This topic is a big one. Many parents neglect, or dismiss the requirement to prepare a dog for a new baby or young children. They assume that since the dog loves them, so will it love the baby. And many parents get lucky and their dog bonds with the baby immediately, but even some dogs who are extremely well behaved with young children and babies are deeply uncomfortable. Those who are obviously unhappy being around babies and children are frequently given up for the safety of the child rather than seeking the knowledge and putting in the effort to prepare their dog.
Now, as much as I do believe that giving up a dog because you have had a baby is unacceptable, I am practical. There are very rare and extreme cases where a dog is not suitable to live with a child. In these very rare circumstances, yes I would deem a rehoming appropriate. However, the majority of cases that I have seen, are couples who have given up their family dog, due to a lack of appropriate preparation.
Put yourself into your dog’s position for a while. A little baby arrives at home; it seems to be a human, but it smells, sounds, and moves like nothing your dog has ever seen before. Suddenly this strange, loud creature is taking up all of his owners’ time and attention. Not to mention all of this new baby stuff in the house.
Dogs do not come already knowing what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour around children. They're reactions to being hurt or irritated may not be what we would want to see from them. And as such, it is our job to ensure we prepare and teach them before they are put into an unfair situation. In the video above, I briefly run through some of the points that must be addressed. And in this article, I go through things in a little more detail. But, every household is different, every family is different, and every dog is different. As such, it is always advised to seek the help of a professional to ensure you are doing everything you can to ensure the safety and comfort of your family.
With this in mind, we know that preparing your dog can not only keep your baby a lot safer but it may also save your dog’s life.
Dogs can be eager learners, but they can also exhibit what we as humans believe to be jealousy because they are no longer the centre of attention. What this actually is is a form of resource guarding, which in essence is more primal and can be a more dangerous and thus, more important that it is addressed.
But by planning ahead, taking the right steps and asking when you need help towards preparing your dog, you can help create a bond between your new addition and their four-legged older sibling which will be like none you have witnessed before.
So what are the steps required to prepare? Of course, I will run through what is generally required for basic preparations. However, this is by no means an exhaustive plan and, I will state again, that every situation is slightly different and some areas may need to be focused on more to ensure the safety and comfort of all involved. And some dogs may require some real behavioural modification work to ensure they are comfortable with the newest member of the household. These additional preparations or differences in the preparations are by no means deal breakers, but, if your dog does exhibit some behavioural challenges in any way, it is very important that you have someone look at the situation so you can do your best to not only prepare for the arrival of your baby but also the safety and comfort of yourself when having visitors or walking your dog with your baby.
Anyone who has worked with or knows any of us at Noble Canine, will know that we work on a four system break down, so I will do the same here. Physical Management, Training and Trained Stacks, B.A.T. (Behavioural Adjustment Training) Exercises, and Conceptual Rehabilitation.
Management Solutions. Consisting of physical barriers and actions done to prevent or encourage behaviour rehearsal. Although these are fast acting, these are not always the most practical or long-term solutions, and are certainly not something which you should have to live with for the rest of your dog’s life.
Training Solutions. The bread and butter of most training. Solidifying your dog’s ability to follow these by turning them from commands, which are done like tricks, into cues (prompts rather than demands, this gives a stronger reliability to what is needed from your dog) which can be performed in even stressful situations. The hardest part of this is for the human, knowing what cues to use in what succession during which situations is what makes this so effective.
B.A.T. (Behavioural Adjustment Training). This method shapes your dog’s brain by creating a situation where your dog makes the decision that you desire in a particular scenario. It is very effective in situations in which your dog reacts negatively to a specific stimulus or trigger. Effectively, by having your dog make the decision and being shaped towards said decision, the behaviour is solidified and no longer needs to be reinforced.
Concept Training. This involves tackling the root cause of the behaviour to eliminate it completely. This method can seem a little disjointed from the actual behavioural issue. However, when done consistently and correctly, it is by far the most effective way to help your dog cope in the world. A good example for this article would be when tackling a dog with a fear of children. We would break this fear down into its most simple sections; novelty, sound, sight, smell, touch. We will then perform games and exercises which will address each of these components, rather than simply addressing the fear of children. This way, we not only overcome this particular fear, but increase the dogs’ ability to cope with all aspects of novelty, loud noises, fast erratic movement and being touched.
Running through these 4 components may make this sound over simplified to some, and over complicated to others. Rest assured, this is simply the methodology used to build the most appropriate preparation system for your situation. I give it in this article so that those who are in a more simple situation can fully understand and execute the preparation to the best of their ability.
Management In The Home With Dogs & Babies
We all need our own space sometimes. Dogs are no different. However, some dogs don't realise that they do. This is where management comes in to ensure we can keep our dogs and children safe at all times with some fairly simple management rules set up.
