Managing Dogs Around a New Baby

Monday, March 24, 2008

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“We have a basset who is 8 years old (Otis) and another who is 7 (Barney). The 8 year old has always barked excessively and jumps up when we come home (or jumps up on people who come over) for the first few minutes, then he calms down.

My daughter recently had a baby, which we watch a fair amount of the time. How can we reassure the dogs, who are used to being #1, and be able to bring the baby in without the barking and jumping? The dogs are admittedly spoiled, as there have been no children around before, and they were the 'children.'

Thanks for any help you can offer.”

- Proud Grandma

Dear Proud Grandma,

Kids and dogs; you bring up a very important topic. In order to address the barking and jumping, lets begin with why it was created. The dogs were number 1 and how will they take it with the child being the new number 1?

Let’s look at the cause of the barking. Normally, as a puppy, when we bring them home they get attention for whining or crying. We may go to them weather we give them a calming pat or just tell them to be quiet, either way it is attention. This is just two examples, and there are many more.

Buddy the Basset Hound

In order to stop the jumping/barking, when you come home and the dogs run up to you, ignore them completely. Say nothing, don't touch them until they calm down. Even if they jump on you, wait for them to calm and say “good dog.” (Do not shove/knee them off, they will stop on their own.) Then take them out for a run or burn out the pent-up energy. When a family member comes over and enters the house, the same thing must happen; they are ignored, however, when they calm down recall them to you.

As for the baby, the biggest problem with dogs and kids is for some reason we tend to make dogs number 1 or treat them like children. The second biggest problem is many dog owners do not prepare their dog for the arrival of the child (i.e. spending the entire pregnancy getting the dog used to smells like baby powder/diapers/formula/etc., teaching the dog to walk nicely along side a stroller, teaching the dog to respect your space when sitting/lying down, keeping the dog off the furniture or out of the child’s room unless asked to come up/in, etc.) Then when the child comes over or is added to the family, the dogs become resentful in some cases and low and behold we have a dog who doesn’t like the kids! This is simply because we become over-protective of the child (which is a natural instinct, innocently enough) and push the dogs away when they are hyper or over excited. Through time the resentment grows, and in some cases, as we have read in the media, the child is harmed or corrected in some way. Then we scold or blame the dog which ends up adding fuel to the fire.

I am wary of this issue in your home. Firstly, being the issue I just mentioned, and second the dogs are bonded too strongly and thus may get together and gang up on your grandchild, in a worse case scenario. The pack that doesn't accept the new member, simply because your dogs are demanding and we cater to their demands, this makes them dominant and you a submissive. Unfortunately, the dogs don’t want to be the leaders of the pack or number 1. This is way too much pressure!

To avoid this you need to change things. First, the dogs need to be taught to be crated. This is beneficial as they will have a place to go when the child is over. If they get tired of the baby (especially when the child starts to crawl or walk), they can go into their crate and collect themselves and feel safe. (See this article for more info. This will be a big part of your solution.) When they are in the house, they need to be taught space respect. They don’t just plow into people (regardless of it being you guys or visitors) or jump up on the couch or the furniture without asking for permission. What you need to teach them is to be patient, wait and sit with a look, then say o.k. if they are allowed on the furniture or if being petted. In my house, my dogs do not get on the furniture at all. This sometimes could lead to space possession where the child is involved.

Dogs are creatures who serve our purpose. We need to mold them into being a dog who fits into our lives. In a lot of cases we try to accommodate them into being happy based on what we as humans feel that should be. So our lives become molded into theirs. This leads to spoiling and making them number 1. In order for a dog to feel number 1 they really need to feel they are dogs; trained, obedient, calm and happy to please. We tend to do the opposite and this is where the dogs begin to disfunction and often times dumped at a shelter or rescue.

I always say this to my students:

If I were to be treated like a dog by them, how would I feel? So with that, if a dog is treated like a human how would it feel? Pretty well the same.

My check list for child prep is as follows:

  • Imagine how things would change once a baby arrives and the behaviors we might display when the child is present.
  • Adjust the household for change, no more furniture jumping or toy possession, keep all toys off the floor.
  • Teach the “leave it” and “come to me” command.
  • Enforce space respect and patience (aka “Inner Circle”)
  • Teach the dog to wait to enter the child’s room and it can’t go in unless you are with it.
  • Complete obedience, especially the “down stay“ commands, and of course the “wait a minute” and “go away until I call you” commands.
  • Train to walk nicely with a stroller on walks
  • Crating and time spent in a quiet room, removing the dog from being needy or demanding.
  • Sit quietly in the car, do not jump around.
  • Stay out of the kitchen while preparing food.
Never leave your dog unattended with your child under any circumstances.

These are just some of the things that need to be done long before the child arrives at least 6 months prior. Training a dog to be with children is a long process and as the child grows, the training needs to be managed and adapted based on the child’s behavior and development. It is important that both dog and child have a well respected acceptance of each other through the process of growth and maturity for both following your guidance.

A dog is a dog, is a dog. It is we humans who set the path to their behavior. Good or bad.

Good luck, if you need more help and advice I am more than happy to help.

- Sam

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