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25 January 2010

Preparing Your Dog for a New Baby

This is one of many training tips I'd like to share with you under the name 'Paws for Thought' written by a friend at work who is passionate about dogs and is happy to share and discuss what she has learnt. Posted here with her permission. Please note: She is not a dog expert but a dog lover learning more each day.

Having a new arrival, particularly but not only the first baby in a household, is a major change for everyone concerned - including your dog.  You can however do things to help prepare your dog for the new arrival and try and make things easier on both you and the dog - for instance teaching him or her how you want them to walk beside a pram well before you just expect them to do it with a baby crying in it, you stressed to the max and shopping bags on your arms.  You can also start very early on so that any changes in your dog's routine and experience occur well before the baby arrives and therefore are not linked to the event.

Some suggestions for preparing yourself and your dog include:

* Taking a good serious look at your dog and they interact with every existing member of the family - two and four legged.  Is his behaviour appropriate now?  Does he follow basic cues/commands like sit, down, leave it, come and walk nicely on lead, give things up when asked, wait at doorways, not get underfoot, go outside without complaint, not steal food, not bark or demand attention excessively etc.  Does he behave appropriately around people, food and lots of excitement?  

- If so then you're in a good place to work on ensuring that he can do this in situations where you and other family members are otherwise occupied (attention wise), have your arms full, etc in preparation for the realities of having to do this with a baby in the mix.

- If not then you need to start here - and you need to start fast.  Some professional help may well be required to get you all up to speed ASAP. 

* If your dog doesn't know how to settle and calm down then this is something I'd definitely be working on

* Think about the rules and routines that you currently have in the house and how they will change.  Will the dog be getting the same level of attention and at the same times, from the same people?  Will you be feeding him at the same time?  Will he still be allowed into all of the places in the house that he currently has access?  Will you be playing games the same way with him?  Will he be expected to spend longer periods settled on a mat or in a crate or outside?  If so then start thinking about making those changes before your baby arrives.  Set those rules up now and start getting the dog used to them.  You may choose to set up barriers to the babies room (and people have used baby gates, barn type gates where the bottom half and top half close independently or even mesh screen doors for safey) or you can teach your dog not to enter the room or not to enter without invitation - but you need to start the training well before you have the baby to worry about, and reinforce it once the baby arrives.  Just a word of caution here though. A friend decided that their dog would not be allowed to enter their new babies room but one night she did and came back and made a great fuss and seemed quite distressed - so fortunately the friend checked on bub only to find that he was at high risk of suffocation due to his position in the cot.  So sometimes breaking a rule may be justified - and I don't want to imagine what would have happened if the dog was just punished for entering the room, without someone checking on the bub.

* What new things will he experience or be expected to do as you get closer to the birth or once the baby arrives?  For instance will he be expected to walk beside a stroller or pram, sit in a different place in the car?  Will he know how to act when baby food, toys and other unmentionables hit the floor?  You set yourself and him up for success if you teach him what you expect in each situation before you put it all together on the day you come home from the hospital, and for the weeks and months thereafter.

* Start gradually introducing the new scents, sounds and sights that your dog will experience with a new baby in the house - introduce new scents, sounds and sights that your dog will experience with a new baby in the house - introduce baby powder, baby food smells, milk etc around without making a fuss of them and do itfairly often.  With shounds there are some gret CDs available and the one I am most familiar with and have recommneded is called 'Sounds Soothing' which has crying babies, screaming etc etc and comes with a booklet of how to use it but also other tips for preparing for baby.  The ideas is to sart with sounds low and build up, put them in different rooms and monitor your dogs response - but do not get too intense or focused on the dog, just act normally.  If your dog does react then you can take the appropriate steps now (as defined on the CD or I'd recommend with professional assistance).  By the way I've found that it's often the pregnant mums and dads that can't cope with the CD more than many dogs.  Also try turning up the TV, putting louder music on and making noises that are likely to happen when you have a bub in the house - including dropping things (but with the dog far enough away from the noise that it doesn't upset them).  If your dog reacts badly to these then again seek professional help.  As the day gets closer set out the baby stuff, clothes, beds, prams, high chairs etc before you need to use them so that your dog gets used to their presence and you can train appropriate (by your definition) behaviour in regards to them. 

* Socialise your dog with pregnant women (at all stages), babies of all ages, toddlers and small children now - ensuring everyone's safety and stuffing your dog full of roast chicken for just being around them and not even having to interact with them.  If kids scream or run around the dog gets more chicken and even the skin.  You can choose to reward the just being there calmly with no interaction.  Just being there is what's going to happen for much of the first months home with bub anyway so interaction may not be what you want to reinforce.  You want calm controlled (self-controlled) behaviour.  But remember - any signs of fear or aggression before now or now means you should really seek professional assistance to keep everyone safe.

* Practice things like carrying around a baby like doll (particularly one with noises and covered with baby powder and/or spilled milk and check that your dog won't jump up on you or behave inappropriately with that level of distraction.  Practice entering and exiting doors, bending over, sitting down and even getting on the floor with the dummy baby.  If all goes well you might even find a friend to see how your dog goes with them and their baby (with you able to intervene) and with you holding and walking, sitting and playing with their baby - but remember safety comes first at all times.

* You might also think of getting a mat or blanket (or three) and teaching your dog that when this mat is spread out on the floor they have stay off it or go directly to their mat (both for great treats and rewards).  This way when you put your practice baby (doll) on it and reinforce there is some chance that you can reinforce this behaviour so that the mat/blanket becomes a place where your dog does not feel that they can encroach when you are on the floor with bub....but as with people there are no guarantees.

