Was your first baby a fur-baby? Many dogs accept a new baby without any problems. However, some don’t and some will need a lot of help adjusting to the presence of an infant. Here’re some Tiny Tot ABC’s to help you prevent common problems.
1. Prepare your beloved dog months in advance. Assess, ultra-socialize, train and desensitize before you bring your baby home. Encourage independence and slowly transition primary care-taking duties of your pup to your partner if helpful. Visit your veterinarian to get a wellness exam for your spayed or neutered dog.
2. Never leave a baby or child alone with a dog. Sufficiently provoked, any dog will bite. No dog should be trusted with a small child and no child should be trusted with a dog. The American Veterinary Medical Association has a must-read online brochure: What You Should Know About Dog Bite Prevention (www.avma.org). Your dog may not recognize your newborn as a human member of the family. The best rule may be not to allow the dog into the nursery. Secure it.
3. Personality profile. Assess your dog’s behavior toward infants, toddlers, strangers, as well as reactions to novel items, smells and situations. What’s your dog’s history? Does your dog have small-animal predatory tendencies, guarding behaviors, startle phobia or fear responses? If so, call a professional canine behavioral consultant for an assessment.
4. Address training and behavior issues before the baby arrives. Obedience requirements are: sit, down, stay, come, leave it, and calm leash-walking. Practice using voice-alone instructions with your dog. Train out the behaviors you don’t want. Private, distraction-free training and practice in your home can provide the best results. Don’t play aggressive games with your dog.
5. Learn to read your dog’s body language so you can tell if your dog is experiencing stress around your baby. Watch for avoidance or fixation, listen for vocalizations and notice how you dog looks when she’s happy. Be sure to provide lots of aerobic exercise. Employ a dog walker if your dog needs more fun!
6. Habituate and desensitize your dog to new baby sounds, gadgets, smells, and various baby routines by role-playing activities such as diaper changing and stroller walks with a doll. Dogs love routines. Check out Preparing Fido, a CD of crying, grunting, bathing, and giggling baby sounds www.preparingfido.com by the Humane Society of the United States. Everything associated with the baby should become the new normal. You don’t want your dog to be surprised or anxious about having a baby join the family.
7. Socialization to infants and children. Take your people-friendly dog to observe children at play. Encourage friends with infants to visit in order to accustom your dog the presence of babies in the home. Reward your dog with treats and soft praise for remaining calm in order to develop positive associations between them.
8. Create a "Dog Zone" sanctuary and a "Baby Zone". Enclose gated areas to keep them safely separated so both you and your dog can relax and your baby is safe.
9. Introduce your dog to your baby in a slow, gradual fashion. When coming home from the hospital, have Mommy come into the house alone and calmly greet the dog. Then put the dog on a leash and ask for a sit or down. Have your partner come in with the baby and either retreat to another room and save introductions for later, or if your dog looks relaxed, walk your dog calmly and slowly toward the baby and let him sniff the baby’s toes---not the face. Make it a non-event. Ideally, your dog will not be overly interested in the baby. Help your dog experience the arrival of the baby as a good thing.
According to renowned veterinarian Dr. Nicholas Dodman, “Share your attention with the dog when the baby is around.” This will help endear your baby to your dog and prevent “sibling” rivalry.
10. Seek professional help anytime you have concerns about interactions between your dog and family members, displays of aggressive, or guarding behaviors of items or people, sudden changes in your dog’s behavior, or conflict between dogs in the home. These problems need immediate intervention.
Ideally, parents ought to add a dog to the family after the children have reached the age of five but often that’s not the way life unfolds. Achieving harmony through proper preparation should have your fur-baby as happy as a lark to go for a stroller walk with you and your new baby!
Resources: Renowned dog and baby specialist, Colleen Pelar’s, Living with Kids and Dogs may be found at: www.livingwithkidsanddogs.com/. Her website is filled with helpful articles, an advice column and more. Attend a Dogs and Babies seminar or arrange for a private consultation in your home. And don’t forget www.DogsandStorks.com.
Linda Michaels, “Dog Psychologist,” MA, and Victoria Stilwell-licensed Del Mar dog trainer and speaker may be reached at 858.259.WOOF (9663) or by email: LindaMichaelsPositively@gmail.com for private obedience instruction and behavioral consultations near Del Mar and the San Diego Coast. Please visit us at DogPsychologistOnCall.com