How can we introduce our baby to our dog?

Q: My son is due in a month. How should we introduce our new baby to our older "baby"--our beloved 7-year-old Labrador mix, Babe?

A: First, help your dog become accustomed to seeing--and smelling--your son's clothes and toys by leaving these items around the house before you bring the baby home from the hospital. When you do come home, bring a cloth diaper with the baby's scent on it and let Babe sniff it before you bring the baby into the house. Then one parent should hold your son while the other greets and hugs your dog. After that, gently introduce Babe to the baby. During the first days home, play with your dog and talk kindly to her when the baby is around so she will understand that she's not being displaced.

No matter how well-behaved your dog is, keep her out of your baby's room, and never leave her alone with your son, especially when he starts playing on the floor. There have been too many cases of "baby-safe" dogs attacking children--with tragic results.

Also keep in mind that older pets may be less predictable in their responses to a new baby than younger ones. And anyone who has an untrained or aggressive dog, especially one that has ever growled or snapped at a child, should talk with a veterinarian, get a trainer and/or consider finding a new home for the animal.