Babywearing vs. Strollering: Considerations when dog walking with babies
Up until the birth of our daughter last year, our two Shepherd-ish dogs enjoyed walks on a regular basis, pretty exclusively with me. For years beforehand I would wake up hours before going to work (to my job as a fulltime dog walker) & take each one of my dogs on a walk. As you can imagine, I really like walking dogs. Once we knew we were expecting, I knew I had to do some thinking, scheming, & practicing new things, to ensure that dog walking was still an enjoyable part of our future with a mini human.
When you have an infant, baby or young child, and you want to take your dog on a walk your two best options are to either bring your baby in a stroller or babywear with a carrier of some type. There are definite pros and cons to each choice. Before deciding what’s going to be the best choice for you, the most important thing to do first is to make sure you really know your dog, and you really know your environment. It’s important to be able to predict, with confidence how your dog will act in any of the potential situations you could experience while dog walking and how having a baby with you will impact those situations.
For example: How does your dog react to passing by or seeing another dog? Does your dog like to jump at birds & squirrels? What about bikes and skateboards? How likely are you to encounter a stray dog where you’ll be walking? Where will you be walking? Your familiar neighborhood, a downtown area, or maybe hiking trails?
Whether you choose to babywear, or take a stroller with you on your dog walks with your baby, other humans will look at you. They’ll talk to you, they’ll wave to you. They might even approach you. Will your dog be comfortable with this?
If you live in a neighborhood where stray or off leash dogs are common, it’s important to know how your dog reacts in this situation. Dog treats, deterrent spray (like citronella) & a cell phone are always must-haves when I leave the house with my dogs. Should you encounter a loose dog, it’s important to have a plan on how to manage this situation as safely as possible. Consider taking walks in a different neighborhood if you are concerned about meeting unfamiliar dogs.
On most days my preferred choice is babywearing, but I must confess babywearing is something I really enjoy outside of dog walking. There are lots of different options when it comes to types of carriers you can use with your baby. Some are pieces of material wrapped around your body, some are like slings, and then some are structured like a backpack that you buckle or tie on. There are excellent benefits for parent & child bonding when babywearing.
Babywearing means that I have two hands available when walking a dog. I dish out a lot of treats while walking. It helps keep my dogs interested and attentive to me. Wearing a bait bag stocked with good stuff is a must on my walks. I take this with me whether I’m using a stroller or carrying the baby. If I’m babywearing, my phone and keys can also fit in my bait bag, or I can usually stick them in the front pocket of my carrier.
Babywearing always seemed easiest for me when my daughter was first born. It was also the winter time (& in Detroit we have some serious winter!) and there wasn’t any way I could have possibly pushed a stroller through the ice & snow. Plus I always felt the baby & I were warmer when we were attached to each other. The down side to this is you have to use a lot of caution where you step when babywearing, especially during the winter months. If you slip & fall, the baby falls with you. This is another reason why it’s important to know your dog. If your dog reacts to certain things you may pass, and might lunge or pull hard on a leash, it may make you more likely to fall.
Unlike strollering, babywearing can come with a bit of a learning curve. If it’s something you’re looking to try, I recommend trying out different types of carriers and finding one that feels comfortable when you’re wearing it. (If you don’t have a local shop or babywearing group nearby, YouTube is an excellent resource for videos on how to carry your baby.) Practice putting it on and taking it off, then practice putting it on and taking it off with your baby BEFORE you set out for a walk. It can take some practice to feel like you’ve got a good grip on your balance, something you want to feel good about when you’re out walking your dog. It’s also a good idea to get your dog used to seeing you wearing your baby. Your movements will be different. If your dog seems spooked by this new contraption you’re wearing (that may also cry & move around) you’ll want to know this before you start walking.
Strollering itself might not seem like something that requires much practice, but I promise the practice is worth it. It’s hard to practice babywearing while you’re pregnant, especially once you get into the 2nd and 3rd trimester. Things don’t fit you how they will once the baby is born. At a certain point, it is impossible to practice wearing a carrier in front of you, because the front of you is being taken up by a future person. During the later parts of pregnancy, practicing with a stroller however, is totally possible.
I remember when the stroller I picked out finally came in the mail. I was super excited to get it out of the giant box and check it out. Once I got all the pieces put in the right place, I gave it a quick push around the living room & one of my dogs ran the other direction. She wouldn’t go anywhere near it. This new piece of baby equipment was scary to her. For several weeks before the baby was born I practiced walking around the house, yard & driveway with a doll in the stroller until my scared dog wasn’t scared of the stroller anymore.
When our horrendous long winter finally ended and hot sun finally returned babywearing stopped being as comfortable for us. While it kept me warmer during the frigid months, babywearing can get really hot & sweaty in the summer. A few moms in a local babywearing group suggested sticking a cold pack in the front pocket. I think it keeps the baby a bit cooler but I don’t know that it has much cooling affect for me. There are some carriers that are designed for warmer climates that are made of material that tends to breathe easier.
As much as I LOVE babywearing, I also really enjoy taking my daughter out for a stroll. Strollering means there are less things to physically carry. Theres a storage compartment where I can toss a poo bag until we get home or pass by a trash can (picking up poo while wearing your child, can also be an acquired skill). Good leash walking skills are just as important when strollering. When using the stroller, the last thing you want to happen is to tip over because your dog decided to chase a bird. Practice walking down the street with a doll, or a sack of potatoes (which weighs closer to a real human than a doll) so that you feel comfortable holding a dog leash & holding onto your stroller. Never tie a dog leash to your stroller. Strollering can be great if you like to walk your dog and enjoy a much needed cup of coffee! Baby carriers don’t come equipped with a cup holder. I think my daughter also likes riding along in a stroller and being able to see one of her dogs walking next to her.
There are definite pros and cons to each choice. Both require practice. Sometimes I take the stroller out and shove my carrier in the storage basket so if the baby starts crying I have the option to take her out and carry her home. Some children just don’t like to be worn or they outgrow enjoying it before they are able to walk with us on their own two feet. Some children get to a certain age & they want to be able to face forward and see the world around them & their best view is from a stroller (there are very few carriers on the market that can safely carry a forward facing infant).
Whichever option you choose, make sure it is the one that you feel most comfortable and safe choosing. The safety of you, your child & your dog are all important when taking a dog walk. I typically restrict my dog walks with baby to only certain areas that I am very familiar with. When I want to explore somewhere new, I might take only a dog or only a baby, so that I have less to manage while getting to know new surroundings. I’m also a big advocate for the “one dog at a time” dog walk. Managing multiple dogs when walking with your baby can be extra chaos (plus it’s good for dogs who live together to have some alone time). While dog walking with a baby is a new skill, with a little practice and preparation, your new family dog walks can be something really fun enjoyable for everyone.
Kat Stevens-Stanley, ABCDT
Certified Dog Trainer, Association of Professional Dog Trainers member
Parent & Family educator with Family Paws Parent Education