|Dog Tip: Preparing Dogs and Other Pets for Life With Baby|
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* Core concepts
Follow these tips to avoid problems and prepare your dog for living with a new baby.
* Remember, pets need time to adjust to changes in the household, so start preparing gradually and well in advance.
* Dogs depend on their owners to socialize them to new people and situations.
* Dogs are pack animals and packs have a hierarchy. It's common for the family dog to be sensitive to appearance or departure of individuals in their pack, or household.
* Changes in the home may trigger behavior changes. Most dogs can learn to accept newcomers once if given time to adjust, but the length of this adjustment period varies.
* Be aware you and your spouse and other human family members may convey stressful feelings. Try to keep calm, and also do your best to shield the dog from your stress. Again, you want your dog to perceive the change (the addition of a new baby) as peaceful and pleasant as possible. Dogs, like young children, thrive on routine, security and calm environments.
Before the baby is born:
* Prepare for the arrival of a new baby far in advance. Start with obedience training for the dog. Teach the dog to pay attention to you as leader, and to "sit," "stay" and "down." Be serious about training your dog to sit, lie down and stay on command.
* Teach your pet - using consistency, kindness and positive methods - that you are the pack leader and to follow your directions. This is common sense, but not common reality. Animals are very tuned into social order, so make sure you are always the top-ranking animal in your household. That way, your pet will be less likely to challenge your baby since it belongs to the family leader.
* Teach yourself a new habit: regularly praise your pet for good, calm behavior.
* Set up the nursery and rearrange furniture as needed in any other rooms months ahead. Realize that pets are very sensitive to changes. You do not want your pet associating a bunch of sudden household changes with the arrival of the new baby, so redecorate and rearrange far in advance - so that the only big change after the birth will be the baby's homecoming. Which of course is a huge change in itself.
* Dogs are very sensitive to movement, so set up the automatic rocking swing far in advance and have it going hours on end. This will help desensitize most pets to the swing. However, still do not leave a baby unattended in a swing when your dog has access to that room.
* A dog could accidentally hurt a baby just by jumping up in a friendly greeting. Be sure to break any bad habits such as jumping long before life gets complicated later as the pregnancy advances.
* Integrate training periods for your dog in your daily routine. Often, training won't take extra time out of your day with a simple change of focus.
* Overly dependent dogs may try to compete with a baby for attention. Start building your dog's independence through obedience training and getting behavioral advice.
* Schedule a vet visit to see that your dog is healthy and free of parasites.
* Set up the nursery long before the baby is born so that your pet will have time to gradually acclimate to changes - and so that she will not associate so many sudden changes with the arrival of the baby.
* Find an effective barrier for keeping pets from the baby's room and other off-limits areas. For example, a screen door for cats, gates for dogs. Make sure each pet has a special pets-only place to retreat to when in need of a break from the hubbub. For cats, this can mean several hiding places around the house. Place a water bowl, bed, litter box for a cat, and even some worn, unwashed owner clothing in this pet place.
* Put baby powder on a baby doll to help prepare the dog for new smells. Carry the doll around as you do things around the house. Engage in baby-care activities in front of the dog such as changing a diaper. Teach the dog to sit-stay while you're holding the doll. Let the dog sniff near the doll only if and when the dog is calm and under control. Also, introduce your dog to the baby's room.
* Reward your pet with gentle words and caresses so that it forms a positive association with the baby doll (and eventually, the real baby).
* Acclimate pets to baby sounds in advance, since such strange noises can make a pet feel playful, nervous or in rare cases, aggressive. Make a tape recording of your infant or someone else's when crying, cooing, screaming, gurgling, laughing, etc. There are also CDs available with baby sounds (see the list near the end of this tipsheet).
Play the tape or CD at gradually increasing volume while rocking a swaddled doll. Alternative this with playing the sounds while practicing obedience commands. Praise your dog for desirable behavior verbally and with treats. Strive for the dog to be relaxed when in the presence of the tape and the doll.
* Introduce your pet to unique "baby smells" using baby lotions, diapers and borrowed blankets with baby smells on them. A great resource is the Pet Prep kit listed near the end, which includes a booklet, baby product samples and CD with baby sounds.
* Practice walking your dog with an empty carriage or stroller to teach the dog how to behave on future walks with you and the baby.
* Get your pet used to having less attention each day, but make sure her needs are met - including socialization and exercise -by focusing on quality time.
* See important guidance at hsus.org/ace/13946
* To debunk a myth, cats don't suck air from babies' lungs. However, it's still wise to keep pets out of the baby's room. And keep baby items out of pet's reach. A disgruntled or possessive cat might urinate on baby items.
