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Help! We are having a baby. What should we do to prepare our dog?

'A New Baby in the Household'
 By Kate Meadows of C.L.E.A.R. Dog Training

 [Kate is an accredited Delta Canine Good Citizen Instructor. Her second baby, Grace, was born in April 2004. She and Graeme are the owner of Bailey a Red Kelpie rescued from the RSPCA in Brisbane whose best friend is their small son, Jonte]

The Basics

It is important to start planning early to make the transition from a pet household to a pet household with a new baby. You will need to think ahead and imagine what sort of changes will need to take place before baby arrives.

Start the training early, teach what you want your dog to do as opposed to what you don't want him to do. Make the transition as easy as possible so your dog does not associate a drop in attention and privileges with the arrival of the new member of his family.

 Preparation and Management

The first few weeks that the baby comes home you will need quite a sterile environment, so you may want to think about dogs which have previously been allowed on the bed/sofa perhaps having their own bed/crate in another room.

Make sure your dog's vaccination, flea and worming regimes are up to date. You may find that walking your dog is hard to fit in for the first few weeks home, so it is good planning to ask someone else to do that for you and let the dog get used to that person in advance. 

Dogs that jump up can be a nuisance when you are holding your baby so it is a good idea to train your dog to keep all four paws on the ground. This can be done by using an alternative behaviour such as sitting. Take your time to retrain your dog to greet people. Use a lead to start with and reward him for saying hello without jumping up, then gradually wean him off the lead.

You will need to look at management of your dog so that you.
 
Options to avoid this situation are: -

1.    Invest in a good playpen in which to place the baby 
2.    Use stair gates to keep the baby and dog separate
3.    Crate train your dog.
4.    It also pays to train your dog to spend more time away from you. For example, let him outside with a Kong or bone for a couple of hours a day.

Everything will be new to your dog, so as the nursery furniture and baby gear arrive give your dog a chance to sniff it and see where it is being set up.

Eventually you may want to walk your dog with the stroller. Firstly you need to train your dog to walk nicely on a loose lead, then - before baby arrives - start training your dog to walk safely next to you - not the stroller- without pulling. [If you have a very strong dog, you may need to look at new equipment to help you manage him, e.g. a properly fitted head collar. At C.L.E.A.R we always lend people the 20 minute video by Gentle Leader on how to use a head halter correctly.]

It is also worth considering the type of stroller you buy; four wheels tend to be more stable if you have a dog that lets his nose rule his head.

As the baby grows the dog's life becomes a lot trickier, with little hands wanting to pull his coat, tail and ears. Start preparing for the inevitable by handling and rewarding your dog for these actions in advance. Management and preparation is the key.

Practise touching your dog's coat when he is nicely relaxed. Increase the areas of the body touched/massaged over time to include ears, paws and tail. When the dog is happy with this you can practise pulling ears and coat gently in preparation for little hands.
 
Don't forget that as the child grows you can, in fact should, also teach him/her how to handle the dog gently. Teach your toddler how to stroke the dog and become involved in the feeding and grooming regimes.

Provide your dog with his own space where he is free from the baby; again a stair gate is very useful so the dog can be part of the family and see what is going on but is away from constant attention.

Food and Toys

If your dog is very protective over his food/toys/yourself you may need to seek expert advice on how to stop this behaviour, as it is potentially very dangerous with small children. Some exercises you should practise before the new arrival are:

As your dog is eating start adding nice treats to the bowl, so he learns that hands in and around his bowl are a good thing. When he is relaxed with this ask friends and other family members to do the same.

Practise taking food/bones/toys away from your dog and rewarding with good quality food treats and then returning the taken items and rewarding again. Practise teaching your dog to take food nicely, place a piece of food in a clenched fist let your dog sniff and then slowly open your hand so the food is on the flat of your palm so they gently take it.

Games

In order to have a nice calm dog around your small child you may need to alter some of the games you currently play with your dog. Stop any rough or aggressive play and tug of war games and replace with retrieve and fetch games. 

The Baby Arrives

When Mum and baby are still in hospital bring home a blanket or a couple of items of clothing that the baby has been wearing so your dog can get used to the strange new smell. On arrival home put your dog on a lead for safety but make sure it is loose so you don't pass stressful signals onto your dog. Let Mum sit down with baby in her arms and invite your dog to come and say hello and checkout the new baby.

Reward your dog for good behaviour, if the reaction is not so good take your dog away from the situation - do not tell it off. Try introducing them again a little later from a further distance and reward for good calm behaviour. Take it very slowly and reward frequently.

Your dog may well become 'jealous' of the time you are spending away from him. A classic example of attention seeking is when he is constantly under your feet with a real risk of tripping you up.

 You need to manage the situation, by putting the dog into a separate area whilst you go about daily chores. Crate training &/or tethering may also be useful for this situation. Remember to give your dog some exclusive time every day, even if it is only to do a little basic obedience, trick training, throw a ball etc. It will make all the difference.

As Time Goes On

Children can be very rough whilst experimenting and learning about play, they have very little concept of the pain they may inflict and every dog can and will bite if provoked. 

Once the toddler and dog have forged a good relationship you may decide to relax some of your house rules to give your dog back a bit of his freedom, but remember - no matter how much you trust your dog with your child NEVER, EVEN BRIEFLY, LEAVE THEM ALONE TOGETHER!
 
Recommended further reading

Books
Dogs and Children: A Behavioural Training Guide by Kaye Hargreaves of Wagging School Publications, 276 Glenlyon Rd, North Fitzroy, Victoria 3068.
RRP A$19.80

Your Dog and Your Baby
by Silvia Kent.
U$24.95 hard copy. Also available as an e-book.

"In this priceless book, Silvia Kent combines her deep knowledge of dogs with her knowledge of being a mother. Never before has there been such a need for the information contained within these pages. These are the answers to the questions and concerns mothers and mothers to be want to know about." John Fisher, Founder, The Association For Pet Behaviour Counselors (UK)

 


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