It is such an exciting milestone when your baby starts solids. But remember: 1) your baby will drop a LOT of their food, and 2) Your dog might try to snag it before it even hits the floor. Let’s talk about it!
Where should your dog be?
➜Your dog waits under the highchair for all the dropped food.
➜Your dog stays on their dog bed or outside the kitchen during the meal but is released to clean up the floor at the end.
➜A gate or closed door separates your dog, and you let your dog clean up the floor after the baby is done eating.
➜Your dog is separated, and you clean up yourself.
My preferred option is the training option (#2). Lola is in a down - stays put until the kids are done eating. But life gets busy, and I don’t always have time to feed my kids, unload the dishwasher, cook, and train my dog.
I love using a retractable gate when my kids eat at their kids' table in the kitchen. After we clean up the table and if the leftovers are safe for her to eat, she is let in to clean up the floor.
Watch this reel to see the recommendations of Judy from Feeding Littles on where to have dogs during baby’s mealtimes.
What are the risks of having dogs near or under the highchair?
- Dogs may feel invited to jump on the chair or grab food from the baby's hands. Or demand bark.
- Multiple dogs can get into fights under the highchair over dropped food.
- Some foods are very toxic to dogs, and some foods can give your dog an upset tummy. Educate yourself on foods that are not safe for dogs.
- Dogs might become protective of that space or the dropped food. Ensure your baby is not on, under, or near the highchair when they eat the food from the floor. This could be dangerous for your baby.
What does a dietitian recommend?
Renae from New Ways Nutrition is a dietitian, a mom to 2 little ones, and has a Labrador.
Here are her 3 tips on feeding babies with dogs around
- If your baby starts to throw food for your dog, do your best to calmly redirect it to where you do want the food to go. Ask them to put the food in a no thank you bowl if they don’t want it, or tell them that food goes on their plate.
- More often than not, when food starts to go on the floor, your baby is done! It is so tempting to keep giving them food, especially if they haven’t eaten much. But that is usually their done/bored/get me out of here sign.
- Keep in mind the distraction level your dog is creating. When babies start eating solids, they can get easily startled or excited. That quickly becomes a risk for choking. As your baby gets practice eating, a little distraction is less of a safety concern.
Does my dog like my baby, or just their food?
Dogs learn by associations. If you allow your dog to be your “clean-up crew,” your dog will likely build a positive association with your baby in this specific scenario:
Baby in highchair = great things for me (dog).
When a dog approaches and is attentive to the baby in the highchair ≠ dog loves the baby.
What to watch out for:
➜Dogs love food, and some may get close to the highchair only because there is food, not because they love the baby.
➜Since your baby is contained and the situation is somewhat predictable, your dog may be more relaxed in that context.
➜Don’t assume that your dog loves your baby because they can lick the food off your baby’s hands or your baby has been dropping food on the floor.
➜Your dog may still be scared of your newly mobile baby* when not contained in the highchair.
*Newly mobile babies are scary for many dogs. Their movements are unpredictable, they crawl and don’t walk, and they make sounds adults don’t make. It is normal for your dog to be unsure about your not-so-long ago immobile baby.
❗Improperly managed interactions can prevent your dog from building a positive association with your child. It is important you give your dog time and distance to acclimate to your baby’s new milestones.
If you need more guidance on safe interactions between your child and dog, download my Toddlers and Dogs Guide. This free guide is for parents of older infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.
Common foods to NEVER feed your dog
When you have small children in the house, it can be hard to control the human food your dog consumes because kids tend to drop food, leave food around, or intentionally try to feed the dog. It is essential to manage your dog’s access to the following foods which can be hazardous to dogs:
- Chocolate (dark chocolate in particular)
- Grapes and raisins
- Avocado pits and cherry pits
- Anything that contains xylitol (common in sugar-free gum and peanut butters)
- Corn cob
- Raisin bread, toddler bar with raisins
- Advent calendar
- Foil cupcake or muffin liners
- Cooked bones
- Onions, garlic
- Star fruit
Consult your veterinarian for a more comprehensive idea of what your dog should avoid.
Some items are toxic and NOT dose-dependent on their effect, so no amount is safe (xylitol, raisins, grapes). Some items can become toxic if ingested in bigger quantities (chocolate, avocado pits), and some can cause an obstruction (foil liners, corn cob).
Depending on the culprit, you may monitor the dog at home, and your dog may have an upset tummy for a day or two. Or you may need to rush your dog to the ER for emergency surgery to induce vomiting or stomach pumping, fluids, and overnight monitoring.
Call your dog’s veterinarian or ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 8884264435 (US) for directions (there is a fee, but it is well worth it).
I asked Sylvalyn Hammond, DVM, to share her experience as an ER veterinarian. “It is important to know which foods may be potentially harmful to our pets. If your child is eating something that could be hazardous to your dog, put them in another room or area of the house until your child has finished the meal and you’ve had a chance to clean up. It’s better to take this extra precaution than spend a few hundred dollars at the emergency clinic to have your pet vomit, or worse, treat any issues that develop if the toxin is ingested without your knowledge.”
*Bonus Tip!* How to introduce a high chair to your baby.
Starting solids and using a highchair could be challenging for kids as well. Alyssa from Nutrition for Littles is a registered dietitian and mom of two (soon three). Her beloved dog Rafa passed unexpectedly recently.
Here are Alyssa’s tips for a smooth transition:
➜Start in a high chair as early as your baby can sit up safely.
➜Let your child play and get used to the high chair so that they associate a positive experience with it when you’re ready to start using it for meals and snacks.
➜Once your baby is ready to start solids, set your expectations low. Most little ones can only last in the high chair or eat for 5-10 minutes. This is completely ok!
➜If your child is getting fussy or frustrated in the chair, it’s ok to take a break and let them try again at the next meal or snack time.
Many of my clients and Instagram followers initially let the dogs stay near the eating baby in the highchair. Seeing them bond in a new way is cute, and those pictures are so adorable. For the reasons mentioned above, most parents end up separating the dogs after a few days or weeks.
To help your dog feel comfortable being separated from you and your baby, prepare and train in advance. My Preparation Course gives you many tools to best train and prepare your dog for life with your baby. Parents often return to the course after the baby is born, as many modules are helpful during the infant stage.