Just after the baby is born:
* Before baby comes home from the hospital, bring home the blanket or towel the baby was wrapped in, or a piece of baby clothing. Also, the new dad should have baby scent and mommy scent on his hands. Let the dog smell the scent and then the blanket/clothing. Do not play tug-of-war with this item. You may place the baby blanket where the dog sleeps if the dog acts calmly toward the blanket.
* Put the blanket, towel or baby clothing away after letting the dog smell it. Each time that dad comes home from the hospital he should have mommy and baby scent on his hands. This way when the baby comes home the dogs have already "met" the baby and it is not something totally new.
* When first bringing baby home from the hospital, greet the dog separately, in a calm manner. Be sure to spend some quality time with the dog, no matter how tired you are. And do not panic or yell at the dog, since you do not want the dog to associate the little newcomer with nervous feelings or alarm.
* Do not banish him outside. This is not only unkind, but counterproductive, since you want to maintain socialization and also make sure the dog does not associate "new baby" with "loss of my place in the family and home." Instead, when separating the dog from initial baby-time activities, place the dog in a pleasant, familiar place in the home.
Isolating a dog outside will stress the dog and result in undesirable behaviors. Such isolation is one of the biggest mistakes many parents make. Dogs depend on their owners to teach them good behaviors and to socialize them to new things and new people, including children and babies.
* As soon as you're ready within the first day or so, introduce the dog and baby. Have a responsible adult hold the dog on a short leash and place the dog in a controlled sit-stay or down-stay across the room. Naturally, another adult is holding the infant.
* Continue this over the course of several days, gradually bringing the dog closer to the baby as long as the dog remains calm and under control. Speak and act in a reassuring and relaxed manner. After and only after several weeks of completely successful sessions, you can let your dog off the leash -- but with caution, and with two responsible adults present.
* Save the most positive praise you give your dog to times for when the baby is present. The goal is to teach the dog to associate the baby with good things and to be calm in the baby's presence.
* Place treat jars around the house, so that when you engage in baby activities such as changing diapers and feeding the baby, you can offer your dog a treat so he will associate the baby with pleasant experiences.
* The dog needs you to include him, not exclude him. Integrate the dog in "baby time." Place the dog in a long sit-stay in the room when you're with the baby. Some trainers recommend "downs," but it depends on the individual dog and situation. One trainer suggested that putting the dog into a down may be too subordinate a position at first. Also, long sits can be easier for interaction purposes. In any case, you want the dog, or any other pet, to associate baby time with "good time," not "banished from the room or house" time.
* Have one individual hold or feed the baby while another gives the dog positive attention (though don't excite the dog). Consider giving the dog food treats when she is acting well around the baby.
* Make sure the dog is given attention and exercise every day, even at the beginning - even if it's just 10 minutes a day - despite your change of routine, so the dog does not feel he must now compete with the new baby for attention. Dogs notice the change in attention. Use the time to work on obedience commands, grooming, petting and massaging your dog.
* Never leave dogs and young children unsupervised together, and never give the dog access to baby when adults aren't monitoring them. For example, shut the door to the nursery, or crate the dog. Some dogs not recognize an infant as a human and therefore, may not have normal inhibitions in their actions toward them. Do not leave babies or toddlers alone with dogs.
* Realize that some dogs may become nervous, and a few may become agitated and thus potentially aggressive, when exposed to baby swings. That's why it's critical to have the empty baby swing swinging for hours a day, starting weeks or months in advance, to desensitize the dog. Even when taking that step, you still should never leave a baby in a swing, or anywhere else, along with a pet.
* Parents should make sure the dog has a safe, pleasant place to retreat in the home that cannot be accessed by babies or children.
* Be patient in allowing your dog to get used to the new infant. If the dog seems to have trouble settling down after you follow the tips above, be sure to consult a behaviorist-trainer for personal guidance. It is well-worth the investment.
* Any dog who has shown predatory behavior toward small animals, food or possession guarding, or any other aggressive tendencies will require special attention and management.
* If you have any doubts about your dog's behavior toward the baby, consider using a muzzle during the introduction and training sessions mentioned above.
* Keep in mind that an infant can be harmed by a dog no matter regardless of breed or size.
* Keep the dog's nails trimmed. You should deter your dog from jumping on the baby, but just in case you lose control, trim, smooth nails are better.
* If you use a baby-sitter, direct the sitter to keep the child and dog separate. It is advised to use only sitters who are mature and who also have dog experience.
* Store dirty diapers in a place that the dogs cannot access.
* Some dogs will be inclined to guard the baby and alert parents to the baby's crying, while others might initially perceive the infant as a threatening stranger.