Baby-Proofing: Whether a household has dogs or not, this is something that all parents-to-be must do. However, when you have dogs, we have a few other considerations to think about. Get your home ready for a crawling or walking baby in advance of your baby doing so. If there are areas that will soon be off limits to your dog, make sure you set up gates or barriers before your baby’s arrival. This means that your dog gets used to these areas being off limits before the arrival of your little one.
Safe Zones: For your dog. We already have an area out of bounds for your dog. Now, let's think of the same for the baby. This can be as simple as a crate, or penned area. Or a room, if you have the space. It is very important that you prepare this well in advance of the arrival of your baby. This way the dog sees the area as a safe space and somewhere they can go to rest and have alone time. Never ever, send them to their safe space as a punishment.
Boundaries: When the baby comes home, some of your dog’s privileges will likely change. It will be easier for you and your dog to institute new rules in advance.
Play pens are great boundaries to ensure the safety of both baby and dog. And although they are only effective for around 18 months (Less with our girl, who figured out the escape quicker than we hoped), they are invaluable during the initial stages of having babies and dogs in the same home for the first time. If you don’t want your dog on the furniture or the bed after the baby arrives, introduce that restriction now. If your dog is used to sleeping in your bed and you want that to change with the baby’s arrival, it’s time to get a comfortable dog bed. If necessary, you can place the new bed in an exercise pen or a crate to prevent your dog from jumping during the night. Likewise, if you want your dog to sleep in another room when the baby arrives, establish this habit well in advance.
Baby Items: Baby items are big and there is lots of them. (Many of which you don't really need, but that is just my personal opinion). Get as many, if not all, of the required items well in advance of your little ones arrival to ensure your dog has ample time to get used to the space changes and restrictions which may come with it. For example; - Your dog's bed is beside your bed. You get a crib and it is now in that location. Well, the dog needs to get used to that before the arrival of the baby. - Your dog's food is prepared on a certain area of the counter. Well now there is a steriliser there, so that changes too. These are just 2 very simple examples of literally more than I could type out in this article.
Effectively, the management for babies comes as practicalities which should be put in place prior to the babies' arrival.
Basic Training & Solutions
Most people who have had their dogs for a while have basic training in place. But, must people also have not thought about how to use this training in practical situations, let alone in baby-specific situations. Getting your dog ready with fine tuning basic obedience is highly beneficial. This is to make sure your dog has basic manners and does not put you or your baby at risk with general disobedience. Any Noble Canine clients will know about the Toolbox Ten, a set of commands/cues which can be used to build solutions and make the creation of B.A.T exercises much easier. But, for the purpose of this article we will look at the very basics for preparing your dog for a baby, the commands consist of:
Sit, Stay, Lie Down, Wait: These skills can help your dog learn to control impulses, and they’ll prove useful in many situations. You can teach your dog to lie down and stay whenever you sit in your nursing chair
Leave it and drop it: These two behaviours can help you teach your dog to leave the baby’s things alone. No one wants to be running after a dog with a ‘blankie’ while the baby cries the house down.
Greet people politely: A jumping dog can be irritating at best and dangerous at worst. Imagine holding the baby while your dog jumps up to tell you they love you. Or trying to introduce a family member wanting to visit the baby.
Calm in a designated area: Being able to send your dog away to their own area is a huge plus when you have a baby. Although we touch on this in management, the training of how to act in this area is also an important factor. Whether it is an appropriate crate (previously crate-trained), a dog bed or basket, having a designated area for your dog means you’ll know where your dog is, that they are safe when you can’t supervise them, and that they have a cosy place of her own to relax when things get hectic.
A strong recall: Coming to you when called makes life a lot easier in general, let alone when you have a baby with you.
Hand targeting/ Touch: If your dog is nervous or timid, teaching a hand target where your dog’s nose will touch your hand when presented will give your dog something to do when around the baby, which might mean the difference between your dog feeling uncomfortable and feeling comfortable and confident.
Gentle fetch: You may have to teach your dog from scratch or they may be a fetch expert. Either way gentle fetch is a great way to teach your dog to have a safe interaction with your baby.
B.A.T. (Behavioural Adjustment Training)
Although B.A.T can become very complex and involved at a higher level, for basic preparation, most as as simple as possible. Some can be as simple as encouraging different behaviour, in different situations or environments. I always advise to start with the most simple of exercises to help your dog deal with the new environment which is about to be created with the introduction of your baby.
Routine & Environmental Changes. Doing this is almost contrary to what you did when your dog was first brought into your household. But life with a baby can be unpredictable, so it is important to make sure this is not disruptive to the point of changing your dog’s behaviour. One thing which is all too often missed during these simple exercises is ensuring you give a high rate of reward for simply accepting the changes. For example, if breakfast every morning is given at 7am sharp, start feeding at random times between 6am – 10am. Start at 0710, next day 0650, then 0720... you get the trend. Do the same for your dog’s walks; change the timing gradually to get them used to this potential inconsistency. You may consider hiring a dog walker to take over the responsibility of exercising your dog, at least for the first few weeks after the baby arrives. If you decide to do this, find a walker in advance so that your dog gets used to leaving your house without you but with the walker.
