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— February 19, 2013 —

Bringing Home the Baby.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

So, you already have one baby with 4 legs. How do you prepare him for a human baby?

I recently got the nicest Valentine’s Day card ever from a dog. Well, not just a dog, but from a dog and her family. They wrote to say thanks for helping with a problem.

Willow, their 7 year old female American Bulldog, had been an “only child” for a few years and about 2 years ago, there was a new baby in the house. Willow’s people had asked me to come over, even before the baby was born, to help set up a good situation for everyone.

Going by what is says in the card, Willow is now, “…so patient with the baby, and we never thought we could all co-exist so peacefully…”

I was very happy to hear that all of our efforts had paid off so well. Even though we started training early, Willow showed some signs of discomfort once the baby was born. While she was never aggressive, she would avoid the baby at all costs. Of course no trainer can be successful without diligent owners. Without good follow-through, the best training advice in the world will fail. Willow’s humans deserve a large portion of the credit.

Today’s Tail won’t cover ALL of what it takes to introduce a baby to the dog. Also, I can’t possibly describe everything I would do if the dog has any serious problem behaviors. It will be a pretty basic overview for the average dog. Any particular questions can be directed to us here.

The first thing we have to do when introducing a baby is to take an honest look at our dog. If the dog is very social, low energy and adapts easily to new situations, the introduction should go relatively smoothly. If the dog is highly prey driven, defensive/nervous by nature or aggressive, the introduction may be considerably more difficult. In these cases, professional advise will be needed.

If you are at all concerned about the introduction, the training should be focused on rules about how the dog will interact with the baby. I like to establish places that are off limits to the dog and get the dog used to the fact that he may not get as much attention as he is used to getting. Baby introduction training should start before the baby is born. Also, I write this assuming that the dog has had some amount of obedience training. If the dog has not had obedience training, basic, reliable obedience training needs to be completed ASAP. Your dog should “Sit”, “Down” and “Heel” reliably before any of these techniques are attempted.

(As a side note: It’s not unusual for a pregnancy to cause very obvious behavioral changes in a dog. Dogs may become more protective of mom during this time. Additionally, a lack of attention and exercise after the baby is born can cause behavioral issues to surface. More on this later.)

Before I even show up for training with a dog, I advise owners to find recordings of babies crying and vocalizing. You can download them or buy them on CD. Probably the first thing a dog will notice about a baby is the smell of a new person and the sounds the baby makes. The high pitched sounds of a crying infant can trigger a prey-type reaction in a dog. This can result in injury to a very young child. The recordings are intended to de-sensitize the dog to these new sounds. I generally advise playing them as low as the dog can hear them-perhaps so low that you can barely hear them or not at all. You’ll know he hears them when his ears perk up. He may cock his head to the side and look towards the CD player. Play the sounds for a few minutes a few times each day. After a few days playing the sounds at a low volume, turn the recording up in increments until it is about as loud as a real baby crying or a little louder. Ultimately, we want the dog to ignore the recordings.

We do similar things with the baby’s items. Strollers, swings, walkers and so on all need to be introduced before they are holding a real baby. I generally advise placing these things in the house where the dog can see them motionless for a few days. Once the dog is used to them, turn the swing on or push the stroller around. The more your dog reacts to these things, the more training you will need to do.

What I usually do when I arrive at a home for this type of training is to inspect the nursery. I advise owners to train their dog that the nursery is off limits unless they are invited into the room. There will simply be times that the parent and the new baby can’t have a dog involved with a particular situation. This is accomplished through teaching the dog to “Wait” at the door to the nursery (Your command word may vary. “Sit”, “Down”, “Stay” will suffice so long as it is reliable.) I also teach the owner to “Back” their dog up out of the room if it enters uninvited. By repeating this, the dog learns not to enter the room unless permission is given. This will also help the dog accept the fact that there will be times where you will need space. A dog that requires constant physical contact can make it difficult to care for a newborn.

I do a similar thing with the baby’s blanket. I actually teach the dog that they are NOT to step onto the baby blanket when it is laid out on the floor. Yes, your dog can learn this, although it’s hard to describe exactly how to teach it. It’s more of a demonstration-type thing.

There are trainers who advise carrying a baby doll around to desensitize the dog to having mom or dad carrying a child. The idea is to put baby powder and baby oil on it to make it smell as real as possible and let the dog watch you feed, change and take care of the “baby.” I personally don’t know if that is the real value of this exercise. I think the real value is practicing carrying the baby while dealing with the dog. In other words, if you drop a baby doll because the dog tripped you, no harm done. You know what to avoid doing next time. I usually advise owners to practice moving their dogs while carrying the “baby”, both on and off leash.

One interesting tip that actually has helped is this. Start scenting your dog’s toys with almond oil. Baby toys and dog toys look remarkably similar, especially to your dog. The baby’s things will smell like baby powder. The dog will learn that he is only allowed to play with ie. destroy things that smell like almond oil. You can put almond oil on everything that is for your dog, beds, toys, food dishes, etc.

If your dog is resource guarder, this can lead to bad situations. This should be worked on well before the arrival of the baby. Babies have a knack for getting into things when your back is turned and feeding time can become risky. There are techniques for dealing with this which we will discuss in a separate article.

As I mentioned before, a new baby may decrease the amount of time you have to spend with your dog. This can cause an increase in bad behavior due to the dog feeling cooped-up. If possible, increasing your dog’s trips to daycare or the length of the walks can help. A more vigorous exercise routine which takes the same amount of time can be beneficial to dog and human alike. Another benefit of having that good obedience I mentioned earlier, is the ability to take your dog for long walks with him “Heeling” next to the stroller. This could be very helpful in reducing behavioral problems caused by lack of exercise. Perhaps there is even a dog walker or responsible teenager in the neighborhood who would love to take your dog for a run.

With time and effort, your transition from a “dog” to a “dog and baby” household can be accomplished. While everyone will need to adjust to the new situation, these tips can make the transition go as smooth as possible for your dog.

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