.
This is one of the reasons we instinctually respond to all baby mammals, from puppies to baby monkeys, similarly to human babies. These features probably also trigger these instincts in your dog.
It’s impossible to say for sure that your dog understands your new bundle of joy is the human version of a puppy, but we can say that it’s at least a possibility.
How do dogs react to newborn babies?
Most dogs are as happy as the parents when a new baby comes home. They seem to form an instant bond, and instinctively understand that this human is different and fragile.
However, this isn’t always the case. Never leave your dog alone with a baby, and introduce them carefully. Most dogs love babies, but some don’t.
Dogs take a special interest in human babies. They may ignore adults that they don’t know, but make a bee line straight for their new bundle of joy.
They may bark or wag their tail when they see a baby. They will undoubtedly walk over and sniff them, and may lick them as well.
They may also perk up their ears and pay attention when a baby coos. When a baby cries, this can be distressing to dogs. Perhaps because it is similar to the cry of a puppy. It’s also possible that they simply recognize distress in a member of their pack.
Dogs are naturally gentle with babies. This is instinctual. You don’t have to train your dog not to jump on your baby. They just know. This suggests they have some idea of babies as babies.
The Dog Human Bond
You can see the bond between dogs and humans scientifically. In addition to behavior that shows we share a close relationship, changes happen in our brain when we interact.
When humans and dogs interact, regardless of their age, the brain releases its happy chemicals, serotonin and dopamine. This occurs in both dogs and humans.
Dogs can actually have several benefits for human babies. They can improve their immune system and reduce allergies. Babies who grow up with puppies are happier and have greater cognitive ability.
Do dogs protect human babies?
Many dogs will protect human babies, and children. I’ve heard many stories of dogs protecting kids, even from their parents! My own dog will watch very intently when I wrestle with my child. Even though she knows I wouldn’t hurt my child, she keeps a close eye out to be sure.
Haus and Molly
If you want proof that dogs protect babies, there are a multitude of stories that illustrate it. One of my favorites is Haus and Molly.
Haus the German Shepard was adopted from an animal shelter by the Deluca family. Their daughter, Molly, found herself face to face with a venomous rattlesnake.
Haus placed himself between Molly and the snake. He was jumping back and forth, possibly to draw attention to the danger. He never made an attempt to run, even though he could have.
A rattlesnake can be deadly to a child or a dog, so Haus knowingly put his own life at risk to save Molly. Unfortunately, Haus paid the price for his bravery.
He was bitten 3 times, and had to have intensive veterinary care. Haus made a recovery, although he may have some lasting damage to his kidneys.
Member of the Pack
Regardless of whether a dog understands that a baby is a baby, they certainly view them as a member of their pack. Dogs will instinctively protect members of their pack.
Dogs do protect humans, including adults. However, they seem to be extra protective of babies and humans.
Dogs seem to understand that babies are fragile creatures. Like a mom protects her defenseless pups, they are extra protective of vulnerable members of their pack.
It’s possible this instinct is present in all mammals. After all, we are more protective over puppies and kittens than adult cats and dogs.
Do dogs get jealous of babies?
Most dogs will protect babies and children, even with their own life. However, not all dogs have this response to babies. Some dogs can become jealous, and even harm babies.
It’s Not Evil, It’s Natural
First, you must understand that your dog isn’t being “bad”, if they are jealous of your baby. It’s a natural response. Human children, and even spouses, are often jealous of babies.
Babies come in and change the entire world for the family. These changes can be difficult for dogs to deal with. In addition, they will suddenly receive less attention.
Why Are Dogs Jealous of Babies?
Think of your dog as an only child if you don’t have children, or as the youngest sibling if you do. In human terms, you would expect the child to experience some jealousy, because they are used to being the center of attention.
Your dog is used to being “the baby”. They receive lots of attention. When you bring a new baby home, the baby becomes the center of your world.
Babies are very demanding, and it doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy for anyone else, including your dog. Of course, you won’t neglect your pooch. However, they will not get nearly as much attention as they did before.
The other factor is that things will change a lot. Your schedule, and your dogs, will change drastically. The baby will bring new sounds and smells that your dog may not be used to.
These factors can cause your pooch to have some anxiety, and it’s possible for them to resent the baby for turning their world upside down.
There are steps you can take to keep your dog from being jealous, or to stop it once it’s started.
First, both dog and baby need personal space. Wherever your baby’s nursery will be, allow your dog to be with you as you set it up. Once it’s completed, the room should be off limits to your dog.
Don’t wait until the baby comes home to implement this rule. Do it as soon as possible. Likewise, your dog should have his own area. This should be near the area where the family spends lots of time.
Place a bed, toys, and treats in this area. Once the baby arrives, this area should be off limits to the baby. This area is strictly for your dog.
Be sure that you make some time to spend with your dog. Of course, things are very chaotic after a baby comes home. However, even a few minutes spent with your dog can help ease any feelings of jealousy.