One of the most stress inducing issues dog owners face today is when they decide to start a family. Behaviors that are thought of as no big deal, accepted or swept under the rug suddenly become unacceptable when adding children to the mix. As dog trainers we come across this situation all the time. “My dog nips or tries to bite kids”… “My dog has food/toy aggression”… “My dog is just so wild and naughty we have to put him in another room when guests come over”… With many parents-to-be who find themselves with these dogs their first knee jerk reaction is that they will have to re-home their dog. Humane societies and breed rescues are bursting at the seams from dogs who found themselves there because a baby had arrived on the scene. This is what motivated me to co-author the DVD “Parenting Your Pack” How to Prepare Your Dog Before and After Baby Arrives. Being parents of young children that needed to live with older dogs, we wanted to educate people, save dogs and show families they could live cohesively as a pack.
If you have found yourself newly pregnant I am sure you have already started planning for your new arrival. You have nine long months to prepare for the changes that will occur in your home and lifestyle. While this is an exciting welcomed event, your dogs may not be in agreement since they have been the only “kids” in the house. Waiting for your baby to come home is not the time to start putting into place your plan for your dogs. In order to make this transition go as smoothly as possible, you will want to start doing things right now to prepare your dog for your new baby. Don’t worry, even if you have already brought home your bundle of joy, you can still make the peaceful transition.
It doesn’t matter what your dog’s misbehaving history entails. Dogs live in the here and now and from this day forward you can change things for the better. All it takes is setting new rules and boundaries that your dog will need to live by once the baby arrives. The key is getting them ready before the big day actually arrives. The worst thing you can do is let nine months go by crossing your fingers with hopes your dog will accept this new addition.
First, you need to turn your attention to how you are living with your dog and if your dog sees you as the pack leader. This is very important because once your baby arrives they will have to see them as a leader also. Therefore, ask yourself a few questions:
Can you walk your dog without him pulling you down the street?
Does your dog demand petting by nudging your hand?
Does your dog bark at you for attention?
Does your dog like to jump up on you or other people?
While these behaviors may be something that you have learned to live with, these behaviors can be potentially dangerous once your baby is home. It is imperative that these issues be managed before your baby arrives. Waiting until you bring home your newborn is not the time to get your dog to stop jumping on you. If your dog has not had any formal obedience training, this is the time to find a professional dog trainer to help teach your dog the basics. Obedience training not only strengthens the bond with your dog but gives you a handle on any problem behavior that may arise when your baby comes home. Most importantly, if your dog has shown signs of aggression in the past such as growling or biting (even nipping during play), seek out a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist immediately.
A tired dog is always a good dog. Make sure your dog is getting plenty of good energy draining exercise. Walking is a great bonding tool for you and your dog and the exercise is the best prevention for problem behavior. Your dog should be getting a minimum of 30 minutes a day of good steady walking (no stopping to sniff or going to the bathroom) with your dog at your side or behind you. If you feel like letting your dog stop to sniff or relieve themselves, you as the pack leader initiates when to walk and when to stop. If you are having issues with leash walking get some obedience training to help. Once your dog is walking nice on leash you can add your empty stroller to the walk. This way your dog will safely get used to the stroller and you will get plenty of practice maneuvering both a stroller and a dog. Nothing replicates a pack more than the whole family going for a walk together with the stroller out in front of everyone, including the dog.
For the first year or so your baby will be in your arms a lot and your dog is probably not used to you carrying something constantly, especially one that wiggles and makes lots of noise. Prior to your baby’s arrival, obtain a doll and carry it around with you and sit with it in your lap. Make sure you demand that your dog gives you space, doesn’t jump and learns to respect the new family member in your arms. This way when baby does come home your dog will be used to seeing something in your arms and already respect the boundaries of the new family member.
Many dogs have never heard the range of noises your baby will make. These new sounds can make your dog nervous, anxious or excited. There are a lot of resources out there such as cd’s of just babies crying and making noise. Now is the time to start playing these cd’s and desensitizing your dog to these new sounds. Play them while you are carrying your doll and just walking around the house. If while playing these sounds your dog exhibits any nervousness or anxiety do not coddle or pet your dog in an attempt to soothe them. Petting equals praise. If you share affection with your dog when they are nervous you are validating their nervousness and anxiety when they hear a baby crying since you now rewarded this behavior by petting them. Instead, redirect your dog’s attention to something other than the crying noises by working on your obedience commands or giving them something else to do besides focusing on the noise.
You may have noticed that your dog behaves a bit naughtier when their routines have been changed such as on holidays or vacations. Once baby arrives your daily routine will definitely change. Therefore, get your dog use to a different routine before it even occurs. Set up various times for walks, feedings and play time if your dog is use to doing things at certain times of the day. Your early morning walks may be impossible to do with the new baby. The weather may not cooperate, a sitter may not be available and face it you may just be too exhausted. Varying your dog’s schedule now will eliminate those moments of disappointment when your dog is anxiously waiting at the door for their walk because it occurs at the same time everyday. While your routine may change what should remain consistent is the order in which you do things. For example, walk first, mealtime, play and share affection.
The above are just a few things you can start doing to make the transition to family life a hassle-free one. Just as you are getting prepared for the new baby, you must also prepare your dogs. Having a baby comes with enough stress and anxiety already, making sure your dog will be able to live peaceably with your son or daughter does not have to be one.
If you want more information on how to introduce baby properly visit our website at www.pawsitivlyk9s.com for our DVD on parenting the pack.
Deanna Trampe: is a co-owner and instructor at Paws-itivly Behaved K9s. She is an AKC CGC evaluator and a professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals. She is truly “Parenting Her Pack” which includes her daughter and three dogs, a 13 year old beagle mix and two rescued rottweilers.