Planning for Success When The New Baby Arrives
Training Your Dog for the New Baby
Planning for Success
Warren G. Patitz
Copyright 2003 Updated 2011
Family pets are often relinquished because of the arrival of a new baby.
Getting rid of the family dog for convenience, can have unforeseen and profound consequences.
- It is stressful and confusing for the dog, and dogs do have feelings
- It can create tension in family relationships
- A bond of trust and respect has been violated
- The dog may be thrown into the huge pool of re-homed or destroyed pets
- It displays to others (and especially if there are other children in the home) that an animal is disposable. Is that the kind of message we want to send?
Dogs are incredibly sensitive. They are sensitive to changes in our routine and environment, (increased number of trips to the bathroom at night, fluffing the nest, redecorating, etc.). They are aware of changes in barometric pressure (think about dogs who know a storm is approaching!) as well chemical changes emitted from other animals and people: fear, anger, sadness, menses and… pregnancy.
The normal emotion of anxiety to a new stimulus (baby) can produce unpleasant behaviors that factor into the decision to get rid of a dog. By understanding and training, expectant parents/dog parents can modify that emotion, cultivate good behavior and help the family dog accept the new arrival with little problem.
Before we can change the dog’s behavior, however, we have to first change our own behavior!
View your dog as a family member, a friend and yes, a dog. Hopefully this is something you already do, but always worth a reminder.
Socialize your dog as much as possible. Expose him/her to favorable pleasantries outside the confines of your home and yard so he has a “global” experience.
Order in the Family:
Some degree of pack/social order will help your dog feel secure when the new arrival enters the dog’s life. Although many of us treat our dogs like little “fur babies,” they are not babies with fur. They are dogs whose genetic wiring deserve due respect. Dogs are followers and feel more secure if there is a thoughtful and benevolent leader.
If you have been treating your dog like a surrogate child, you may be in for a rude awakening. Jealousy is an emotion experienced by animals and can rear an ugly head if baby #1 (your dog) suddenly becomes displaced by the new baby #1. The last thing you want is for this new little human to be competition for attention.
Respectfully “demote” your dog. If the dog is sleeping in your bed, consider relocating their sleeping area to the floor sooner than later.
Cultivating impulse control:
Consider putting into place a program of, “No free lunch.” Eliminate “freebies.” This means that “to get something”, the dog has to “do something.” Example: before getting a scratch behind the ears, ask for a “sit.”
Before the dog gets to go out the doorway, he has to wait, etc. In other words, we want a dog that offers deference, or “gentle yielding” instead of barging and getting what he wants “on demand.”
At the end of this article are some simple exercises (think of them as “games”) to practice to help the dog with impulse control.*
Assault of the Senses:
First impressions are important! Make the special effort to introduce these new sense
experiences at very low levels with a calm, positive association! Over weeks, gradually
increase the intensity of these exposures. This routine change, shape, sound, smell = nice feelings for the dog.
How to go about this:
Acquire a baby-size doll. Hold and carry it in your arms like you will be doing and every
time you do this talk nicely to your dog and even toss some favorite treats on the ground
or offer them from your hand. Use a mantra like, “Here is our new family member” (or
use the baby’s name if you have one). The tone of your voice, your attitude and the
verbal signal will all cue the dog that this new experience is something that has good things to offer the dog. When the baby doll goes away, treats disappear and attention to the dog is faded out. Nothing special happens.
Visit the church nursery or a friend who has a new baby and record the crying and sounds. With all the new technology at our fingertips, you can do this with your phone. At home carry the recording device in a little blanket with the doll and play the sounds softly. As your dog listens, talk soothingly to the dog and make nice things happen. Treats and calm, extra attention. Put the baby and sounds “to bed” and that equates to some time of boredom for Fido.
Introduce your dog to the different smells a baby will provide. This includes baby
powder and lotion.