* Some dogs and cats may try to mark (urinate or defecate) near the baby's bed, bedding or clothes. This is another reason to follow the tips above about using a baby doll and introducing the dog to baby items before the baby comes home from the hospital. The marking has to do with claiming territory and relieving stress, not spite. So do not punish this behavior, since punishment tends to only increase stress. Instead, take steps to prevent this behavior, such as by giving the dog attention and blocking the dog's access to baby items.
Books about pets and babies:
There's a Baby in the House!, by Mike Wombacher
Childproofing Your Dog: A Complete Guide to Preparing Your Dog for the Children in Your Life, by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson
Your Dog and Your Baby: A Practical Guide, by Silvia Hartmann-Kent
There are other good books to read, especially if you have a dog who has behavior issues. See the appropriate categories of the recommended Books for Pet People free Dog Tipsheet at http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_Books.php
Websites about pets and babies:
Article that includes some new resources: "Their First 'Baby' Was a Dog; How Will It Handle the Real Deal?" Appeared June 2, 2008 in the Wall Street Journal
Introducing Your Pet and New Baby, including Cat-Related Advice
Introducing a New Arrival by Nancy Corliss
Also see free Dog Tipsheets on Children and Dogs. Skim the index at http://www.paw-rescue.org/PAW/dog_tips.php
Classes in the DC metro area:
Pets and Babies
Pet Prep Kit including book, CD with baby sounds, door hanger, lotions, diaper
Crib Tent II
Article by Robin Tierney about Preparing Pets for New Babies
When Baby Makes Four...or More
Three days after Melody Kisor brought her newborn Will home, her lab/greyhound mix ran away from home - to his dogsitter's house four blocks away. Charlie had darted out as the new Alexandria mom struggled with baby gear at their front door. "Like a jealous sibling, he felt he needed attention."
Kisor, a childbirth educator who runs The Baby Duck, shares what she has learned since then with expectant parents in "Pets and Babies,"possibly the only class of its kind in the DC area. "I started teaching it 18 months ago when nearly all of the questions raised during my Infant Safety class were pet-related."
"I learned so much at the class," says Darcy Troutman, an expectant mom in Arlington who has a doberman/boxer mix and two cats. "Secure your dog on leash when your child plays in a bouncy seat, use tin foil to discourage cats from entering the nursery, how to safely put both dog and baby in the car." The latter entails securing the dog in a safety harness, or gated-off part of the vehicle, so he can't accidentally step on the child.
"Get as much as possible done before baby comes, so that the pet does not associate the changes with the baby. Prepare the nursery, have the mechanical swing going all day long to desensitize dogs, and practice walking the dog with a stroller," advises Kisor. If there's any chance your pet might get aggressive with children, see an animal behaviorist to nip that problem in the bud.
Dog trainer Michael Wombacher wrote the book There's a Baby in the House! to help expectant parents teach their dogs good behavior and accustom them to reduced attention in anticipation of the new baby's arrival.
One common mistake, says the San Francisco trainer: "Indulging and coddling your dog as if he or she is the number one event in your life right until the moment the baby arrives. The dog will figure out that the baby is responsible for this sudden shift and thus you set the stage for an incredibly competitive dynamic."
Another mistake: "Overlooking behaviors that definitely wouldn't be acceptable with a child around. For instance, food stealing, leash pulling, object guarding." Start training now, not after the baby arrives.
"The overwhelming majority of dog behavior problems are directly related to the owner's unwillingness to provide structure, guidance and authority for their dog." So, Wombacher explains, "the owner will not be able to provide the necessary leadership to help the dog deal with these changes in the pack structure."
Wombacher advising teaching key commands such as down-stay before the baby is born. And then help the dog associate the baby's presence with attention from you by teaching him to be alone, crated or in a separate room, while the baby is asleep, then bring the dog into the family circle when the baby is awake. "Most people do it the other way around: when the baby's asleep, play with the dog; when the baby wakes up, throw the dog out. What does this teach the dog?"
This year, Jan Kilby, a community health nurse at Franklin Square Hospital in Baltimore County, created the Pet Prep kit to help parents-to-be prepare dogs and cats for changes - and avoid the heartbreak of giving up a pet. The $20 kit includes a handbook, baby sounds CD, "Pet Time" door hanger, baby lotions and a diaper to familiarize pets with the scent and sounds of a newborn.
When working with animal behavior specialists, says Kilby, "I was amazed that much of [the guidance] was very similar to the structure that you set for your child. Pets are like young children that never grow up."
