New Baby, “Bad” Dog, and Behavior Modification

As a new mother, and a life-long dog parent I am finally experiencing and understanding the true demands of being a multi-species mother!  As a trainer I have helped many clients prepare for their coming baby, but in going through this myself, I have adjusted my expectations, and what I will be teaching from now on. 

Every good behavior modification plan will include training and management.  Training will be the times you are working with your dog to increase or decrease a specific behavior, whereas management is the part of the plan intended to control the naughty behavior, by altering the environment.  Management is also often used to keep everyone safe during training; an example of this is using a muzzle.  

I want to pause here to explain two terms I will use in this blog, as I would define them:

Crate: The word crate, when used in this blog, refers to any safe confinement area that is at least large enough for your dog to stand up, lay down on his side, and turn around.  The space can also be as large as a designated room, but this must be a consistent space, where the baby does spend any time, that can safely restrain the dog.  The crate should be a positive and happy place, not a punishment.  

Muzzle:  For me, a muzzle is a very fun, and tasty tool, the way I use it, a muzzle most closely resembles a feed bag!  I like to fill a muzzle with peanut butter or cream cheese, treats, and snacks, and then freeze it to create a popsicle type treat that gets strapped right to your dog’s face-what could be better?

If you have a dog who has aggression, anxiety, fear, or any other behavior issues, and you have been working on this with a trainer, first of all, good for you!  Second, when you find out you’re expecting, you should talk to your trainer about changing your training plan.  This might seem obvious; of course you now have to focus your training on preparing your dog for your baby, but the approach I’m suggesting is a little different than what I have heard, and even suggested in the past.  

I would drop most of the training portions that don’t involve management. Invest your time in training your dog to tolerate,and even enjoy the management, rather than worrying about your behavior modification plan.  Your time will be better spent training your dog to wear a muzzle or spend some quiet time in his crate, than trying to cure a behavior problem before your baby arrives.  If your dog can safely and comfortably wear a muzzle, and calmly tolerate a crate, there is little he can’t do!  An even better way to look at it is that there is little he CAN do, meaning he can’t bite, jump, snap, or likely succeed in misbehaving, which is the whole point!  

Beyond teaching your dog to accept and tolerate most common management tools, you will also want to come up with a game plan for him once your baby arrives.  You won’t have the same time for him, no matter how much you want to!  Trust me, I’m a trainer, and fully consider my dog another child, but with a newborn she just can’t get the same attention she did before.  Don’t beat yourself up over this; instead have a plan!  Have a designated time everyday that you can be one-on-one with your dog, even if just for 15 minutes.  If you simply can’t ever be alone with the dog because you are parenting on your own, don’t worry, just think of his next favorite thing, and do that!  Does your dog love doggy day care, or have a favorite family member who visits?  Maybe you could send him to daycare a little more often when the baby first comes, or arrange for your family to come spend quality time with him while you adjust.  

My dog loves my mother, almost as much as me, so planning some extra visits with her really helped my dog to not feel left out, plus it gave grandma extra visits with her new grandchild.  Get creative, if your dog has a dog friend in your neighborhood, maybe inquire about a possible play date.  If your dog loves a walk through the park, but you don’t have time, consider a dog walker to take him on these longer jaunts.  Think about this before your baby comes and decide if you can budget time or money for your dog, and then decide how best to use the resource you can. 

A dog who happily trots into his crate, or shoves his face into a muzzle without hesitation, will mean a lot less stress for new parents!  This will provide you with a guilt free way to keep your baby, family and guests safe.  By utilizing the time you have to train for management, while you are pregnant, will ease a lot of pressure you are feeling once your newborn is home.  

If you haven’t worked with a trainer, or if your dog is fairly well behaved, but doesn’t tolerate these management tools, I strongly encourage you to seek a certified trainer to help you.  If you are in the New York City area, please feel free to reach out to us for help. 

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Positively Expert: Erica Lieberman

Erica Lieberman Wittenberg is the owner and founder of Pawsibilities New York. She hold two national, and three international dog training certifications from obedience to aggression. Erica has been a life long New Yorker, and a lover of all animals, big and small, from cats to horses!


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