Getting used to the baby’s routine: Start going through a baby routine before the arrival of the baby. You can practise getting up in the middle of the night and teaching your dog to settle quietly in an area where you plan to nurse the baby. Include changing, feeding, rocking and walking with an empty stroller. You may get some funny looks but it will be very much worth it when your dog is fully prepared for your baby’s arrival.
Time away from home. The likelihood of you being able to get out for the long jungle walks or trips to the dog park the way you used to, before having a baby is quite slim. So, if your dog enjoys these long walks, or playing with other dogs, consider a dg walker or doggie day-care once or twice a week after the baby comes. As with the dog walker, explore your options now, and have your dog spend time at the day-care so this activity isn’t new when there is also a new baby.
Attention & Involvement. As tempting as it is, you do not want to lavish your dog with affection just before the baby comes, only to have it stop when your attention is being drawn elsewhere. This is where ‘Calm in a designated area’ is essential. Spend less time giving your dog attention for a few weeks before the baby’s arrival. With this said, you do not neglect your dog either. Allow your dog to be involved in certain activities involving the baby. For example, story time, or playing on the mat.
Going to their Safe Zone. This exercise is slightly more complicated, but very much worth while. It must also be coupled with the conceptual exercises of desensitisation described in the next section. It is important that this exercise is not attempted without the assistance of a professional. Doing so without the ability to read your dog can regress your dog's behaviour and even create issues. This is where we work with the dog and set them up to experience some movements, noise etc.. which would eventually create a level of discomfort, ensuring we read them and give them the option to go to their safe zone before they become uncomfortable. This is repeated with a high rate and value of reward to ensure that they make this decision in real life situations regarding the baby.
Baby Noises. Similarly to how we desensitise a dog who is anxious with fireworks or other loud noises, we will do the same for baby noises. Play various baby sounds in your house, baby TV or baby noises on YouTube. Start quietly and for a short time, and gradually increase the volume and duration so your dog can adjust to the new sounds before you bring the baby home.
Baby Stuff. It’s common to walk into a home with a baby and see toys all over the living room, a bouncer in the corner and diapers on the counter. However, these common baby items aren’t nearly as familiar to your dog. Set up your crib, changing station and have everything you need for your baby well in advance so your dog gets used to all of this.
Baby Smells. Acclimate your dog to baby smell prior to your baby’s arrival. Include baby lotion, powder, nappies/ diapers etc.
Handling. In an ideal world, both baby and dog will be gentle with each other at all times. The dog will not be startled by the movement of the baby. And the baby will not do anything rough with the dog. However, babies will need to learn to respect their dog’s space and wishes over time. This means you have to prepare your dog for the touching, pulling, grabbing and moving that the baby will do before reaching the stage that they learn. Do this very gradually and gently slowly at first, almost like a massage, building up to more realistic movements and handling. As soon as you are able to, you should teach your child to respect your dog. But, not knowing any better, young babies often grab dogs’ fur, ears, tails and anything else within reach. To prepare your dog for this inevitability, accustom it to the types of touching you can expect from your baby, including grabbing, poking, pushing and pulling. If you teach your dog that good things happen when being poked and prodded, those potentially uncomfortable interactions with the baby will be better tolerated. Do this by gently poking/ grabbing/ pinching like a strange massage etc… your dog and then give them a treat. At the same time using a happy tone, say something like “Oh, what was that?” each time. With repetition, your dog will start to anticipate tasty treats and simply associate these actions as positives.
Movement. Some dogs have never seen a human crawl, so it can be an intimidating experience, especially because crawling is right at their eye level. With this in mind it is a good idea to help your dog get used to crawling before your baby starts to become mobile. Doing this is as easy as it can be fun! Crawl toward your dog. As soon as your dog lifts their head to look at you, pet and give treats. Eventually, the association with a crawling human is a positive one. Everyone in the family should participate in this exercise. When your baby comes and your dog is completely comfortable with this new game, bring the baby into the game, too. Have your baby sit on your back, supported by your partner, when you crawl. Remember to cuddle your dog and give treats so that your dog continues to enjoy this strange, new human behaviour.
With all of the information given above, it is important to understand that it is given in mind that the dog does not have any significant understanding behavioural issues. If this is the case with your dog, you can still prepare with great success. However, you must address the outstanding behavioural issues with a professional to ensure you are doing everything you can to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone in your family.
This subject is one that has very recently been a very real situation in our own home, and one that is very close to my heart. As such I do urge anyone finding themselves in a situation where they are expecting, or if they are struggling with their dog and baby after the arrival, to reach out and ask for help.
"Asking for help isn't giving up, it's refusing to give up.” ― Charlie Mackesy