Training Your Dog to Live With Baby

San Diego-based dog trainer and mother Jessica Koester said it's crucial to set boundaries for your dog before baby comes along

After the tragic death of 3-day-old baby mauled by the family dog in Mira Mesa, one dog trainer is offering tips on how to prepare your pet for life with a new baby.

San Diego-based dog trainer Jessica Koester said there are several ways to train your dog before a new baby joins the household, including carrying a doll or something similar to get the pet accustomed to seeing you carrying a baby in your arms.

She said preparations should start when you’re three to six months pregnant, giving families enough time to stop bad habits and teach positive behaviors.

Koester – who trained her own 4-year-old rescue dog, Uriel – is also the mother of a newborn son. She said it’s crucial for her to keep firm boundaries between her Border Collie and her baby.

“Newborns are unpredictable and you really do need to keep in mind your dog is an animal," she told NBC 7.

Last week, a San Diego family was faced with a horrifying experience when their dog, “Polo,” was in bed with his owners and their newborn son, Sebastian Caban.

Officials said the baby’s mother sneezed, startling Polo, and the dog reacted by biting baby Sebastian on the head, killing him. The family had trouble getting through to 911, waiting for more than three minutes to speak with a dispatcher.

“We all love to cuddle with dogs but if I want to cuddle, I make sure the baby is in a safe location,” said Koester.

The dog trainer has set up dog fences and other strict boundaries in her home, creating a play pen for her pups. She said she will keep her dogs separate from her son until he turns five.

“At that age since they can communicate, you can ask the child to follow directions [in their interactions with pets],” she added.

Koester’s dogs are allowed near her baby but within reason – and, again, with strict boundaries. Uriel is allowed into the newborn’s nursery but he has his own mat to on which to lie down. When he’s in the nursery, he’s tethered to the furniture by a leash as a precaution and as another way to set limits.

“Just like you respect your boyfriend or girlfriend’s personal space, you need to respect your dog's personal space and we need to make sure the dog respects baby space and vice versa,” Koester explained.

That respect for personal space can be taught through training long before the baby comes home by allowing the dog to sniff around baby items and toys so that by the time baby arrives, the noises baby makes are no big deal to the dog.

“If I teach my dog when the baby cries and you come near but I say ‘I want you to go away,’ I might throw the food behind the dog to get the dog to stay a certain distance away. So that it becomes background noise to them over time," Koester explained.

The dog involved in baby Sebastian’s deadly attack was euthanized Wednesday at the request of its owners, the San Diego County Department of Animal Services confirmed.

Polo, a 2-year-old American Staffordshire Terrier, had been adopted from a shelter by the family six months ago and showed no signs of aggressive behavior, the agency said.

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