Many dog owners wonder if their furry companions will be protective of a new baby joining the family. Dogs can form tight bonds with their human families, so it’s natural to assume they may display protective behaviors around vulnerable newborns. However, each dog has its own unique personality, so their reactions can vary.
Some key questions around this topic include:
- Are dogs instinctively protective of human babies?
- What dog breeds tend to be the most protective of infants?
- How can you train a dog to be gentle and protective around a newborn baby?
- When should you not trust your dog alone with a baby?
Looking at some research around the protective instincts of dogs, as well as understanding proper precautions, can provide greater insight for families with babies and furry friends.
Do Dogs Have Natural Protective Instincts Towards Human Babies?
Research indicates that some dogs do tend to display protective behaviors around human infants. These instincts emerge because dogs recognize babies as being vulnerable members of their family pack.
Their protective responses are likely part of ancestral, evolutionary traits related to guarding their own offspring and contributing to caretaking within their community. Some key research findings around dogs’ protective responses include:
- A 2014 study found the hormone oxytocin increases in female dogs when exposed to human infants, triggering nurturing and protective behaviors.
- Male dogs have also been observed displaying guarding behaviors around babies, suggesting these instincts are not limited to female dogs.
- A 2013 study found dogs will often approach an infant cradle calmly, but then become alert and protective if they sense potential threats approaching.
Based on these and similar findings, many researchers believe at least some component of protective behavior towards human infants appears to be innate in domestic dogs.
Oxytocin Triggers Nurturing, Protective Response
The role of the hormone oxytocin in triggering dogs’ protective behaviors appears especially significant. Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone” due to its importance in bonding and social interactions.
When female dogs were observed interacting with a lifelike baby doll in one experiment, their oxytocin levels spiked. This hormonal surge corresponded with gentle, nurturing behaviors towards the doll.
In the wild, female mammals experience surges in oxytocin after giving birth. This helps motivate protective behaviors towards their vulnerable offspring. Domestic dogs appear to have a similar hormonal response when interacting with tiny infants, even when the babies are not their own puppies.
This reaction suggests female dogs may feel a biological impulse to nurture and guard human babies. Male dogs have also been observed exhibiting guarding behaviors, indicating protecting infants may stem from a more generalized caretaking impulse in dogs.
Protective, But Not Aggressive
Importantly, while some dogs do seem to have innate protective capacities, these usually manifest as calm, vigilant behaviors and not overt aggression.
For instance, in one experiment dogs were able to pick up on cues that an “intruder” was approaching an infant. The dogs often responded by standing guard over the cradle but did not actively snarl or attack the intruder.
Their demeanor suggested they were ready to intervene if the intruder tried to disturb the baby. But they did not immediately jump to outright aggression. These results align with the protective versus aggressive tendencies seen among female canids (dogs and their close relatives) in the wild.
Female wolves and wild dogs will ferociously guard their own young from harm. But they typically only attack intruders when absolutely necessary, rather than preemptively. This more reserved guarding aligns with what researchers have observed among domestic dogs as well.
Dog Breeds Most Likely To Be Protective of Babies
While many types of dogs can be protective of infants, some breeds are known for being especially vigilant guardians. Breeds that were originally developed for guarding, defending, and police work often have strong protective instincts.
Some examples of dog breeds most likely to guard babies include:
- Intelligent, noble breed renowned for police and military work
- Strong herding background makes them very watchful of their family “flock”
- Known for being gentle companions while also being naturally protective
- Originally bred to guard royalty and nobility in feudal Japan
- Very territorial and suspicious of strangers approaching loved ones
- Fiercely devoted to their families
- Bred in Germany to be estate and personal protection dogs
- Tend to bond very closely with children in their family
- Known for being loyal, obedient, and vigilant
- Descended from ancient Roman drover dogs who protected livestock
- Make excellent guard dogs and have strong territorial instincts
- Often quite gentle and loving with family members
- A large German dog breed originally used as cattle drivers and guards
- Very bold, smart, and intimidating to strangers
- Affectionate and devoted to familiar people
These and other guarding breeds often have an ideal blend of protectiveness towards babies combined with a high degree of trainability. However, proper socialization is always important to nurture their protective nature while curbing unwanted aggression.
How To Safely Train A Dog To Be Protective of A Baby
If you want your dog to act as a “babysitter” and guard your infant, some specific training is required. Simply hoping your dog will figure out this role usually isn’t sufficient. Use these tips to train your dog to be safely protective when your baby arrives:
Start young with early socialization
Expose puppies to a wide range of sights and sounds during their first few months. Introduce them positively to things like strollers, baby toys, and crying sounds to help prevent fear reactions later. Continue socialization into adulthood too.
Do obedience training
Solid obedience helps ensure your dog listens to important commands like “leave it” or “settle” around the baby. Formal training is ideal, but ongoing informal training at home can also be very helpful.
