Ask the Trainer | Train Sasha for baby’s homecoming
March 4, 2014
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,
We are expecting our first child in May. Sasha, our 2-year-old Lab mix, goes everywhere with us, sleeps in our bed and is pretty much the center of attention. She is a really good dog, but has never been around kids much since most of our friends do not have kids. In public, she doesn't seem bothered by them. What do we need to do to prepare her for the new addition to our family?
Sue, John and Sasha
Dear Sue and John,
From a dog's perspective, babies and children are strange, unpredictable and loud. They do things that in dog language are threatening like make direct eye contact, hug and hang on them, or take their toys.
Just to play it safe, do some training exercises around children so Sasha will have a wonderful association with them. Select a very special treat like steak, hot dogs or chicken. Start working at enough of a distance that Sasha is aware of the baby or child, but seems comfortable. Feed her the treats only when she is paying attention to the child or the child appears. Stop as soon as the child leaves. You want her to think that children make the hot dogs happen.
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The goal is for her to look at you excitedly whenever she sees a child. Gradually move closer to the child, always feeding when they are in view, but closely watch Sasha's body language. If she looks scared or nervous do not proceed closer until she relaxes.
Routine is important to dogs and it is important to begin to integrate changes to her routine that will come with the new baby way before he/she arrives. You don't want Sasha to associate upsetting changes or less attention with the new family member. Some ways you can start this process now are:
New room assignments: Is the nursery currently used for other purposes? Is Sasha used to sleeping in this room? If so, start to change her sleeping place now. Put her bed in another room and give her a stuffed Kong or tasty bone when she's in the new location. Block off the nursery so she can't go in there when you aren't watching. Once the baby comes, it will be important to block that room with a baby gate so she can't go in unless supervised. No dog should ever be left alone with an infant or small child.
Off limits rooms: If you plan to permanently limit access to some rooms, use baby gates or close those doors now.
Routines: Your daily routine (and I use the word very loosely) will change dramatically once the baby arrives. Every day will be different for you, but every attempt should be made to keep Sasha's routine as consistent as possible. She should still get daily exercise even if you have to hire a dog walker to help for the first few months. She's part Lab, so I'm guessing she eats all her food quickly. If not, establish a feeding schedule to create structure for her and eliminate the possibility of a crawling infant competing with her for food down the road.
Polite greetings: All dogs should be taught not to jump on people, but this is extremely important with a new baby in the house. You don't want her jumping on someone who is holding a fragile infant. Also, grandparents may want to visit more often and can be injured by a jumping dog.
Polite exits: Doors and stairways can also be dangerous and Sasha should be taught to wait before running out the door or down the stairs.
Safe harbors: Your baby will begin to crawl around 9 months of age. Give Sasha escape routes using baby gates so if she gets uncomfortable being chased she can remove herself from the action.
Basic training: Even if you went through a puppy class when she was little, this is a great time to enroll in a positive reinforcement based basic manners class. Learning will help Sasha and you build confidence and you'll have much better control if she knows cues like "Leave it," "Go to Bed," "Down," and "Stay."
Before bringing your new baby home, wrap him/her in a blanket at the hospital and then let Sasha smell it before she actually meets the baby. When you arrive home, have dad stay outside with the baby and let mom come in and greet Sasha. They won't have seen each other for a couple days and Sasha will likely be excited. Once she's calmed down, bring the baby in. Give her some tasty rewards and let her be part of the new family unit.
I wish you all the best.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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