Among Kilby's tips: Stop allowing pets to sleep on your bed; give them their own comfy beds. She also debunks myths; for example, cats don't suck air from babies' lungs. However, it's still wise to keep pets out of the nursery. Cats may show possessiveness by urinating on or scratching at baby items, so keep them out of reach. Also make sure the pet has his or her own special place to escape baby-centered hubbub.
"The biggest problem that new parents with pets encounter is the 'time' issue," notes Kilby. Pets may be overwhelmed by the sudden appearance of "baby" and all of the baby items - and confused and upset by the loss of attention. "Preparing both owners and pets for the changes, especially less time spent with each other, will help everyone adjust."
"New parents give up on their pets too early in the game because they are feeling overwhelmed," observes Tammy Barney of Laytonsville, mother to a newborn, toddler and four dogs. "As time goes on, you will have more time [for your animals]."
To help prepare pets, Barney recommends "Have daddy bring home the scent of the baby on a blanket before baby and mommy come home from the hospital."
One big thing Troutman learned in Kisor's class: "Set up the nursery far in advance to give your pets time to get used to the crib, the toys...so the only thing new will be the baby coming home. Which will be new for us too!"
Article by Michael Wombacher, pet behavior specialist and author, There's a Baby in the House!
Preparing your Dog for the Arrival of your Child
Congratulations! You're pregnant and your "pack" will soon be growing. If you're like most people, you're caught between anticipation and trepidation. You're thrilled about the arrival of your new child and youíre concerned about doing everything right. If you own a dog, certainly some of your concern revolves around him. Youíre probably asking yourself: "How will my dog handle this? Will he be jealous? Will he be careful?" And most importantly: "Is there any chance that he might bite my child?" If you're not concerned, you should be. Approximately 80% of dog bites happen to children under five.
I have recently written a book entitled, There's a Baby in the House: Preparing your Dog for the Arrival of your Child, which helps you find your way through these concerns, answer important questions, and set the stage for a warm and mutually beneficial relationship between your dog and your new child.
The flow of the book follows the steps an owner should take in order to assess their dog, build a solid relationship, eliminate any potential behavior problems long before the child arrives and ensure a smooth transition after it does. Too many people, failing to consider the dramatic implications that the arrival of a child has for a dog, overlook this important issue and end up re-homing their dog within three months of their child's arrival. A tragedy, and in most cases entirely avoidable.
If you're an expectant dog owner the very first thing that you should do is to identify the changes that need to be made in the life of your dog once the baby arrives and implement them NOW!
You do not want our dog to associate any changes that need to be made in your relationship with the arrival of your child thus setting up a competitive or jealous dynamic. Not only that but once your baby arrives you'll have precious little time or energy for dealing with any errant behavior on the part of your dog. All your attention will be on your baby where it should be.
Failing to implement relevant changes in the life of your dog prior to baby's arrival is the single most common mistake expecting dog owners make. And keep in mind, things that you do not consider problematic now might become problematic with a child in your midst.
So take a careful look: is your dog sleeping in bed with you, pushy and demanding, barky, prone to steal things and get into mischief when you're not looking? If so, better deal with it now. Does he get tense when you try to take things away from him, touch him in certain ways, or get near his food? Does he pull on the leash, crash out the door or jump up on you to say hello?
Again, you might tolerate such behaviors now, but they will seriously compromise the quality of your life with a baby in tow. Such issues are relatively easy to deal with and in the book I have outlined simple steps to enable you to resolve them.
More serious problems include over-protectiveness, separation anxiety (yes, your dog will need to learn to spend time alone and not as the center of your undivided attention once your baby arrives - no small feat for many dogs), and sensitivity to sudden and unpredictable movements.
These problems and many others that are addressed in the book are readily resolvable but the lynchpin of the successful resolution of any behavior problem is building the right relationship with your dog, a relationship in which your dog is in the deeply ingrained habit of taking direction from you. In other words, you're the boss, not the dog. Funny as it might sound, it's often the other way around and that's why the first third of my book, entitled "The Doggie Twelve-Step Program," is dedicated entirely to relationship building. From that foundation almost anything is possible.
Simple things like always giving your dog a command before you have an interaction with him, not letting him run out the door ahead of you, and being a little aloof with him can do a world of good in causing your dog to cheerfully accept your leadership role.
In a minority of cases, the question arises as to whether or not the dog you have right now would be appropriate to keep given the arrival of a child. In the chapter dedicated to this subject I offer four factors to consider if your dog has bitten or threatened to bite you under various circumstances.
The first factor is threshold of reactivity. In other words, how much of a certain stimulus is required in order to make the dog reactive. The second is level of intensity. How ferocious is your dog in his response? Third is previous history. How long has your dog been doing this? The longer, the worse.