Teach the baby is off-limits
Gently teach your dog the baby’s space is off-limits for rough play or jumping up. You can use treats, correction sounds, baby gates, and more to reinforce this boundary.
Practice with a baby doll
Get your dog accustomed to an infant’s sights, sounds, and smells by bringing around a lifelike baby doll. Reward calm, gentle interest and discourage roughness.
Plan supervised interactions
Once your actual baby arrives, have many supervised interactions with your dog. Watch their body language and responses closely at first.
Praise protective behaviors
If your dog displays desirable guarding, like standing watchfully nearby, verbally praise or offer treats. This rewards them for appropriate protectiveness versus aggression.
With time, patience, training, and supervision, you can often nurture a dog into an effective “baby monitor” that helps keep your infant safe without being overly aggressive. However, it’s also crucial to recognize when not to trust your dog alone with a child.
When Dogs Should Not Be Trusted Alone with Babies
While many dogs have protective capacities, some should never be left unsupervised with infants. Situations where it may be unwise to trust your dog alone with your baby include:
New dog you’ve adopted as an adult
Their history and temperament are unknown. Be very cautious until you know the dog extremely well.
Breed with higher aggression risk
Some breeds are prone to aggression or biting due to breeding history. These include certain terriers, Chihuahuas, Chow Chows, and more.
Signs of jealousy or rivalry
If your dog acts resentful of attention given to the baby, they may act out. Supervise closely.
High prey drive
Dogs with very strong instincts to chase/harm small fleeing animals cannot be trusted.
Serious behavior problems
Dogs with severe anxiety, fear, dominance, or impulse control issues often pose a major risk.
History of snapping/biting
Any dog with a known history of aggression towards people requires expert intervention before being around infants.
While almost any dog might harm a baby if highly stressed or provoked, dogs with problematic histories, temperaments or lack of training should never be left alone just in case. It is up to owners to properly manage and oversee all interactions.
Key Takeaways on Dogs and Protectiveness of Babies
Research and experience show that while some dogs have innate protective capacities towards human babies, appropriate training and management are still essential:
- Female dogs’ oxytocin levels increase around human infants, driving nurturing guarding behaviors.
- Breeds such as German Shepherds and Dobermans are often highly protective of “their” babies.
- Early socialization and formal obedience training help ensure appropriate protectiveness.
- Dogs prone to aggression or with unknown histories should be supervised.
- With training and oversight, many bonded dogs can safely guard babies they view as part of their pack.
If you have an existing dog who will be around a new baby, be sure to consult your veterinarian and a certified professional dog trainer. They can provide breed-specific guidance on nurturing protective behaviors while also preventing unwanted aggression or accidents.
With proper preparation, the majority of dogs can ultimately become devoted, trusted protectors of the new little member of their human “pack.” Just be sure to provide the training, boundaries, and supervision necessary to help bring out their guardian best.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I leave my dog unsupervised with my newborn baby?
No, dogs should never be left completely unsupervised with a human baby or young toddler. Even very gentle, well-trained dogs can end up unintentionally injuring an infant if startled or overly excited. Always directly monitor your dog around vulnerable babies.
Will getting my dog spayed/neutered affect protectiveness?
There is little evidence spaying or neutering impacts protective behaviors in dogs. Protectiveness seems based more on breed traits, bonding to the family, and training. So altering your dog is unlikely to make them more or less protective of an infant.
Are male or female dogs more protective of babies?
Both male and female dogs have been observed displaying guarding behaviors around human babies. Females may show a slightly stronger response due to surges in maternal-type hormones like oxytocin. But males can certainly be protective as well. Overall, sex differences in protectiveness appear fairly minor.
Should I worry about dog germs around my newborn?
Newborns have underdeveloped immune systems, so take precautions around pets. Have adults handle and clean up after dogs. Ensure dogs are clean and up-to-date on vaccines. No dog, no matter how beloved, should lick an infant’s face or hands. Be vigilant about hygiene.
How can I reduce postpartum stress for my dog?
Dogs can become stressed by the sights, sounds, and schedule changes that come with a new baby. Making time for daily walks, play sessions, and cuddles can help your dog adjust. Establish a safe, quiet zone for your dog to relax. Introduce new routines gradually. Consult an animal behaviorist if needed.
|Intelligent, watchful, gentle with family
|Wary of strangers, devoted to family
|Loyal, obedient, strong guardian instincts
|Protective, territorial, affectionate with loved ones
|Courageous, highly intelligent guardians
Dogs often have natural protective capacities and instincts when it comes to human babies. By understanding a dog’s breed traits, taking training precautions, and always supervising interactions, parents can increase the likelihood of dogs serving as faithful baby protectors.
However, any dog that displays problematic aggression or has an unknown history should not be trusted alone with infants. With preparation, understanding, and management, adding a baby to a dog-loving household can often be a smooth transition resulting in two-legged and four-legged loved ones who adore each other.