By Kasey R. Herrera, 2SpeakDog Training and Behavior Specialist
Concerned about how your dog will react to your impending arrival? In some cases, it certainly can be a concern. Balancing being a “fur parent” and “human parent” can get pretty tricky sometimes. If your dog displays rude behaviors, then establishing some new behaviors should be a priority before your baby arrives. By establishing routines and a basic level of respect, you too can Foster a Happy Pack.
The first step to fostering a happy pack is to understand what is unacceptable or rude behavior and then establish new behaviors to create balance. It is important to know how to create a balanced and peaceful environment first. This will make for a smooth transition when bringing a new baby into your home. A simple question to ask yourself to help identify unacceptable behavior would be “Is my dog’s behavior acceptable for a 3 year old or a 93 year old?” Here are a few things to ask yourself when answering this question:
- Does my dog jump on me when I come home from work?
- Does my dog beg at dinnertime or steal food from my plate if it’s unattended?
- Is my dog demanding my attention by pawing at me, barking excessively, or by putting his face in mine until I give him affection?
- Is my dog getting so overly excited when people come over that it’s just easier to put him out or in another room?
- Is my dog jumping on the furniture even after I have asked him repeatedly to get down?
These are simply rude and unacceptable behaviors that people tend to overlook. It may be tolerable for you now but not for a 3 year old or 93 year old and most importantly, not for your new baby.
*The vast majority of behavior problems are the result of inappropriate communication, overpermissiveness (spoiling) and/or anthropomorphism (treating the dog as it were a human).
Some examples would be:
- “My dog thinks he is a human. He has an outfit for every day of the week”
- “I share every meal with my dog.”
- “Why should my dog walk when he’s got me to carry him?”
- Baby talk “Wook at my cutesy wootsy wittle bitty baby”
- “My dog’s walks are like me reading the morning paper so I let him stop and smell everything.”
- “Yeah my dog is incredibly excitable but that’s just how dogs are.”
Okay, so some of these might be a little extreme but not as extreme as you might think. Becoming conscious and aware of your relationship and interaction with your dog is the path to success in changing his unwanted behaviors.
Now that you have a better understanding of what rude behaviors are and how they are fostered, let’s talk about the next step, how to establish new behaviors. It can start by simply becoming conscious of how you and your dog communicate and creating new habits or rituals.
Using a mix of both obedience training and behavior modification is beneficial when trying to create new behaviors. Generally, (and I do mean generally because this can be an involved subject) obedience involves teaching your dog to DO something while behavior is about teaching your dog NOT to do something or another way to think of it, obedience is when we are telling our dogs what to do (sit, down stay), whereas training from a behavior aspect we are teaching our dogs to make the right choices on there own. Obedience training uses commands that teach our dogs when we want them to DO something quickly with either a verbal command or a hand signal. This works you want your dogs to work for you. If your dogs is jumping on guests or perhaps when you walk in with the new baby in your arms we can use behavior methods such as gaining space so you can walk through the room easily.
That’s the goal. With obedience your dog knows what to do only when he is being told. The difference with behavior modification, your dog learns to behave with the absence of command. He has learned that when you have the baby in your arms, he is not to jump and knows to go to his bed on his own. Please understand that obedience and behavior modification are equally important and will be the foundation both you and your dog will work from and rely on throughout your relationship. Behavior modification is when you start “2SpeakDog”. Although not difficult it can be challenging to communicate so your dog understands you and you understand him. It is important to have a basic understanding of both to be able to effectively start communicating with your dog.
Knowing that your new baby will take a large amount of your time, energy and strength, it’s important to start working with your dog well before your due date. Start by creating a daily schedule for your dog. Dogs, like children, thrive on routine and a bit of predictability (as I am writing this my dog is reminding me that it is far past his bedtime by walking out of our bedroom to keep checking on me. His routine is off and he is not happy about it). It will help with your dogs overall behavior and also have some health benefits such as proper digestion and exercise. Your pre-baby schedule might look something like this:
|Potty Break||Potty Break||Potty Break|
|Potty Break||Potty Break||Working/Playing|
*Depending on the breed and age you might feed up to 3 to 4 times a day!
At this stage you and your partner will have to work together to 1) be able to stay consistent with your dog’s routine given your own busy schedules and 2) ensure that your dog understands that you are BOTH active leaders in the household.
Your dog needs to get both physical AND mental exercise each day. Mental exercise is the “Working”. For instance, after the dog’s morning potty break, you will start your walk. If your dog is walking in front of you leading you to each place he wants to smell and pee, that will get him some physical exercise and a chance to pee/mark again but it will not wear him out like a combination of both physical and mental exercise will. When you are on a walk it should be a structured walk with your dog walking beside you. When they are walking with you they are “Working” to understand what it is you want them to do next. This is also a good time to do some basic obedience with them such as using “Sit” and “Wait” at an intersection. When we ask our dogs to follow us, whether it is following a command (sit, down, wait) or following us on a structured walk, we are leading them and they are “Working”. If you are having problems getting your dog to walk next to you, we would suggest reaching out to a trainer in your area to help you. If done properly it can make for a pleasurable experience for your family walks.
