Helping Dogs Adjust to a Baby

We are expecting a baby in a few months. I’m a little worried about how well our two dogs will adjust, but my husband says everything will be fine. What do you suggest I do to get ready and to stop worrying? ~ Elena

A new baby causes many changes in a household, so it’s great that you are thinking about ways to help your dogs with the transition. Sign up for a group obedience class that you and your husband can attend with the dogs. Seeing how the dogs behave around a variety of distractions–and every group class is full of distractions!–will help you to pinpoint behaviors to focus on. Having dogs that will walk nicely on a leash and sit and stay for a few minutes will be a big help when you are busy with the baby.

Start thinking about ways you can provide physical and mental exercise for the dogs in the weeks following your baby’s arrival. Your dogs will need extra outlets for their energy during this busy time, and without advance planning, you may find that they don’t get the exercise they need. Ask your friends and neighbors if they can either help exercise your dogs or perhaps watch the baby so that you can take the dogs for a long walk.

Spend some time with your dogs around children. Are they comfortable with the kids’ behavior? Do they worry about loud noises or abrupt movements? If you aren’t sure how your dogs would act around kids, talk to a dog trainer to get some training suggestions that are specifically tailored to your dogs’ needs.

Be aware that most dogs do fine for the first six months. If there are going to be problems, you’ll most likely see them when your baby begins to crawl. So keep an eye on your dogs’ behavior and watch for changes as your baby achieves each mobility milestone.

Dog is Overprotective of Baby

Our baby is 3 weeks old, and Daisy has decided it is her job to protect him from visitors. If I am holding the baby and a visitor comes close to see him, she runs over and barks. When the baby is in the bassinette, she won’t let the visitor get close to the baby.

How can I stop this? People are afraid when she does this, and I can’t deal with her and the baby at the same time. She is very gentle with the baby. I need some help! ~ Kathy

When you can’t work with Daisy, put her in another room when guests are over so that she does not rehearse the behavior, which will only make it harder to change.

At first you’ll need someone Daisy is comfortable with to help with the baby while you teach Daisy that guests = good things for her. For example, your mom could hold the baby, while you give Daisy treats as a guest enters and leaves the room. When the guest is visible, treats are being offered to Daisy. When the guest is out of sight, no treats.

We want Daisy to not only tolerate a guest approaching the baby, but to be thrilled about it. Depending on how social and treat motivated she is, this could take time. Go through the counter-conditioning process slowly so that the dog is truly comfortable before increasing the challenge. Behavior deteriorates under stress, so we want Daisy to be really, really comfortable about guests around your son.

Watch Daisy for signs of stress, both when guests are over and when it’s just you and your son. Keep your training sessions short. You may want to have a trainer come over and do a session or two with you to help you get started.

Try making a treat rattle: Take a 20-ounce soda bottle and cut a few holes in the bottom. Fill the bottle with treats or kibble, cap it, and lay it where you can reach it easily. When a guest is over, hold the bottle by the neck and “spray” treats on the floor. There are four benefits to a treat rattle: you don’t have to get up, there is than one treat to hunt for, Daisy will start associating guests with a sprinkle of treats, and you’ll have enough treats to use it several times before refilling.

Dog who Resource Guards – Dangerous for Kids?

We are fostering a dog that we have considered adopting. He growls if I walk by when he has a rawhide. We are working with him on exchanges, and so far that is going well. From what I read in your book, he probably wouldn’t be the best match with kids. We are really bummed! He doesn’t growl over his food or toys, but he growls if I try to take a rawhide or napkin from him. If we work on this, do you still think he shouldn’t be with a family that may have kids in the next few years? ~ Lowell

It is incredibly hard to manage all the interactions between a child and a dog who guards resources and, if you make a mistake, your child may be bitten.

You already know that your dog guards rawhide and napkins. But kids bring many other things dogs may find valuable: dirty diapers, food-stained clothing, crayons, and more. Dogs decide what they value, and it’s often not something that we would expect.

