Shelley Erdman, Full Circle Obedience
WARNING: If you have a dog that has growled, snapped, or bitten a human or has issues with guarding toys, food, or people seek the advice of a positive-reinforcement training professional.
You do an incredible amount of preparation when you learn you’re expecting a new baby. Some of the things on your “to do” list are absolute necessities, like buying diapers and clothes, picking a name, and deciding about feeding. Other tasks can be done as you get to them, like painting and deciding between bears and dinosaurs for the baby’s room. The parents and older siblings involved have several months to prepare and get comfortable with the idea of a new family member. Quite often, however, your dog doesn’t learn of the new member until they see it, hear it, and smell it. Preparing the family dog for the new arrival needs to be put at the very top of the list of absolute necessities.
Ideally, preparing the family dog for a baby would actually begin when people decide that “someday” they will want to add children to the family. Regardless of when you begin preparing your family dog for a new addition, the sooner you begin the smoother the transition is likely to be. It is a hectic time with an incredible number of changes, and even more changes when the baby arrives. It is important to keep stress and opportunities for accidents to a minimum.
Well before Baby arrives, review obedience commands. If your dog has some basic training, use this time to firm up those basic behaviors. Sit, down, leave it, out, place, four-on-the-floor, and stay are good basic behaviors. If your dog has not had any training, seek the help of a positive reinforcement-based trainer. Compulsion training and punishment-based methods are the very last things you need and can cause enormous problems with a new baby entering the family. Spend some time each day reinforcing basic behaviors in all parts of the house with short training sessions, always ending on success.
Time will soon be a precious commodity. Resist the temptation to lavish your dog with extra time in hopes of making up for the lack of time you will have after the baby comes. You won’t have a choice in the baby’s schedule, and they take so much time in the beginning. Giving the dog a lot of extra attention now can set him up for failure after the baby comes and the attention is minimal in those first weeks. Recruit friends or neighbors that you and your dog trust to help with walks or playtimes in those first few weeks.
While dogs thrive on schedules, babies make their own. It is a good idea to start adding some randomness to your dog’s schedule. You will want to vary feeding time, walks, and crate time. This allows your dog to see that all of the things they have come to expect from you like food, exercise, and quiet time are still going to happen even if you’re a little late in getting it done.
Babies come with all sorts on interesting sights, sounds, and smells attached to them. Introduce those things early on in your dog’s preparation and continue to do so throughout the months until Baby’s arrival. Play a CD of baby sounds that includes crying of all types. Start the sounds at a low volume, increasing the volume gradually and changing the location in your home over a few weeks. It is fairly easy to make a CD of baby sounds, or there are some commercially available.
Get the baby “equipment” out of the boxes so the items become a familiar part of the landscape. Let your dog sniff them and check them out. We don’t want to introduce a new baby at the same time as several other new things that swing and jiggle and make noise.
Begin using the baby lotion that you’ve chosen for the new baby. You can put a little on the swing, bed, stroller, car seat, a blanket, the baby carrier, and yourself. Put some on a stuffed toy that you can carry around in the baby carrier. The idea is that your dog is introduced to and comfortable with as many sights, sounds, and smells associated with the new baby as possible before his arrival.
You have some important decisions to make early in your pooch preparedness training. If you want the dog to stay off of the furniture or a particular piece of furniture, start reinforcement of that behavior very early on. It will not work out well for you if you decide to change a dog’s lifelong habit after the baby comes home.
Decide whether or not you want the baby’s room to be off-limits to the dog and begin reinforcing that behavior early in your “baby” training program. It is extremely important to train your dog with positive reinforcement and consistency from you and all other household members. It makes it difficult for your dog to succeed when the humans are inconsistent and he’s allowed on the furniture when Mom is home but not when Dad or Grandma is there.
You will want to plan for a safe storage place for pacifiers, bottle nipples, and diapers. Those items are enticing to dogs and can be quite dangerous. Dogs don’t chew things to “get back at you” for bringing a new baby home. They chew because they like to chew, they’re investigating a new texture, the items have your scent on them, or any number of other reasons. Plan ahead and avoid the hassle.
You might want to check into doggie daycare. Do your homework just as you would in finding a caretaker for your baby. There are lots of daycares for humans and dogs, so choose carefully, get references, and observe. Daycare will give your dog some social time and lots of exercise in the first few weeks while you are tired and adjusting to the new schedule or lack thereof.
Once the baby arrives and everyone is home, you’ll want to introduce the baby to the dog. While the dog is on leash, he may walk by the baby, sniff the air and look at the baby. There is no reason for the dog to make physical contact with the baby. You want this encounter to be positive, so absolutely no jerking on the leash or harsh, loud commands should be used. Your dog must find the presence of the new baby a positive thing. You will find those basic obedience commands you taught early on quite useful now. Remember, positive reinforcement is the key.
You should never leave the dog alone with the baby regardless of how sweet your dog is or how disinterested he may be in the new arrival. If you have to answer the door, get a diaper, warm a bottle, answer the phone, go to the bathroom, take a pill or anything else, the baby goes with you, the dog goes with you or there is a closed door, gate or crate between them. Do not leave the baby in a swing or rocking cradle and leave the room with the dog loose. The motion of the swing or cradle can add to your dog’s excitement and arouse natural prey instincts. If you’re tired and the baby is sleeping, put the dog in his crate with a chew toy and nap safely.
Your dog should never meet your baby face-to-face. There are so many pictures on the web of face-to-face encounters with babies and dogs that people find amusing and adorable. Upon closer inspection by those versed in canine body-language, the majority of those pictures show stress indicators and precursory behaviors that are warning unknowing observers of an impending bite.
If your dog is present, then you should have your hands on the baby. There is no tummy time on the floor with your dog present. Do not place the responsibility of your baby’s safety on your dog. Sudden noises, unknown aches and pains, tiny fists waving around in the air, and the wails of a hungry baby can startle a dog.
You can live harmoniously with babies and dogs, but those who do it successfully and maintain a close bond with their dogs prepare for it well in advance. Preparation, positive training and experiences, patience and consistency are key to bringing a new baby into a home that includes a dog.
For more tips, or to enroll your dog in a training program, visit www.fullcircleobedienceschool.com.
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