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Posted on 06-12-2017
**The advice in this blog is not intended to replace training with a professional. All comments and opinions are that of Aleta McHardy, who is NOT a professional trainer**
Families who start out with dogs and add children later face the challenge of introducing a vulnerable new baby to an adult dog. New moms especially are fearful that their once beloved canine will react aggressively towards the new family member. My own experience introducing our two dogs to our newborn went smoothly and without incident because I followed some very important rules.
Dogs are NOT babies. I know that there will be those who disagree with that statement, but treating your dog as though it were an actual human baby creates competition for your affection. It is absolutely wonderful to have a dog and love them, but it is more important to love your dog in dog language and not human language.
What is your dog’s love language? It is actually very simple. Daily walks, good food, and clear boundaries and rules are the fundamentals of a happy dog. Petting a dog, getting them excited by talking to them in a high pitched voice, or rough playing are purely for our own selfish enjoyment. A dog’s happiness comes from their basic needs and instincts being fulfilled first.
Our human babies DO NOT belong to our dogs. I say this because I often hear people say that their dog thinks the baby is the dog’s puppy. That is a very dangerous mentality to have for everyone involved. It is easy to think it’s cute when a dog shows a lot of interest in our kids by laying on them or licking them all over, etc. In dog language, your dog is actually trying to claim your child’s space, essentially communicating that they are in charge.
You may not experience problems with this at first, but eventually your newborn turns into a toddler with their own opinions and ideas about interacting with your dog. It is all too common for a dog without boundaries to end up homeless once the new baby starts to crawl because it doesn’t react well to a newly independent child getting into their space unchecked.
Introduce your baby’s scent before they ever come home from the hospital. A mentally healthy dog should be using scent first when relating to their surroundings. For this reason, have your partner bring home an article of clothing that the baby has worn. It is important to allow your dogs to smell the clothing briefly, but then establish a boundary from the clothing once they’ve sniffed enough. This will be similar to what you will do once you are holding a real baby and not just clothing.
Before you bring the baby home, make sure that your dogs are properly exercised both physically and mentally. If you aren’t sure what that means, check out: How to Walk Your Dog Without Letting Your Dog Walk You. It is important that your dog doesn’t have any pent up or nervous energy when you bring home your new addition. Dogs are very good at sensing when change is coming, so setting them up to successfully deal with the change is the best preventive tactic.
Please, please don’t shove your newborn into your dog’s face as soon as you get home! Try to keep your pet’s routine as normal as possible for several days without overly emphasizing the baby to them. Trust me, they know something is different! Keeping things as close to normal as you can will help them accept the new family member more readily. This can be difficult, especially for us poor sleep deprived parents, but just do the best you can.
Once things have settled down and aren’t as chaotic, it’s okay to allow your dog to sniff your baby appropriately. If you aren’t sure what this looks like, or you have an over-excited dog, I recommend doing this part with the help of a dog behaviorist. Be sure that you are creating a space bubble around your baby when your dog is around, also don’t allow overexcitement in response to the baby.
Obviously you don’t want your dog to be afraid of the baby, so there’s no need to get angry or yell at your dog for coming close. Just be calm and assertive when you are asking your dog to give you space. If your pet already knows a command such as going to a “bed” or “place”, this could help reinforce what you want of them.
This rule is actually for before you even bring your baby home, but I’m listing it last because I think it is the most important to be remembered. If your dog is doing things to you that you don’t want it doing to the baby, don’t allow those behaviors any longer! Jumping onto your lap or furniture uninvited, biting or playing aggressively, food aggression, and over-excitement are all behaviors that should be remedied before the human family gets bigger. Trust me, you won’t have time to address those problems once baby comes!
Every Dog Benefits From Behavioral Training
The best thing we ever did to prepare our dogs for our newborn was to already understand behavior and training. Our household already had clear boundaries, rules, and limitations for each of our pets. There was already an understanding that even through change and uncertainty, the adult humans in the household would keep things under control. Even if you aren’t expecting a baby, these rules can easily be applied to multiple new situations with minor adjustments. Start training and structure today! Rules for your pet aren’t restrictive, they are a way for them to have more freedom and trust from their human counterparts.
If you already have children in the home, check out our blog: Training Tips Thursday: Kids and Pets.
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