If dad can bring home a diaper or cloth from the hospital and rehearse the good association with the dog the day before the homecoming, great. (Don’t give it to the dog to carry around and shake!).
It is always a plus to have a tired dog, especially if it is one that is high energy. If a family member or friend has the opportunity to exercise the dog prior to arrival – that would be a good thing. A tired dog is a lot less anxious.
There is a saying, “There are no such things as accidents, only careless people.”
This emphasis cannot be too strong: Never leave your baby alone with the dog. Never.
Babies do not behave or sound like humans your dog is used to experiencing. To a dog, babies can look, sound and move like little wounded animals.
Aggression / Resource Guarding / Predatory Issues
If expectant parents have a dog with these issues, it would be best to consult with a knowledgeable behavior trainer.
Rehearse these “exercise games” with your dog to gently help them learn manners and self control. These will also cultivate a respectful regard for the parents as the pack “leader.” Pack leaders thoughtfully control and allocate resources, they do not yell and hit. The dog will also appreciate the structure these exercises provide.
Increase your dog’s tolerance to discomfort to raise their pain threshold. Lightly pinch or grab the fur and in a split second offer a good food/treat reward for tolerating this discomfort. Do this to all areas of the body, tail, ears etc., gradually increasing the discomfort by small degrees. Pinch/Reward. Pinch/Reward. Make sessions brief but routine and in different areas of the house. Be realistic and don’t proceed faster than your dog can tolerate.
Anticipate that as the baby begins to ambulate, the dog might be grabbed by little hands.
Everybody should feed their dog from their hand, thoughtfully. Ration out the dog’s food and use it to reward the dog for doing things you want, like coming to you, waiting, sitting.
If a dog takes food too aggressively from your fingers, help them to inhibit the force of their mouth. Start with low value food imbedded in the tips of your thumb, second and third fingers and offer to the dog. If the dog tries to take it too harshly, no food is delivered and you might turn to the side for a moment and pretend to eat the treat yourself. This behavior (hard mouth) = that consequence (food goes in person’s mouth).
Offer the treat again. At the first experience of the dog offering to take the food with a gentler mouth, provide the food from your fingertips. Move up the food value chain at the dog’s pace.
Expect that there will be a time when the baby has something in their hand the dog will want, or the baby will offer it to the dog.
Food Bowl Exercise
If dog approaches food bowl when placing it to the ground, bowl goes away. Repeat until you are able to achieve placement of the bowl on the ground and dog waits for approval to have the food. In the sequence of getting the bowl to the ground, reward the dog at each progression of success. Example, if dog remains composed positioning the bowl at three feet off the ground – reward. Progress to successful composure with the bowl two feet off the ground – reward, etc.
The objective is to develop impulse control. “I want it, I wait, I get it.”
Hand approaching food bowl
With dog present, bring hand with dry food in palm and place in bowl. Let dog eat. Repeat several times. Next, have uninteresting food in bowl and bring hand with better food to introduce into the bowl. The idea here is to condition the dog that a hand coming toward the food bowl is approaching to give something better! Practice taking away the dog’s food bowl and replacing it.
The objective is to condition the dog to tolerating hands fuddling with their food because there may be a time when dog and baby cross paths at the dog’s food bowl.
The habit of barging through doorways should be modified to where the dog waits for approval to exit. Life is easier and calmer if dogs are trained to “wait.” Door opening = wait. This is done much like the food bowl exercise (or any exercise for that matter) in (uh hm) “baby steps.”
Hand approaches the doorknob- if dog remains steady – reward dog with a treat. If dog gets crazy – hand withdraws from the door knob and back to your side. At any stage of the door opening game if the dog thinks about moving to get through the door, the door closes or you position your body to claim that space. “Pushy” behavior results in the consequence of no access to the outside (the reward itself). “Self control” = access to the outdoors.
It’s pretty handy that when a parent is loaded down with a baby in arm, a purse and diaper bag that an open door predicts “wait.”