Preparing Your Dog For A New Baby
Let's face it, for those of us who are dog lovers... our dogs are our babies. But what happens when a real baby comes a long. For many first time parents, the assumption that their dog will be the best with a new baby is already in place. However, when the baby comes along many times owners are faced with the hard decision to give the dog up because it is not coping well or acting out when the new baby arrives. Trust me, this is not just the dog acting out. Most dogs are go with the flow and will fall into their place in the new pack, but they must be guided correctly.
I have been into dog rescue and adoption for the past 6 years. It has been a passion of mine and I have a soft spot for the big bully breeds! I got into dog training 4 years ago when we fostered and later our adopted our current dog, Babs. Babs was the victim of a dog fighting bust in Long Beach, CA. When we got her, we knew nothing about her but soon found out we had a lot of work to do. I knew a small amount about dog training but had to learn quick for the safety of others around our dog. Babs is the most amazing around people. She is incredibly loyal and great with all people, big and small. We even joke that if someone broke into our home they would get licked to death. However, when it comes to other animals, she was trained to do a lot of damage. Dog fighting is a real business. It's disgusting what people will do to these animals just for money. Babs would attack any type of animal from a lizard to a horse. Her prey drive was insane. So we made it a first priority to get her desensitized to animals. It's no easy task, but we have come a very long way.
So when I became pregnant, we wasted no time in preparing Babs for a new baby. I had been shadowing one of Cesar Milan's personal head trainers, volunteering at the Dog Psychology Center and taking Babs up for classes there as well. But the work does not end there, you must do your work at home to make this a smooth transition for everyone. Here are a few things that you can do at home to prepare your dog for a new baby.
• Create Rules, Boundaries and Limitations. If you have a dog that owns the house you live in, now is the time to change that. By no means am I saying you must kick your dog to the curb but you must make some big changes. RULES - refers to what a dog is or isn't allowed to do. (i.e. You are not allowed to jump on me, don't pull on walks.) BOUNDARIES - refer to where a dog is or isn't allowed to go. (i.e. the dog is NOT allowed in the baby's room) LIMITATIONS - refer to the length or intensity of an activity. (i.e. we stop playing fetch when I say so, you're energy is too much so it's time to return to a calm energy before we play again.) Check out this great blog post on Cesars Way about this topic.
• Designate a separate place for your dogs toys - A good exercise to do is lay out some of your dogs toys and some of the baby's toys. Allow your dog to only play with their toys and make sure to claim the baby's toys as your own. They are completely off limits. Sniffing is ok, but nothing more. Have a space designated just for your dogs toys, their very own toy box.
• If your dog is used to sleeping in bed with you, now is the time to put an end to that (at least for awhile.) Don't worry your dog won't be mad, they will eventually get used to it and it won't even be a thought in the future. Get them a nice bed where they have their own safe, cozy space. We allow our dog to sleep on her own bed in our room by the door. However, she is NOT allowed ON the bed or near the baby's bassinet. This seems to be the toughest for a lot of my clients. They find a lot of comfort in having their dog sleep next to them. In the wild, these dogs have never known a goose down comforter and satin sheets... and boy are they more than fine in their own bed on the floor. A luxury many dogs will never experience. There was a recent story about a 3 day old who got killed by the family dog while they were all sleeping in bed together. This breaks my heart and often why I tell my clients it has to stop now. The mother of the child coughed and frightened the dog who then turned and bit the baby. This bite to a three day old was fatal. I am by no means saying that this is the families fault, but it may have been preventable. To a dog who has never been around a newborn, this crying, wiggling, little thing is so foreign. With the dog being in the bed with the family, it went into protection mode and when startled, bit the only thing that was "new" and "different" in the bed. My clients often say "Oh my dog would NEVER do that", but even the most well behaved dogs are still animals before breed and name.
• After a mother dog gives birth, many are surprised that for a few weeks, she isn't the same, cuddly loving dog they had before. Her top priority is keeping her babies safe and she will rarely leave their side or allow others near. This should be the same for you and your baby. Create boundaries for how close you want your dog to be to the baby. There is nothing wrong or rude about making the nursery completely off limits, or even while you're holding baby in another room, the dog may not be allowed to approach, unless invited. This is all helping the dog to understand it's new order in the pack.
EXERCISES FOR YOU AND YOUR DOG BEOFRE BABY ARRIVES
• Stroller Walk! - Here is a great exercise that you can start before baby arrives. Get the stroller as soon as possible and start doing stroller walks with your dog. The goal of this exercise is to have your dog walk beside or behind the stroller at all times. For a dog that is used to pulling or doing whatever he wants (being in control) this could take a while. But, eventually they do get it. The point of this is for the dog to understand that they are not the front of the pack, the baby is. Once you have a straight walk down, work on turning the stroller different directions and have the dog follow/hold back. This is a great way for your dog to burn off energy while working hard on a new task which is also mentally challenging.
• Crying Baby - Play crying baby sounds off youtube or on your phone. This will not be the real thing, but close to mimic what they will soon be hearing. Your dog will be curious at first, but do not reward this behavior. You want your dog to become completely relaxed and submissive and eventually ignore this sound. When the baby comes, it takes a few days or weeks deepening on your dog. However, once you master this you will only have one crying baby to tend to in real life and not a crying baby AND a wound up, anxious dog.
AGGRESSION & HYPERACTIVE BEHAVIOR
• If you have a dog that has shown signs of aggression to anyone (people or other animals) get professional help immediately. You may be able to handle these things on your own, but it will not be safe once baby arrives. There are many great trainers who can help find the peace and balance in your new pack. I have listed some great like minded trainers at the end of this blog.
• If your dog is not aggressive, but very hyperactive, this is also something that needs to be addressed. If you have a dog that will not calm down, this could also be dangerous once you throw a new baby in the mix. LONG, daily walks can help with this problem but some dogs also need a lot of mental stimulation.
TWO MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER!
• As hard as it may be because you will be beyond exhausted with a new baby ... do not forget about your dogs needs. Dogs need lots of exercise to maintain a healthy and well balanced life. Make sure you continue to walking and playing with your dog. Make your daily walks a family affair and bring the baby along in a carrier or stroller. It's great for everyone!
• NEVER, EVER, under any circumstances, leave your new baby alone with your dog. Not even for five minutes. Make sure you give everyone time to get accustomed to the new pack. And even once this is established, never leave your dog and baby unsupervised.
GET READY FOR MANY YEARS OF AN AMAZING FRIENDSHIP!
• All of the points above are just to express caution and to prevent any type or horrible thing from happening. Your baby and dog can and will have an amazing life together full of memories (and mischief!) Comment below and tag us in photos of your children and their dogs! We lveo seeing these beautiful friendships blossom.
I do admit, this blog post has been a bit extreme. I believe, there are some dogs out there that are just meant to be around kids. They won't even budge when a child is climbing or pulling on them. However, I always air on the side of caution. As a trainer and being in rescue for as long as I have, I have seen and heard very scary stories. I urge everyone to teach your dog to respect your baby. This will help them fall into place in the pack and have a fun, healthy and life long friendship with your child.
FIND A TRAINER NEAR YOU!
I wish I knew every amazing trainer, in every state. Here are a few!
Los Angeles - Lak9s
Central California - K9 Behavior College
Dallas - Dog Fit Dallas
New Jersey - Pack Leader Dogs