With the arrival of a baby comes new challenges for both you and your dog. With some preparation you can make the transition easier for your whole family. Yolande Ginsberg from Cape Canine gave us all the info we need to make it a (p)awesome experience!
Tips for preparing your dog before baby arrives:
Revise and practice obedience skills using positive reinforcement based training methods. Avoid correction-based training methods as this can cause aggressive behaviour). If your dog does not respond to basic cues (commands), and lacks impulse control, enlist in some private classes, or attend a reputable dog training school.
Introduce the dog to all the various baby equipment. i.e pram, baby carrier, baby swing. Allow the dog to investigate baby equipment, reward with praise and food treats for doing so.
Associate happy emotions with baby sounds and cries. Play a baby sounds cd recording of baby noises while the dog is eating, is fed favourite treats, or playing with a favourite toy.
Role play with a doll and baby equipment. Pair exposure to these items with your dogs favourite food treats.
Become familiar with the subtle signals and body language of dogs.
Child proof your dog: Train the dog to accept certain things that may accidentally happen such as; being approached or touched when eating, having a hand close to or in his food bowl, or having a toy taken away.
Train the dog to accept being handled and touched all over his body by associating all kinds of touches with food treats.
Get your dog used to a more flexible daily routine.
Avoid giving lavish attention days before baby is due . You don’t want the dog to associate a big decline in attention with the arrival of baby.
Bringing baby home – how to introduce your dog to your baby?
Successful introductions are all about the dog having positive experiences around the baby, first impressions are everything when it comes to dogs, therefore you want to ensure the first experience of the baby is a good one.
If possible, bring home one of the baby’s blankets, allow the dog to sniff the blanket, feed a few treats and praise the dog for showing interest.
Introduction should happen when everyone is calm. When meeting for the first time, hold the baby safely out of the dogs reach, whilst you have someone feed the dog high value treats – give the dog attention and praise, give treats for good behaviour when the baby is around. keep the first introductions short and sweet.
Your dog does not need to directly sniff the baby. If going well and you allow sniffing let the dog approach the baby and sniff a foot, not the head. Do not move the baby towards the dog.
Keep all initial encounters short and successful, avoid overwhelming the dog, even if going well.
Tips for your dog once baby arrives:
Include your dog in short positive sessions while you engage in baby routines
For the first few days, give your dog less attention when the baby is not around and give attention, praise and lots of food treats whenever baby is around. Provide rewards for good behaviour, such as sitting, and remaining calm when baby is nearby. You want the dog to realise that good things happen to him whenever the baby is around.
Make time to give the dog daily individual attention. Provide at least 15 to 20 minutes of one-on one time with the dog spent training, exercising and or playing.
Have chew toys and food dispensing toys available to offer you dog a fun activity at times when you need to keep him occupied and separated from the humans
Safety once baby arrives:
Supervision, supervision, supervision. Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog even for a second ( even if both are asleep) no matter how wonderful the dog may be.
Never punish or scold the dog in the presence of the baby. You want all associations with the baby to be positive in the dogs mind.
Never force interaction, or hold the dog still to bring the baby closer.
Do not suddenly make major changes to the dogs environment after the baby has arrived. i.e do not suddenly exclude the dog from social happenings and isolate the dog permanently to the back yard.
Avoid face to face contact between the baby and the dog.
Do not put the baby on the floor with the dog.
Do not allow unsupervised access to the baby room.
When your baby becomes mobile what can you do to help your dog?
When baby starts crawling, you will need to observe your dog’s body language and actively supervise whenever he is around the baby. A baby’s uncoordinated movements and strange noises can be unnerving to a dog. If the dog is unsure or afraid, give the dog some space in the early stages.
If your dog is a bit worried by the moving baby, allow your baby to explore without the dog around.
Provide a safe space for the dog, where he can rest and relax away from the child. This could be an area of the house cordoned off with a baby gate, the garden, or a crate, or exercise pen. Provide chew toys/bones special toys in this space.
If the dog appears relaxed and is around the child, supervise and make sure the dog can always move away from the child when he has had enough, never let the dog be cornered or followed into his crate or bed
Behind a baby gate or glass door, or with the dog on a leash at a safe distance from the baby, let the dog observe the baby moving, crawling and pair this with getting extra special food treats in the presence of the moving baby. You are teaching the dog, when the baby moves, wonderful things happen. Apply the same when the child starts walking.
Have someone practice obedience skills with the dog whilst baby is moving. There should be an adult handling the baby and another handling the dog.
Never leave a moving baby or toddler alone in an area with the dog.
What are warning signs to look out for when babies and dogs interact?
Babies and toddlers cannot read or heed the warning signs dogs give when they are uncomfortable or afraid, it is therefore vital that parents and guardians learn to recognise how dogs communicate stress, fear and discomfort, to gauge how the dog is feeling. Dogs do not bite out of the blue, and have give ample warning long before a bite occurs. When uninformed, or not supervising, humans miss these body language signals a dog may be giving, and if these signals are ignored, the dog may have to make it more clear that he is afraid or stressed and wants the child to go away by snapping or biting. Dog bites can be prevented by guardians being aware of and recognising the subtle communication signals that dogs give when they are anxious or uncomfortable around a child. Knowing the warning signs can keep children and dogs happy and safe.
A few signs that a dog is uncomfortable or anxious:
The dog turns his head away, or leans away from the child
The dog stiffens or freezes
The dog gets up and moves away from the child
The dog yawns while the child is touching, interacting or approaching him
The dog licks his lips while the child is touching, interacting or approaching him
The dog suddenly acts distracted, sniffs the ground, or scratches or licks himself whenever the child is near or whilst interacting or approaching
You can see the whites of the dogs eyes
Barking and retreating
The dog shakes himself off as if he is wet, every time the child stops touching him
If you spot any of these signs, intervene, stop whatever the child is doing, or what is is happening, calmly end the interaction, take the child away, give the dog space.
You must then either prevent the interaction that the dog does not like from happening, or use positive training techniques and the help of a professional to teach the dog to enjoy these actions from the child.
Never punish a growl!
A growl is a form of communication dogs use to say “hey, I’m not comfortable with this”
Never punish a growl. If you do, you are taking away the dogs early warning system as the dog may start to suppress the growl in order to avoid the punishment. You then end up with a dog that bites without warning. If your dog growls at your baby, do not punish the dog, instead be glad that your dog is letting you know that he is not happy with something, and seek professional help.