* Get a pram and start teaching your dog to walk nicely beside it before you can't do it easily.  Then put your practice baby (doll) in it and if someone with a youngster is happy to try you can even get to that point before your own baby arrives.  Consider using an appropriately fitted head halter to make walking your dog with pram, baby and traffic less stressful for you - but it needs to be fitted properly and you need to be taught to use it effectively and safely.

* Give your dog a mat or dog crate or some other spaces in the family room and even somewhere near or in the babies room that is his place and he goes there for great things and to watch you and eventually the baby, but also to escape from the noises and sights if he needs to (so for many dogs an enclosed crate or space might be a good idea).  Putting mats out in a number of places and teaching your dog to ues them means he has somewhere to be while you are with the baby in different spaces without getting underfoot.

* Think about what new things (or old favourites) you can add to the dogs life when the baby comes home to provide him with sufficient mental stimulation, physical exercise and joy in his life without necessarily being totally reliant on you and your time - you're going to have other things to focus on.  For this you could start with work on teaching your dog to enjoy and focus on chewtoys if they don't already see this as a great reward.  Check out for tips.

* Ensure that you get a full vet check on the dog before the baby comes home - and don't forget regular worming.

* If your dog hasn't spent time in a kennel situation then you might want to get him used to idea and even a one night stay can help with that.  Then he'll know you're coming back for him if you get into a situation where you do need to kennel him - maybe even while you're in hospital, for the first week or so or as the crowds descend.  It can just reduce your stress knowing that if you need to put him in kennels that he is happy to go.

* When baby does arrive you will probably have people of all ages and sizes coming to visit, parties, coffee and presents. If possible get your dog used to these scenarios before you add the baby to the mix.

* Think about teaching him that open doors to the outside are not invitations to do a runner if he doesn't already know this.  This includes open car doors.  With lots of people visiting, with your baby in your arms and lots of distractions you don't want to be worrying about him escaping.

* Nappies have a unique and interesting smell and feel for many dogs even before the baby adds spills and bodily functions to them.  Buy some and have them in places where your dog can be taught to ignore them and that they are not toys.

* Think about what is likely to get your dog in trouble and either
a) teach them what you want and highly reinforce it and/or
b) set yourself up to manage the situation.
What are are you going to do about dirty nappies, baby spew and spills?  What is it reasonable to expect your dog to do?  Have you taught him that?  and in terms of management - sealed bins, closed doors and barriers all have their place.  

* Perhaps even think about blocking off a space in your yard for your dog to use rather than having the full run of the yard.  Him having his own space and being taught to be happy there with you in the area and when you're not around can help.  But you need to teach him about this before baby arrives - but once taught and reinforced regularly - it gives you the potential for you and baby to be outside and together without worrying about the dog, putting washing out without something else to worry about etc.

* Work at teaching your dog to rev up and calm down quickly so that if he gets to a point of super excitement you and he already have the skills to calm things down quickly and pleasantly for you both.  Check out for tips.

* Plan for what you are going to do when baby comes home.  Options may include: 

- You can kennel out your dog when you go into hospital until you come home so that he is safe, happy and you don't need to worry about him.  My suggestion would be that you get him used to kennels if he isn't already.  When he is collected you can try collecting him without the baby in the car but with the baby smells.  He will be highly excited to be home and to see you (unless he is one of those dogs that snubs you for a day or two after kennels) so you could have the baby in the babies room and spend time with the dog outside and then in another part of the house, then letting him get used to the smell etc (through the baby gate, on loose lead or whatever) and reinforcing calm behaviour.

- You could have a family member (living there or not) take on the role of 24/7 dog minder during the time you are in hospital and immediately after you and the baby come home.  They would be responsible for feeding, lots of exercise, training etc. for mental stimulation and watching and reinforcing appropriate calm behaviour around you and the baby.

- You could have someone bring home the baby smells (dirty clothes or even wet nappy) and look after the dog while you are in hospital.  Then before you come home ensure that the dog gets a big exercise as you want a tired dog.  You can either walk in and ignore the dog (get him used to this routine first though) and then take baby to its room and close the baby gate.  Then play with, reinforce and give you and the dog time to catch up (someone may need to take care of the bub for a few minutes). 

* At all opportunities reward/reinforce behaviour you like - lying down, not barking, chewing on a chew toy, walking nicely, moving out of the way, staying just a slight distance from the baby or sniffing gently.  Do it regularly and reward highly. 

* If your dog really isn't sure about the baby you can consider feeding and playing with your dog only when the baby is in the room. But this can be hard to manage and I'd recommend getting professional help.  

There are a couple of other things for you:

* Some enthusiastic and athletic dogs have no problems jumping over baby gates and some people have had a flyscreen/metal security type door installed over the door to a baby's room so that both the baby and the dog are safe.

* Some dogs have only miminal reactions to babies but increase their attentions once the baby becomes mobile - so don't think it's all going to be great just because at this early stage your dog is not fussed.  Things change - and rapidly.

* There are three golden rules for children and dogs:

1. Supervise

2. Supervise

3. Supervise. 

Almost all of the advice given here is about getting your dog used to as much as you can, one thing at a time, before it all comes together in a high emotion/ high stress situation full of new and potentially scary or dangerous situations at a time when you are least emotionally, physically and mentally able to deal with it.  I know it all seems a little overwhelming but if you sit down and plan it is achievable and if you are in doubt (given your baby and dogs lives may be at risk) then please seek professional advice and support.

Resources to get you started on the web

and this really is only a start....

1 comment:

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