There are many common myths about raising kids and dogs together. Perhaps you’ve heard one or more of the following: Bringing home a baby blanket will teach the dog to like the baby. The dog should love the child immediately. The dog will be jealous of the baby. All children should instantly love and feel comfortable with the family dog (or any animal). The dog and child should meet right away. A dog showing any type of discomfort should be re-homed.
As a certified professional dog trainer, I’ve seen how these misunderstandings can predispose parents, children, and pets to poor outcomes. As a Family Paws Parent Educator (FPPE), I’m grateful to be a resource who can provide specialty training in dog and baby/toddler dynamics. It’s an honor to be a support system to help families safely raise dogs and children together. Allow me to share some highlights with you here.
Tips for Families with Dogs who are Expecting a (Human) Baby
Parents-to-be have a lot on their plates! That’s a given. But, to help prepare for a growing family, it all begins with planning ahead and doing lots of dress rehearsals with the family dog to help navigate a smoother transition.
- Once various rooms of the home are set up for baby, start practicing with your inquisitive canine by training various ‘life skills’ that will be useful in and around the house- and outside of the home too. For instance, has your pup always ridden in the backseat of the car? Where will she ride once the car seat is placed in the backseat?
- Next, go through the some of the foreseen schedule changes for when baby arrives and determine where your dog will fit in with these changes. Will she need to learn to be in a crate or another room on her own? Will Fluffy now be left home alone when you are out and about with your baby? If so, train it before you need it and help your “fur kid” learn to be independent when you need her to, and feel safe and comfortable being left alone other times.
- Think about how you can help your dog be successful. What are your expectations for this new family arrangement? What will you want Fido to do and when? Will you need him to practice skills in a variety of settings? What makes your inquisitive canine happy? What are your dog’s triggers? If you think your pup will struggle to adjust to the new sights and sounds associated with your growing family, sooner is better than later to contact a force-free canine behavior consultant.
- When it comes to bringing baby home for the very first time, we encourage parents-to-be to come up with a few different plans, as sometimes Plan A gets squashed (Plan B too), which means Plan C is the one played out. Maybe you planned on having Fido home when you bring baby home, but then friends said they would watch him, but it turns out the neighbor is going to need to take care of him. How well does he know your neighbor?
You’ll then want to think even further ahead. Remember, babies grow and dogs age – be ready to adjust constantly. Know the different stages of child development, and how they can impact the family pooch. Teaching and management at each level are essential.
Top Tips for Families with Dogs and Young Children
With toddlers, parents and caregivers have to be mindful of both the child and the dog, teaching both appropriate manners and what is preferred.
Sometimes dogs grow older gracefully, becoming more bonded to the child(ren). But, as kids get older and become mobile, and perhaps more and more energetic, dogs can sometimes slow down, and become less tolerant of certain behaviors. Children must learn how to behave around dogs, reading the pet’s body language, understanding the need to respect the dog. Similarly, dogs need to learn how to behave appropriately around children and respond appropriately to triggers such as squealing, running erratically, and maybe even grabbing and pulling (although it’s best if your dog is never placed in this predicament).
Some Do’s and Don’ts:
- Do invite your pup to sniff, but never force an interaction. If Fido doesn’t show any interest, that’s okay. Allow him to set the pace as to how quickly he wants to carefully investigate. And, if and when he does want to interact, include him in a safe way.
- Do include your inquisitive canine in family settings, but safely. This means the humans need to be between the child and dog. Teach the dog a useful behavior such as laying down nearby but with enough distance to keep both dogs and babies comfortable — sometimes children are erratic with their movements, which can startle a dog.
- Do manage the environment by closing off doors to nurseries. Use gates and crates to provide your dog her own space, away from grabbing hands or unwanted play.
- Avoid scolding your dog when he or she is being curious. Instead request an alternate, rewardable behavior.
- Never allow any dog unsupervised access to babies and young children. Use awake, active, adult supervision. This means adults need to be paying attention to any and all parties – kids and dogs — distractions can lead to mishaps.
If you and your growing family would like support preparing your pup for life with babies and/or toddlers, please contact The Inquisitive Canine. We understand that the needs of each family are varied. No two dogs, and no two homes, are exactly alike. Working with a Family Paws Parent Educator helps ensure that the unique needs of your family are taken into consideration when creating a practical strategy for your household.
Thank you for being an inquisitive parent!