Many people believe dogs should be kept away from babies thanks to the mud and dirt they can bring in from outdoors. But research has shown that exposing little ones to canines from a young age can actually be a very healthy thing.

According to a team from Kuopio University Hospital in Finland, babies who live in a home with one or more dogs are less likely to suffer from common ailments such as colds and ear infections than those whose families do not own pets.

And it's the mud and dirt that's responsible, as the researchers believe the allergens dogs bring into the home help to boost children's immune systems, making them less susceptible to illness.

It's not a new theory. Previous research has suggested that if our homes are too clean, then both we and our youngsters will be at a higher risk of being struck down by bugs and viruses because we haven't been able to build up an immunity to everyday dust and grime.

Eija Bergroth, a paediatrician at the Kuopio University Hospital, said: "Our findings support the theory that during the first year of life, animal contacts are important, possibly leading to better resistance to infectious respiratory illnesses during childhood."

Of course while babies and dogs can get along very well together, there may be a number of changes you need to make when introducing one or the other into your home.

Make sure your dog is well trained and knows not to jump up at the baby and to walk calmly next to the pram. Also make sure he becomes familiar with baby paraphernalia, such as highchairs and potties, and that he isn't spooked by crying and other baby noises.

You should also teach your dog the difference between his toys and those belonging to the baby, and make sure you keep your four-legged friend's dry dog food well away from your child, especially once he or she is crawling.

Written by: Hannah