Courteous Canine: Dogs and Babies
by Jane Finneran, Certified Dog Trainer
If you plan to adopt a dog, make sure to find a dog that’s compatible with children. Don’t make the mistake of so many adopters—looking for a puppy to “grow up” with a child. Your puppy will be an adult in a year or two—unfortunately, the time that most people lose interest in a new pet. And don’t get a tiny dog that can be easily injured by a child or frightened by them, resulting in accidents. Toy dogs and small children just don’t mix.
A lot of dogs lose their happy home due to a baby’s arrival. “Moving” and “babies” are the commonest reasons people give up a dog, but it need not happen! With a little planning the dog can stay and live happily ever after. I recommend that schedules, routines, and situations be planned for and practiced ahead of time. If the baby has its own nursery or room, a baby gate will keep most dogs out. Put the gate up ahead of time, and practice going into the room with the dog remaining outside. Reward! If your dog knows downs and down stays, ask for them and then reward! If your dog does not know “down stays,” teach the dog those commands now while you have the time. The dog can be taught to settle while you go about the nursery duties.
If you plan on using a stroller for walks, practice walking the dog with an empty stroller when you are both relaxed and you don’t have to worry about the baby. Reward! If your dog has owned the back seat in the car but this will be relegated to the baby, make the changes now. If your dog rides in a crate (which is really the safest), that’s great. If not, start teaching your dog to travel in a crate now, not when the baby arrives and everyone is stressed.
When it is time to introduce the dog to the baby, take your time and do not force any interaction. On the big day, everyone should come in and greet the dog as they normally would. The dog should then be on leash when the baby comes in. Someone needs to have treats and you guessed it. Reward! You want the dog to associate the new baby with lots of treats. Every time the baby enters the room, treats rain down!
Do not waste your time and breath cooing to the dog that this is a new family member and isn’t the baby cute and won’t they just love each other. Remember: dogs don’t understand English. What the dog will understand is this: “baby equals treats.” Depending on the dog and its reaction, the dog may approach on a loose leash. Keep interactions short at first and always reward when the dog does well.
Remember: Supervise all interactions, and keep them safe. Dozens of videos on the Internet show toddlers in dog’s faces. They all make me cringe! One wrong move and no one’s life will never be the same again.
Note: for other Tips from Jane, see her column at http://www.a-r-f.org or her Facebook page, Courteous Canine of Jackson County.