As sad as it is, I would not adopt your foster dog if you expect to have children in his lifetime.

A Dog will Help but They are Afraid!

I have a 4-1/2-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl.  My kids are not at all rough with each other or other kids. They are, however, a little afraid of dogs.  And I think they feed off of each other’s fear.
My son has a speech delay and some sensory processing issues, and his therapists tell me that a dog would help him a lot. But . . . they are both afraid.

My husband and I have come to the conclusion that we need to get a dog . . . and the sooner the better.  We both love dogs, by the way.

What do you think of us getting a dog and just helping their fears along in that way? Or is it best not to do that?  Would that traumatize them even more?

I go back and forth on this issue and would really appreciate some feedback. ~ Kelly

It’s great that you and your husband love dogs. That will help tremendously.

Don’t get a dog yet.  I think you’d be wise to spend some time helping your kids become more comfortable around dogs first. Here are some things that I think might help:

  1. Doggone Crazy game. This game has lots of photos of dogs that you can talk about. Each gamecard asks whether you should approach the dog shown and the back of the card explains the answer. It’s designed for kids 4 and up.
  2. • Dogs, Cats, and Kids Video, by Wayne Hunthausen. This has good body language information presented in easy-to-understand format.
  3. • Local Trainers. Ask a trainer if you can come watch a group class. You might even want to pay for a session in which a trainer sits with you and your kids and talks about every dog in class. Then the trainer can accompany you and the kids to meet any dogs the kids feel comfortable with.  The idea is to have them start thinking of dogs as individuals. It’s okay to like only one dog. Soon they’ll like one more, and one more, and so on.

Don’t be in a rush to add a dog to your household, but definitely get out there and start meeting some dogs. Take things slow and go at your kids’ pace. You may even want to take them out one at a time, so that they don’t feed off of each other’s anxiety.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get the right dog. Your kids are too little to completely understand how to be empathetic and kind, so you need a really great dog. Don’t choose based on breed alone. Find someone who performs behavioral assessments (also called temperament tests) to help you find a gentle, social, and very tolerant dog. These dogs exist, but it can take a while to find the right one for your family. Take your time; it will be worth the wait.

Good luck!

Dealing with a Fearful Dog

We adopted a 1-year-old pointer a few months ago. Bart snapped at me the first day when I was petting him.  A couple days later, he did it again. I wanted to get rid of him then and there, since I was due to have our first child in a couple months.  But my husband wanted to give Bart a chance, so I agreed that he could stay if the behavior changed.

Nothing changed.  My husband isn’t interested in dog training. Bart has snapped at him too, when he tries to kiss the dog’s face.

Today Bart snapped at me when I tried to get a thorn out of his paw.  Clearly this dog is still fearful.
Our son is now one month old.  I am terrified that something will happen when our son is a toddler and gets into Bart’s personal space, which is bound to happen.

I have tried working with the dog myself, but my husband seems to undo all my efforts.  He won’t discuss getting rid of Bart or training tactics with me.  He says that when Bart bites our son, he will shoot the dog—which is totally stupid and too late for everyone.

Any advice about how I can persuade him that this is a dangerous situation? ~ Tamara

Your dog needs help. He’s not going to get better on his own. Dogs grow into—not out of—aggression if they aren’t given the training and support they need.

As you said, it’s short-sighted and unfair to blame (or shoot!) the dog for acting out of fear when he hasn’t been given the help he needs. As a starting point, I’d recommend reading Nicole Wilde’s book,Help for Your Fearful Dog.

Babies and toddlers can be scary to dogs. They move very differently from adults, and they have no ability to read a dog’s body language. Once they start to crawl, they are quick and eager to investigate. Your dog will be very uncomfortable with your son making a beeline toward him.

Your dog has shown the ability to warn without causing injury, which is good. However, your son won’t recognize any warning signals and is years from being able to be consistently kind and fair to a dog. So your son and dog are going to have lots of miscommunications, and the risk for a bite is high. (And 77% of dog bites to children are on the face, so we really can’t wait for the first bite before doing something.)

