Co-sleeping with baby – and dog?

Justine Davies
Justine Davies 

My DH and I are expecting our first baby in a couple of months (very exciting). We are going to co-sleep with her for at least the first six months as I believe that is the most natural and best way for her to feel safe and to bond with us. However it does raise one small problem in that our beloved family dog also sleeps on our bed – what should I do?

She’s a Labrador and is the most placid dog you could imagine. We have had her since she was a puppy and she has slept on our bed ever since (she’s eight now). She is pretty pampered, I guess you could say that she’s like our first child. And I don’t think she would take kindly to being kicked off the bed at this stage of her life (even if I wanted to do that, which I don’t). She will probably have enough difficulty adjusting to the increased competition for our attention as it is!

She sleeps at the bottom of the bed, nowhere near the pillows, so is there any real problem in co-sleeping with our new baby and our beloved dog?

Hi Tanja.

I have to say, as soon as you mention baby and dog together my mind flashes to those heart-wrenching stories you read in the news now and then about babies and toddler mauled by family pets. It’s a bit like ocean swimming and sharks – I know that realistically problems don’t happen that often, but it’s still in my mind.

To help you out I have asked Dr Mark Lawrie, president of the Australian Veterinary Association for some advice.

“It can be a rather tricky one when there is a baby involved,” says Dr Lawrie. “With any child under the age of ten, care must be taken that risk is minimised by dogs never being alone unsupervised with children (even if the risk is low). So that would make it awkward to always be getting your dog off the bed and out of the room when the baby is there and you are not.

Sadly for your Labrador, it is really worth considering a change in sleeping arrangements. Even old dogs are amenable to new tricks (sleeping habits) but it may take a little training. Get a nice basket bed to go on the ground and start by shifting from bed to corner of the bedroom. Use rewards - Labradors respond very well to food based rewards (surprise, surprise). Once comfortable with her new special bed, consider another room. I would recommend a small room such as a toilet or laundry, rather than large one. Your dog actually may like the “den-like” atmosphere of a more closed-in space. Shift the basket there.
Remember it is all part of a process of adjusting and best to get working on this in pregnancy.”

Tanja, Dr Lawrie reassures you that for adults, co-sleeping with a dog can be considered, provided the dog is clean, healthy and has no fleas. There are very few illnesses that can be passed from a dog to a person. “However, the dog having it’s own bed on the floor or even elsewhere may be a better option, just the same,” he adds. “Some dogs can be more prone to aggression if they spend time in areas of “high esteem” such as elevated places with the leaders of the “family pack.” If there is already some growling in trying to remove from beds, lounges, etc then just leave the lead clipped on to the collar in the house and use this to safely remove the dog (king) from the castle. You will find that it is likely to make for a more pleasant dog.

Of course, you really should talk to your vet for each individual case. They will be able to advise you or steer you in the direction of a veterinary behaviourist if necessary.”

So Tanja, maybe buy a dog bed and start the training process. And a word of encouragement - if your Labrador is anything like my Beagle, she’ll probably soon decide that the peace and quiet of a dog-bed beats sleeping with a noisy baby any day!

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