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A pet contributes enormously to the emotional growth of a child. But the relationship must be handled correctly from the very beginning.

If you have a dog, it must be prepared for the arrival of a baby. Here are some steps to take:

Make absolutely certain your dog is well-trained.

If the pet is just growing out of puppyhood and indulges in playful biting, this must be stopped. Worse yet is an adult dog that likes to take playful nips. If your dog is temperamental and may bite if angered, this calls for behaviour training because it cannot be tolerated around an infant.

If your dog is accustomed to sleeping in your bedroom or the room the baby will occupy, you must get the pet used to new sleeping quarters. If you make the change well before the infant's arrival, the dog won't blame it for its banishment.

Several weeks prior to the baby's arrival, take your dog to the veterinarian. Make certain the pet is free of fleas, has no internal parasites and is in good general health. The last thing you need is to be nursing a sick dog while caring for a new baby.

If your dog has never, or rarely, been exposed to children, particularly infants, try to familiarize the pet with kids. If you have friends or relatives with babies, introduce the dog to them so he doesn't regard such an odd-smelling newcomer with suspicion.

After the baby is born, but before you bring him or her home, get a blanket the baby has been wrapped in and let your dog sniff it to become familiar with the baby's scent.

The moment you step in the house with your new baby, allow your dog a good sniff of him or her. Immediately after this, praise your dog lavishly, as if he'd been responsible for the baby's existence.

Later on, to make certain the baby's arrival is a positive event, one parent should sit on the floor with the dog on a leash. The other parent should then walk in and out of the room holding the baby. When carrying the baby into the room, make a huge fuss over the dog. You might even give the pet a biscuit. However, when the baby is not in the room, ignore the dog.

Although this may seem rather absurd, its purpose is positive reinforcement. The goal is to make certain the pet doesn't feel it has lost its best friends to this alien creature, but that the baby will be a new friend.

When a child starts crawling, he or she may show curiosity by pulling a dog's tail or ears. Therefore, never leave such a child under 5 years of age alone with a large dog and teach the child to be gentle when touching the pet. To do this, guide the child's hands over the dog's body and repeat a simple word, such as "good, good, good".

At the toddler stage, a child may severely challenge a dog's territorial rights. The youngster may upset the dog's food dish and water bowl, snatch its toys and invade its sleeping area.

This time, the toddler is not the one who needs coaching. Instead, you must make the dog aware that its little friend has rights, and that it is not allowed to show aggression or try to dominate the child in any way.

Aside from any such drawbacks, a pet can contribute tremendously to a child's growth experience. Initially, a youngster may resent having to walk "doggie", help groom and feed the pet, and make certain fresh water is always available. Eventually, however, the child will relish the feeling that the pet needs him or her, just as the child needs parents. This makes a youngster feel grown-up.

Reprinted from the BICHON BANTER, Spring 1994 issue, and originally from the Toronto Star FAMILY PET by Ann Huntington