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Baby Days

25/06/2017 - Behaviour Matters

I was recently contacted by a potential client regarding an issue that they were having with their dog and during our initial communications it came to light they were having a baby later in the year, too.
Following my congratulations to them, I asked if they had thought about the future with a dog and baby and preparing in advance for their new arrival.
The baby was due in four months and they had not really thought about it and initially did not think it was worth starting anything yet, but on reflection, they reconsidered and thought it was probably a good idea to start sooner rather than later.
I then had another request for help to safely introduce a multi-dog household to a new baby and it prompted me into thinking it may be useful to provide some general information that may help other people in similar situations.
First, it’s never too late to start preparing your dog or dogs for your impending new arrival, but the sooner you start, the better.
If you have a dog that you know to be fearful of children or strangers, I would encourage you to seek help immediately – you are going to be getting a lot of visitors and you need to know what to do with your dog.
There are a number of things you can do to help prepare your dog for the new arrival and increase the chances of a successful integration; this is not a complete list, but hopefully it will provide enough to get you thinking. One thing I can pretty much guarantee is that you are going to have to make some life-changes and adjustments.
Up until now you have probably been able to spend quite a lot of time with your dogs, but being a parent myself, I know this is going to suddenly change when baby comes along; you will have other competing priorities for your time, baby is going to want feeding, changing and cuddling etc, so start preparing your dogs for this reduction in time, now.
Whether you have help to exercise your dog or not, it is worthwhile gradually reducing your dog’s physical exercise, why not instead spend time with your dog training and developing ways to exercise and stimulate them within the confines of your home and garden, along with just chilling-out together doing nothing much.
For me, training is my number one enrichment option and is the ultimate work to eat puzzle and as a bonus, you will be training your dog in preparation for the new arrival.
As you reduce the amount of exercise, why not use the time to train some exercises that you may find useful instead.
For example, ‘go to your bed’ to move your dog to a crate or station on a predetermined position, a really good ‘settle’ to just relax, ‘leave’, so that your dog does not steal things. ‘Stay’ to know where they are while you are changing nappies, ‘four on the floor’ for all the visitors that will be dropping by and ‘walk nicely’ to not pull you around while you are out with baby.
This list is far from exhaustive and these are just a few examples, but there are many others you could choose. I would personally be inclined to develop the dog’s impulse control and there are plenty of exercises that will certainly be useful.
When baby comes along you will probably be wanting to walk your dog alongside a buggy or pram, while you carry rucksacks and other baby related equipment. If this is the case, start practicing this too, but it does not end there. There will be all manner of new objects coming into the dog’s environment – changing mats, wipes, bottles, nappies etc, there is so much more that is going to be new and interesting for your dog.
Consider practicing with a toy doll to simulate holding a baby, changing and feeding a baby etc. These activities are likely to all be new pictures for your dog and so they are likely to be very interested in what’s going on, so by practicing early and introducing them to as many of the other sights, sounds and smells associated with baby, you can reduce the interest that your dog is likely to show when you have baby with you.
Just imagine how much interest your dog will have in all this new stuff if you have not done this preparation.
Scent games are a great way to stimulate a dog, providing exercise, enrichment and interaction with your dog and can be done in a limited space and in some cases, you do not even need to be an active participant – on a dry day, why not scatter their food around the garden for them to search out and eat, a great way to feed their meal and keep them busy at the same time.
If you have a super high-drive dog, you could consider burning some of that extra energy with retrieve/ball games or even flirt poles which can be another great way to exercise them in the confines of a garden.
Even with these dogs, I would still look to reduce the amount of time spent with them in high activity games and spend more time in lower activity games and puzzles.
Are you a creature of habit?
Do you get up at the same time, walk the dog at the same time, feed at the same time?
This is great until it changes and then I’m sure plenty of you have dogs that bug you when they have not had their walk at exactly 5.30pm or did not get their food at 7am.
To help your dog adjust better to the impending unpredictable nature of having a young family, it would pay to gradually vary your dog’s routine, but do this gradually so that you do not frustrate your dog.
Get a supply of hollow chew toys that you can stuff with food and if you want to make them a greater challenge, freeze them for your dog/s to work on. These could be used when you are changing or feeding baby and have the added bonus of baby predicting great stuff.
Management is the foundation of safe protocols. Start setting up your management prior to baby’s arrival too, this is so that the dog can get used to the new physical boundaries; consider using stair-gates, crates and strategically placed tethers which can be really useful. You could fit anchor points around the house or make some temporary tether solutions using heavy furniture or doors etc.
NEVER leave baby and dog alone together, even if you think your dog is an angel – it’s not fair on the dog to be put in this position, so when you cannot be around and actively supervise, manage!
If you have multiple dogs then this will give you some further challenges, but with good management and preparation there is no reason why you cannot be just as successful.
If you have any concerns about your dog’s behaviour or you need help with training or practical household management, then contact a reputable trainer to help you, it will be money and time well spent.