One of the most important services you can provide as a dog trainer is helping parents to prepare their dogs for the upcoming baby. Parents-to-be are nervous for what to expect for their own life, but add in their dog, and they are nervous for how their dog will also feel. I have been providing a PowerPoint presentation for parents-to-be over the past three months and out of the 20 or so parents I have spoken to, at least 90% of them have said they are nervous about how their dog will feel since they currently get so much of the owner’s attention. So, what exactly is important information for parents-to-be to have to help them and their dog feel better about the new family member?
1. Bite Statistics
I start my PowerPoint of with basic bite statistics, stating how many people are bit a year, how many of them are children, and how many of them were unsupervised. I believe parents-to-be need to know that dogs are dogs, and should be treated as such for the dog and child’s benefit. I believe it also helps drive home the fact that a dog and baby should never be left unattended together, and that the owner should always be able to get to the baby before the dog. Always.
2. Canine Body Language
One of the most important things parents-to-be can do is to know when their dog is uncomfortable. I like to include Lilli Chin’s drawings of body language and fear body language for my parents-to-be. They are a light-hearted way to show what to look for and owners really take a liking to the pictures. They enjoy going over the hand outs with me and then I point them to more detailed information such as Youtube videos or books on body language. I tell them what stress looks like in a dog and what a relaxed dog looks like.
3. Basic Obedience Cues
As a parent, they will be using many basic cues throughout the day to keep the dog and baby safe and out of the way when things get hectic. I like to include their name, sit, down, a place cue, and wait/stay. I tell them to start incorporating these cues into their every day schedule. Small training sessions can also be mentally stimulating. I also suggest group classes for appropriate dogs as a way to bond with their dog and spend time with them before the baby comes.
4. Behavior Modification
I tell parents-to-be to start working on behavioral issues as soon as they find out they are pregnant because they will not magically go away after the baby comes, and can often times behavior issues can worsen after the baby arrives. I include a slide on what the difference between a trainer, behaviorist, and behavioral consultant are and where to find a reputable professionals for assistance.
Helping the dogs to become comfortable with all the new things going on is one of the most important things that can be done before baby comes. I advise families to set up all their child paraphernalia as soon as they receive it so that the dog can become comfortable around it. Slowly incorporate the swinging swing, the moving stroller, and any other object that may move or make noise. Also, I show them how to desensitize their dog to handling of the ears, muzzle, tail, paws, and torso. I make sure to include that children should never be able to ride or handle their dogs roughly, but if an accident ever occurs, we want our dogs to be as prepared as possible.
6. Household Preparation
This includes mental stimulation, relax stations, and quiet areas. Frozen food toys can be prepped before baby comes so parents have something quick to give the dogs if they have an emergency with their child and cannot entertain their dogs at that moment. It lets them know their dogs are doing something productive so they can focus on their child.
Relax stations are places parents feel confident leaving their dogs while they deal with their child, or places the dogs can learn to relax while around the child. These include the dog’s crate, baby gating off special areas, Xpens for dogs who are good with barriers, and tethering systems in the same room so dogs can see and be a part of the family, but cannot reach the child. Tethering systems are good to recommend when the dog normally sleeps with the owners, as they can still be on the bed but cannot reach the baby when they wake up at night. Reinforcing their dogs when they are calm around the baby in these relax stations will help the dogs learn to relax around baby. Quiet areas are places that baby and dog can go when they need to get away from each other. I generally recommend that the nursery be dog free, and the crating area for their dog be child free. The nursery can either be gated off or they can start barrier training before baby comes.
When the time comes for introductions, things are kept low-key. I think parents-to-be are sometimes surprised to hear how low-key introductions should be kept. Parents should be calm and quiet when they decide to introduce their dogs and baby. If other people are in the house or the parents are stressed or worried, I let them know it is ok to hold off introductions. They don’t need to be rushed. When the time comes, they should be holding baby or have them somewhere up higher that is sturdy. Dog and baby never need to meet face to face. I tell parents the most important information I received was, “This is MY baby, not my dog’s.” Dogs will get to know baby through smell and every day routine with the baby. They should never have free access to the baby in the beginning, and a parent’s arm should always be between dog and baby in case something needs to be interrupted. Baby carriers such as slings or wraps can be used in the beginning to keep baby close to the parents and give the parents two hands to use with their dogs. Carriers are also nice for prey driven dogs because it keeps baby’s arms and legs from moving and becoming enticing to the dogs.
Most dogs do well with a routine, but babies are never good with a routine. I let the parents know they should be keeping their dog’s routine as close to normal as possible during the transition. Dog walkers can help keep their dog’s physical exercise up those first few weeks while they get used to being new parents. I mention my day training program that is perfect for mental and physical exercise. If they can’t get their dog out as much as usual, recommend a variety of different ways they can mentally stimulate their dog with toys and their breakfast and dinner. I also tell the parents that it is important to give their dog attention throughout the day, not just when baby is napping.
Preparing for a baby can be very stressful, as well as exciting, for a family, so I try to give my families as much information as possible to help make the transition smooth. Parents walk away feeling relief after this presentation because it touches on a lot of topics they never even thought of before. It is our job as professional dog trainers to make sure parents are prepared, and that the dog has as easy a transition as possible. What other topics would/do you include in your dog and baby presentation?
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