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Because we tend to view dogs like furry human babies, we forget that they are animals. Animals do a wide variety of behaviors that promote survival, and even though the dog has been domesticated, that hasn’t erased their animal nature.
Jealousy is a major factor in dog attacks on children.
IN THE WILD: In the animal kingdom, it isn’t unusual for some species to attack and kill, and even eat, the young pups, cubs, etc. Approximately one quarter of all infant deaths among many primates is a result of infanticide by adult males. The same is true with lions. In many such cases, if the young have been killed, the adult female goes immediately into heat, and the male will then mate with her. Then, the male can spread his genes instead of the male that sired that cub. This is true of Leopards, too. Also, some species actively hunt down the young of other species. Baboons will hunt down and kill Leopard cubs if they can find them. Wolves of one pack will kill the young of competitive wolf packs. Wolves will also seek out and kill bear cubs. Since we have dogs imprint on, and bond to, humans, they then will treat our species as their own, and act accordingly. Another interesting, but gruesome fact, is that the males of some species often not only kill the infants, but eat them. This is common with chimpanzees, for example. You could not parade your kid around a dominant male chimpanzee. He would attack and then eat your infant. Infanticide is a common behavior in many species. Bear kill wolf cubs. Male lions will kill the cubs of another male, and the mate with the female (because the killing of the cubs will cause her to go into heat).
Siblicide is also practiced among a variety of species, from birds to mammals. Sibling aggression is common with hyena, for example. The young will sometimes tear a sibling to death, thus ensuring that they get the milk and resources from their mother. In a famous experiment, a number of terrier puppies had to be separated before they killed each other off. It is not uncommon for puppies to create packs for mutual defense against other puppies in the litter, or for puppies to engage in coordinated attacks on one or more individuals in the litter, resulting in injuries or even death. I also believe siblicide is responsible for a number of dog fights in the home, especially between dogs of the same sex. It is a matter of survival of the fittest. And this phenomenon can probably be considered responsible for why dogs sometimes attack and kill children. They are considered rivals for survival.
There is so much more going on with dogs that we don’t recognize. That’s because people don’t study animal behavior, and they rely on simplistic advice on how to manage their dog’s behaviors. But, all new parents need to be aware that male dogs are more than six times as likely as female dogs to attack and kill children. And intact dogs of both sexes are nearly three times more likely to attack and kill children. And male dogs are more likely to have eaten part of the victim.
SAFETY: Thus, we need to take precautions when newborns and toddlers are in our home. First, all dogs need to be more intensely supervised. Dogs and infants should never be left alone unsupervised, regardless of the breed. Second, all dogs need to be heavily socialized prior to bringing home a new baby. If the dog isn’t going to be good with children, that often becomes evident as the dog is being socialized, and then the dog can be placed in another home before the baby arrives. Third, all dogs need to be fully trained before the newborn arrives. Trained dogs are much less likely to harm a child. Fourth, male dogs should be neutered, and female dogs spayed, a few months before the baby arrives. If the dog is to remain intact, such as if the dog is going to be used for breeding purposes, then it must be a very good, stable example of the breed, and it will need more time and more intense supervision with the infant. As the child grows older, the risks lessen. Fifth, all dogs need to be 100% healthy. Dogs that aren’t feeling well will be more competitive over the survival resources of the home: food, comfort zones, your presence, toys, etc.
BEHAVIOR: Lastly, there are things you can do to make a dog even more jealous of the baby. There are things that you can do to taunt a dog. You can make a dog jealous of other dogs by overly fawning over another dog, and cause them to fight. So, that can be done by putting that kind of thing in a dog’s face, but with an infant. There are things you can do to make a dog feel neglected, such as banishing the dog to the back yard, and not being made a full part of the family. Such a dog will be more likely to crave your attention, and assert it’s prominence in your life through aggression towards a perceived competitor. Thus, do not make it appear to the dog that the baby is a competitor! Thus, it is dangerous to allow a baby to play with or be near a dog’s chew, fetch or tug toys, or to be too near treats or a food bowl, or on or near a dog’s favorite place to sleep, rest on where it tends to guard a location, or to physically punish a dog in front of a child. It is also dangerous to allow an infant or toddler to grab at a dog. Babies can pinch very hard at some point, and that pain can annoy a dog, or create a challenge.
There are a number of other precautions I could explain to you, and those can be gone over on a case by case basis. There are ways dog owners can interfere with this kind of jealous behavior so as to minimize aggression. That also means that there are things that we can do to make the problem worse, and create a dangerous environment for children, other people, or other dogs in our homes.
Jealousy is a real thing. It can trigger a fatal attack on an infant, or even a toddler. It is your job to recognize these facts and take adequate precautions, both with your dog, and any other dogs your infant or toddler might encounter, such as at a friend or relatives house, or even in public.
Dogs are generally good with children. Almost all dogs will never harm a child, so I don’t want you to get paranoid about it. But, on the other hand, there are things that can be done to minimize the risks. If you are a lax parent, then you shouldn’t have a dog, and probably shouldn’t have a child, either. What happens is mostly going to be a result of what you do or don’t do.