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Keeping Babies Safe Around Pets

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Q: As my baby becomes mobile I'm worried about him being around our dog. How can we teach them not to hurt each other inadvertently?

A: Of the more than 4.7 million dog bites in the U.S. each year, about 60% involve children, says veterinarian Nicholas Dodman, D.V.M., director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Boston and author of several books about animals, including If Only They Could Speak: Stories About Pets and Their People.

When babies begin to walk or crawl, it's not safe to leave them alone with even the sweetest dog; an unintentional poke or step on the paw could cause a pain-induced bite. "A dog, like a light socket or hot stove, is another thing you must take precautions with," says Dr. Dodman. Here, his safety suggestions: Kids and dogs can compete for food, so don't feed your child near your pet or allow your child to run around the house holding food. Also, teach your baby to be gentle with the dog, demonstrating how to softly stroke his fur in the same direction it grows. Finally, know your dog's personality. A dominant or fearful pet is less tolerant of behavior he considers invasive. This may mean crating your dog or keeping your child in a gated area when you're unable to supervise them closely.