Giving your dog the training and support he needs will require a committed and consistent effort from both you and your husband. If you think that you two don’t have the time and energy to work with your dog, then truly the kindest thing for everyone is for you to find him a new home that does not include children.  Then your son will be safe, and the dog will be interacting with adults, who have a fair shot of understanding canine stress signals and warnings to avoid exacerbating his fear.

I’m really sorry, I wish there were an easy answer for you, but there is not.  I hope you and your husband can find a solution that is right for all four of you.

Suddenly Overprotective Puppy

My 1-year-old lab was a star at puppy classes and is a generally friendly little guy.  This summer, I had 2 surgeries, and he has become a bit aggressive and overprotective of me.  The recovery periods required a lot of bed rest, and since I am his primary caregiver he clung to me quite heavily.  He would not let unfamiliar guests near me if I was home alone.  This was an out-of-the-blue change in his personality that I fear has led to some fear-aggression tendencies that I am hoping to nip in the bud.  How do I re-socialize this once very friendly dog? ~ Kathy

If you are up to it, try to get him out and about again.  If you aren’t ready for that, ask a trainer to supervise some visits when you have guests to offer some training tips. The very basic idea is to have guests mean good things for the dog; you’ll want to avoid feeding him unless someone comes over (which means, of course, that you’ll want to have people over often). If you can’t do a short session daily, then get some mind-blowing treat (such as roast beef) that only appears when a guest is over.

The timing of your surgeries coincided with his adolescence, which is when we typically start to see dogs feel confident enough to do something when they are uncomfortable. We need to turn his feelings around so that he enjoys your guests again.

Getting Son Acquainted with a New Dog

My fiancé wanted a puppy, but I didn’t want to deal with the chewing, training, and peeing all over the house. I wanted an older dog, one we didn’t have to work with quite as much. However my two year old only likes smaller dogs and my fiancé likes bigger dogs (as he says “something I don’t have to bend down to pet”).

We agreed to look for a slightly older, large-breed puppy to fit both of our needs. We recently found the most adorable, friendly 5-month-old yellow lab.

We’ve had the dog for about a week now, which I know it hasn’t been long, but my two-year old screams and panics anytime the dog comes near. I know the dog only wants to get to know my son, and he’s not growling or barking at him. How can I help them get acquainted without traumatizing my son? ~ Cassie

Make sure your puppy is getting tons of exercise. It’s virtually impossible to wear out a lab pup (and be aware that labs and goldens have the longest puppyhood of all), so your son is probably reacting to the puppy’s active and impulsive behavior.  A tired dog is a good dog.

Then set up some fun interactions between your son and the dog. Try putting a baby gate in a doorway with you and your son on one side and the pup on the other. Encourage your son to toss a ball or some treats over the gate. Make sure that his arm doesn’t reach across the gate because the puppy will jump at his hand, which could be scary.  Just keep them each on their own side for now.

Teach your dog to sit using treats.  Practice it a lot.  If your dog sits reliably, you’ll have better control of him. You can also have your son tell the dog to sit—and then you’ll say it too. The dog will be responding to you, but that’s not important.  We want your son to see that he can communicate a little with the dog and that there are times that the puppy isn’t so impulsive or scary.

Narrate the dog’s actions for your son, so that he can understand what the dog is doing. You can also make up some silly stories about your son and the dog. Imaginary tales filled with humor and fun can help your son to become more interested in the dog.

I hope you’ll be able to turn this situation around so that you, your fiancé, and your son all develop happy relationships with your new pup.

Old Dog, New Baby!

My 8-year-old dog has had behavioral problems for a long time, but my husband and I ignored them. A year ago we had a child. As my daughter gets more active and grabby, I am afraid Carly is going to bite her. Janette races after Carly, and Carly tries to get away. I sometimes resort to locking Carly in different rooms.

