If you are expecting a baby and you have a dog, take time now to prepare your dog for the day you bring home your new child. Dogs can feel shunned and become confused and stressed when parents suddenly shift their attention from dog to baby. A dog does not understand why a baby is automatically elevated above the dog in the household social structure. In trying to regain his position, the dog may begin attention-seeking behaviors, such as barking at the baby’s cries, jumping up or chewing on baby’s things.
Once you have established your household social structure, your dog typically will not get stressed about changes that occur in your household. If the leader is calm, the dog will be calm. However, inconsistencies that may happen when the baby arrives will be viewed by your dog as a sign of weakness.
The following are some guidelines to help you start off on the right foot. Remember, babies and small children should never be left with a dog or puppy without adult supervision.
- Set new rules before baby arrives. For instance, if you decide to keep your dog out of the baby’s room, implement this at the beginning of your last trimester. By doing so, your dog will not associate the baby’s arrival with exclusion from the room. Also, try to introduce an erratic schedule so the dog does not know when he will get walked, fed or played with.
- Prepare your dog for baby’s arrival. You can get your dog used to the new sights and smells he will soon encounter by doing things such as buying an inexpensive doll, wrapping it in baby clothes or a blanket and holding it in your arms as you walk throughout the house. Use the same baby products (powder, shampoo, lotion) that you will use on the baby. Try to bring home the baby’s blanket or skull cap prior to your baby’s arrival to allow your dog to become accustomed to his scent.
- Allow frequent, supervised visits by your dog. The more the dog and baby are together, the better behaved and less stressed your dog will be. However, neither newborn nor toddler should ever be left unattended in the same room with your dog.
- Your dog will not know the difference between his toys and your child’s toys until you teach him.
- If and only if you catch your dog chewing on something unsuitable, interrupt the behavior, then give your dog an acceptable chew toy and praise him lavishly when he takes the toy in his mouth.
- Dogs can be possessive about their food, toys and space. Although it is normal for a dog to be possessive, it is not acceptable for him to growl or snap at you or your child. At the same time, children need to learn to respect their dog as a living creature that is not to be teased or purposefully hurt and that needs time to himself. If your dog is growling or snapping at your child for any reason, the situation needs IMMEDIATE attention.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery county and northern Chester County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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