And fourth, there are crossover considerations. For example, let's say your dog is mildly annoyed by your approach to his food dish while he is eating but he has injured other dogs in altercations at the park. I would view this as a red flag because of my concern that if your child wandered around his food dish he might be more likely to respond to him the way he responded to the dog at the park (for dogs tend to view children as lower-ranking pack members unless consistently taught otherwise) for he does not have the same respect for him as he does for you. While the book does offer numerous solutions to aggressive behaviors, I suggest that if you are experiencing such issues that you hire a qualified behavior professional, not merely an obedience trainer, to help you resolve such issues and assess your dog. Keep in mind that some behaviors are not one hundred percent reversible and that the option of keeping your child and your dog separate at all times is a very bad idea, first because you canít assure no contact forever between them and that attempting to do so would cause the dog to view the child more as a stranger in his territory than a member of his pack. In some cases [editor's note: very rare cases involving aggression; most parents who give up dogs have not seriously tried to work with and prepare their dogs, and often the issue boils down to convenience and defeatist thinking] the best choice is to re-home the dog.
Assuming that your dog is not one of this rare minority, there are many things that you can do to help create not only safety but very positive associations for your dog with the presence of your child.
First, by creating zones in your house that your dog is by and large forbidden in without your specific permission and accompaniment, you build effective buffer zones into your dog's relationship with your child. Once these zones are established, you can also use them to teach your dog how wonderful it is for him when you are interacting with your baby.
Sound confusing? Here's an example. Start by making the future babyís room off limits to your dog. Once thatís handled allow him to enter the room only with your permission and accompaniment. Once in the room always ask him for certain obedience exercises, especially down-stays. Soon he'll get the idea that when he enters this room heís to do a down-stay in the corner (you could even put a bed for him there).
In addition, teach your dog to tolerate "alone time" every day to the tune of at least a few hours.
Now, once your baby arrives allow your dog to come into the baby's room when you go in to change diapers or play or whatever and assume his down-stay. If he has been left alone for a few hours prior to that, he will welcome the contact with and your child, even if it is low-level such as in this case. In other words, the presence of your child means a positive social engagement for him.
Contrast this with what usually happens which is that when mommy goes to play with or care for baby, doggie gets thrown out - thus potentially setting up a competitive or jealous dynamic. This is only one of many specific exercises that can teach your dog to accept your child as a beloved pack member and ultimately, a companion, the nuts and bolts of which are outlined in the book. Other things that you can do to ensure a seamless transition to siblinghood for your dog include
* Teaching him the difference between doggie toys and child's toys. Start by getting doggie toys that are distinctly different from baby toys since often these two bear striking similarities.
* Get a baby doll and wrap it in a scented baby blanket. Ask a new-parent-friend to use a new blanket on her baby for a few days and then wrap it around your doll. Teach your dog appropriate manners around your faux baby, thus setting up a "template of behavior" for future interactions.
* Hire a dog walker to take over exercise responsibilities during the period immediately after birth. This will take a lot of pressure off of you and produce a tired dog. The old adage that tired dogs are good dogs is definitely true.
One thing to keep in mind is that there should never be any unsupervised interactions between your dog and your child ever, for any reason, period! Can I be more clear than that? Remember, it only takes two seconds for something to go terribly wrong.
Also keep in mind that your true challenge and the true test of the success of your efforts at integration will be seen once your child passes the eight-month threshold. What happens then? Your little one starts crawling and rapidly becoming highly mobile. This means that the frequency of unexpected and random encounters between your child and your dog will increase dramatically. That's where you'll find that your hard work paid off.
In closing, please understand that what I've outlined above represents the tip of the iceberg of strategies designed to make the integration of your dog and your child as seamless, warm and rewarding as possible. While learning and implementing such strategies involves work, it promises a wholesome and fulfilling relationship between your child and your dog. The payoff of this relationship will last for years and thus makes any work you have to put in on the front end more than worth it.
I wish you the best of luck with the exciting events that are unfolding in your life. Few things provide a living connection to the mystery of life like the opportunity to be the vehicle for a new life entering this world. The fact that we participate in this mystery is in itself extraordinary and should be the source of the deepest joy. Providing a wonderful home for a dog, that most loyal and devoted of animal companions, in this context should only enrich this experience. With this in mind I leave you with best wishes and heartfelt blessings. -- Michael Wombacher.
For more of Robin's Dog Tips, see the index at www.paw-rescue.org
Partnership for Animal Welfare
|Last Updated: June 23, 2013 (LET)||PawSupport|