Since June is child safety month, I though I would share some tips for dog owners about sharing a home with dogs and children. This first installment pertains to pregnant families preparing for baby and families with infants who aren’t crawling or walking yet. The next installment will pertain to families with kids on the go.
So you’re pregnant or have a newborn, and you also have a dog (or in my case, four). As you prepare yourself for your new baby, are you also preparing your dogs? Or do you figure that since your dog is pretty good with new people and change, you’ll just wing it and deal with things as they came up?
Unfortunately, many dogs end up living in the laundry room, backyard, or garage after children join the family because it’s easier for their owners. At the other end of the spectrum, some parents continue to include their dog as they did before baby and address changes as they happen or expect the dog to figure things out as they go. While these two scenarios are convenient for the owner, neither is particularly good for the dog. Why? Because dogs can’t anticipate the changes baby will bring like people can. They don’t have the baby books, apps, medical professionals, friends, and family to get advice and information from. They have you, and you can help them!
Preparing during pregnancy is ideal because parents are more mentally acute and have time to work on training and conditioning. Once baby comes along, it’s a little more challenging, but totally doable. Here are some things you can implement today to help your dogs learn to coexist with baby.
PERFECT THE BASICS
Remember that obedience class you took when you got your dog? It’s time to hone those skills they learned! Reliable commands are essential for any dog, but are especially helpful when you have kids and visitors around. Be sure your dog knows sit, stay, come, lay down, and place. Their “place” should be somewhere they are comfortable and left alone, such as a kennel, their bed, or a mat. These commands will come in handy down the road when you have visitors or just need your dog to give you some space.
PREPARE PUZZLE TOYS
You are not going to want your dog loose in the house all the time once baby is here. Things will be hectic, and there will be a constant stream of people coming and going, which can stress your dog out. When you have to put your dog in another room or a kennel, you want them to have something to do. This way they won’t feel like you are punishing them or leaving them out, and if they are anxious about what’s going on, these toys will help them release good hormones. The last thing you need is an upset dog with separation anxiety. Always make sure toys are appropriate for your dog’s size and chewing strength.
WALK YOUR HOUSE
Once baby comes, you are going to want to find ways to separate yet include your dog. This allows them to get used to the baby on their own terms without feeling overwhelmed. The idea here is to have them close by while in a kennel, on the other side of a baby gate, or on a tether. Look at the way your furniture is set up and your home is laid out. Where can you incorporate these things? You don’t want your dog to be in the same place all the time. Practice separating your dog in these ways and reinforce them with treats, puzzle toys, and both verbal and physical praise (pets, ear scratches, etc).
UNDERSTAND BASIC DOG BEHAVIOR AND SIGNALS
Do some internet searching and learn about dog body language. Dogs are not like people, so we may not recognize their ways of showing when they are calm and when they are uncomfortable. Many of the adorable videos of dogs and babies that you see online actually feature an extremely stressed out dog. Learn your dog’s signals; always be aware of and respect what they are trying to tell you!
DON’T RUSH OR FORCE A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOUR DOG AND CHILD
A relationship takes time to build and grow regardless of the species involved. Also, think about the differences in the relationship your dog has with you and others in the household. Each relationship is unique and has evolved over time. The same is going to be true about the relationship between your dog and your child. When your child is very young, often the best thing to do is to not have direct contact between the dog and child because babies are very unpredictable and that can be scary to a dog. Observing the changes your baby goes through from a comfortable distance is often best for the dog. As your baby gets older, there are several structured games they can play with the dog, which I will share in the next post in this series.
REACH OUT TO THE PROFESSIONALS
Did you know that there are several organizations that focus solely on the dog/child dynamic? Since we are talking about prenatal preparation and the infant/dog dynamic in this post, your best resources are:
Family Paws Parent Education (www.familypaws.com) They have licensed educators all over the world who present the Dogs and Storks program, which prepares families with dogs for life with baby. They also have a support hotline (877-247-3407) for parents to be and parents with children of all ages.
Colleen Pelar (www.livingwithkidsanddogs.com) Colleen has great videos, photos, and infographics about dog body language, books for parents if that’s your thing, and a Q&A page with questions from parents.
Be sure to check out my next post about dogs and babies on the move and older children!