Last night, my daughter tried to pet Carly through a baby gate. Carly growled and I saw her teeth!
Carly is part of our family, and we hate to keep her separated until Janette goes to bed. Any advice? ~ Linda

Since your dog is 8 and has some long-term issues, we aren’t likely to convince her that kids are the greatest thing ever. When you separate her, give her a chew toy with a little peanut butter inside so she has something enjoyable to do. Increase her exercise as well so that she naps more.

Supervising an active toddler is exhausting.  I know you feel bad about separating Carly, but she may prefer to be separated than to be constantly on alert for Janette’s approach.

When both you and your husband are home, include Carly in your activities. One of you will watch the dog, and the other, Janette. Don’t let Janette get closer than 5’ from Carly. She’s uncomfortable, and if she feels trapped, she may bite.

As parents, we want our kids and dogs to love one another, but trying to force the relationship will backfire. Don’t ever restrain Carly so that Janette can pet her. Many parents think this will help, but it makes the dog even more anxious about the child.

Instead encourage interaction from a distance. When your daughter is in her high chair, let Carly clean the floor. Teach your daughter to toss a treat or toy to Carly. When you use a baby gate, put a box on one side so that you have at least 15” of depth between them.

Be very cautious.  Janette’s physical abilities are improving every day. You need to be sure that Carly feels that she is at a safe distance at all times. She’s telling you she’s uncomfortable and she needs your help. Consider bringing a dog trainer in to give you more specific suggestions as well.

Wake Up Call! Dog Will Not Stop Barking in the Morning!

When I go in to wake up my 5 year old each morning, my dog starts barking and acting up. I want my son to wake up, but I don’t want to wake the whole neighborhood! How can I get her to stop? ~ James

She thinks she’s participating in the wake-up call. Tell your son that when the dog barks, you are going to ignore her and walk immediately out of his room. When the dog is quiet, you’ll go back in. It doesn’t matter if the dog follows you out or stays in the room with him (as long as she isn’t jumping on the bed). Tell your son to ignore her unless you are in the room.

Keep a small cup of treats near his bed so that when your son actually sits up in bed, he can toss one to her. No treats until he’s sitting.  She’ll soon figure out that it’s not in her best interest to add to the excitement level because it only delays her reward.

Be sure to start your wake-up routine 15 minutes earlier for the first few days you try this. Within a week, she’ll catch on.

Looking for Dog for Family with Special Needs

We want to get the right dog for our family, and train him/her from the early on so the dog will become a valuable, loved, and well trained member of our family.  We are looking at labradoodles and goldendoodles.  We have 2 young sons ages 5 and 6 (one has autism). We’ve always had miniature poodles, but are looking for a dog that is more whole family friendly ~ Jackie

We get lots of “doodles” in class. Most of them are very nice dogs, but nearly all are very, very, very energetic. Far more so than a purebred lab, golden, or poodle puppy (and these pups are all known for being pretty high energy). For some reason, the combination of breeds seems to produce a “caffeinated” dog. 🙂

Are you familiar with North Star Dogs? North Star is a nonprofit group that places dogs with children who have autism. Check out their website to see if you might be interested in one of their dogs.

You might also consider adopting a dog that didn’t pass the Canine Companions for Independence training. We’ve had many CCI puppies (usually lab/golden crosses) come through our program, and they’ve been calmer than all the others. Their advanced training program is very rigorous, so they sometimes have well-trained, social adolescent dogs who would make wonderful pets, but aren’t quite up to the task of being a person’s full-time service dog.

And don’t necessarily rule out a shelter dog. One advantage of adult dogs is they’re pretty much “what you see is what you get” whereas there’s a bit more guesswork with puppies. I adopted a very sweet, social, gentle dog from a local rescue group. He’s exactly the kind of dog I’d recommend for a family like yours.

There are great dogs out there, but you’ll have to look more carefully than most people. I absolutely think a dog could thrive in your family, but it’s vital that you get the right dog. There are no perfect dogs (or perfect people), but a good trainer who knows how to perform behavioral assessments can share a lot of information with you about a given dog.

This is a really big decision, so I applaud you for doing research in advance. I’ll be happy to help you in any way I can.

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