The first two weeks after the baby comes, most of mom’s attention will understandably be paid to the baby. To maintain your dog’s schedule that you have worked so hard on up to now, your partner needs to fill in and take over making sure your dog is still getting the daily stimulation he needs. This should really be the only change to the dog schedule even after the baby comes home. However, we still need mom to interact with the dog several times a day. Your dog needs to learn to share your time, take turns, and respect you.
Here is an exercise that can help teach your dog to share your time. Have your partner spend some time with the baby and have mom spend time loving the on the dog. When we say “Loving” we mean, take your dog for a structured walk or do some basic obedience commands with him THEN give affection. Affection should always be given after your dog has in some way “Worked” for you.
Your dogs schedule should be pretty rigid when it comes to walking, “Working”, meal times and naps. Although rigid, you can always change up the type of exercise by walking in a new location or adding in a doggie sport or even practicing different obedience commands before a meal and/or nap time. Making sure your dog is getting both physical and mental daily exercise provides your dog with the stimulation needed for creating that balance we are striving for.
Introducing your new baby to your dog
Introducing your dog to your new baby can be a calm, easy process if done correctly. To start, If at all possible, allow your dog to experience the first part of labor with the mom, even walking around the house or snuggling with her. You should leave the house as calmly as possible when going to the hospital or birth center to try to keep you dog as calm as possible. He will know something is happening and it should not be something traumatic for him. Before bringing the baby home your partner should first bring home an object that the baby has had on such as a blanket or hat. Allow the pup to smell it as long as they want to but just smell. It is not a toy!
When the baby and mom come home, have someone else wait in the car with the baby while the parents go in to greet the dog. Your dog will be excited to see you, so wait for the dog to calm before giving affection. After several minutes and your dog has calmed to the point he is laying down, you can now bring the baby in the house together. It is recommended to hold the baby, as opposed to carrying the baby in the car seat. It is also recommended to have an outfit on the baby that can expose the baby's feet. This allows the mother to have the face and hands of the baby near the mom, and allows the baby's feet to be exposed to the pup for smelling. Dogs learn first and foremost by scent, so allowing a pup to get to know something with their nose is crucial.
Your dog and baby’s interaction will probably be pretty minimal for the first few months. You can promote interacting at certain times such as your baby’s feeding time. If you are on the couch feeding the baby, and if your dog is allowed on the furniture, invite your dog to come up and sit next to you. At this point, allow him to smell the baby’s feet. This helps teach the dog he can share your time with the baby. Your dog should only get on the furniture when invited. If your dog is not allowed on any furniture, you can modify this exercise by having him sit by your legs.
Your baby will become more mobile between 4-6 months, start sitting up, rolling over and crawling. Babies will start to invade the dog’s space. This bothers dogs on various levels and parents can start to see different behaviors from the dogs during these months. It may be that the dog just gets up and walks away from the baby but the other end of the scale the dog might get uncomfortable and snap. Learning your dog's body language when they are uncomfortable will help you redirect early before anything happens. If you see your dog tongue flick, stiffen up his body, start to freeze, put his head low while his eyes are looking up or starts to low growl, this is when we would gain space (get in-between the dog and the baby) and redirect your pup. After you have gained space a redirect might be an obedience command you previously worked on such as “Go lay down” or “Go to your bed”. Your dog should always have a place he can go that the baby can’t (a safe place) like his crate or a bedroom.
During this time your baby will also find your dog fascinating and want to pat and pull on him. As you would expect, this isn’t very pleasing to your dog. While your dog is calm you can start to teach your baby how to interact with him. Always pet the dog on his back with baby's hand in yours, reminding baby “Always be gentle to the doggie”, “We pet the doggie softly”, “We only pet the doggie on his back”. You want to try to keep the baby away from head, ears and tail as much as possible.
When baby is not around you can practice desensitizing your dog to touches and pulls by doing gentle skin grabs, collar grabs and tail pulls to simulate what your baby might do. We don’t want the baby in the room because we don’t want them to see you doing any of theses light pulls and thinking it is okay to do.
You can make your interactions with your dog and baby positive by involving your baby/toddler in different obedience activities. Before dinnertime when your dog is very focused, try to get your baby to give an obedience command like “Sit” “Stay” or even “Down”. This will start to give the baby a leadership role in the family too. Of course this should ONLY be done with HIGH parent supervision! A parent needs to be right with the baby/toddler and the parent’s hand should be wrapped around baby/toddler's hand while giving treats.
If your dog is not tolerant of this type of interaction with your baby, this could lead to a snap or a nip. If you are not seeing any improvements with the desensitizing or your dog’s interactions with the baby overall then this would be another one of those times to reach out to a trained professional for help. If you are seeing any displays of aggression such as guarding objects - growling, protecting, snarling while leaning over an object, bone, baby's toy, or tissue it is IMPERATIVE to reach out for help. Often with professional help these issues can be resolved.
Yes, finding the balance between being a “fur parent” and a “human parent” is tricky. This article will not give you all you need to know but it is a starting point for creating that balanced, peaceful environment. By using the fundamentals; structure, behavior modification, routine, respect, caution and lots of love you will be establishing new behaviors and fostering a happy pack.