Can I pet that baby dog?

“If your dog loves kids and is well-rehearsed in appropriate behaviours around children, it’s okay to let your baby interact with your dog at an early age. It really depends on your dog’s tolerance for children,” says Nikole Gipps, an animal behaviourist based in Concord, California.

When they’re as young as 6 months old, several babies become involved in patting dogs. That’s all right, as long as your dog is happy with the attention and at all times you keep a close eye on your baby.

Even if it’s your well-trained, easygoing family pet, never leave your child alone with a dog. You never know what will make a snap of a puppy. Older dogs are also less forgiving of young kids and it can be unpredictable for puppies.

Until she’s much older, your child won’t be ready for real “play,” such as throwing a ball, issuing orders, or chasing. As soon as she begins showing an interest in dogs, teach your child proper doggie-play etiquette. That means no ears or tails are pulled, struck, or teased, and dogs are left alone when they eat, sleep, feel sick, or chew on a bone.

When playing with the puppy, teach your child to lower her voice and to stop abrupt movements. Teach your child to ask the pet’s owner before touching an unknown animal if the dog is friendly and if patting is okay.

Once she has been granted permission to pet a dog, as a way to show herself, she can first offer her closed fist for the dog to sniff. In the case of a dog attempting to nip, this would cover her fingers.

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Do not let your child go near it if a dog is loose in your neighbourhood or in the park. And never approach a dog tied up, even though you know the dog and it seems to be nice, unless the owner is there and you can ask for permission.

Some parents fear that when they rub or slobber on them, dogs will pass germs on to their infants. It’s true that, particularly if they’ve been chewing on unsanitary stuff, dogs’ mouths can harbour bacteria.

Germs, however, appear to be species-specific, meaning it is unlikely that dog germs can make your child sick. Some researchers also think that by challenging their immune systems, exposure to dogs and dog slobber can help children prevent asthma and allergies later in life. So, while you definitely don’t want your dog to “kissing” your baby on a regular basis, there’s no need to think about a few licks here.