Ooh, Congrats! You’re expecting! That’s awesome! But your “first baby,” your dog, never lived with babies. Babies and toddlers are fragile little beings, hell-bent on mayhem and chaos. My son’s allergic to dogs, but still won’t keep his hands off them. Most dogs need some specific training to feel comfortable with a new baby, but most dogs also become very attached to their new human. A baby-proof dog keeps both your children and itself safe. Here are my top seven tips to baby-proof your dog.
Understand your Dog
You do! He’s awesome and funny and quirky, and he loves that one duck toy. He’s also put off by people that act odd. And guess who acts odd? Babies and toddlers. Extra-much on the toddler front. They don’t understand social cues from other humans, let alone pets. They grab. Your dog needs some compassion and help getting through this part of his life. It’s hard on you, hard on your spouse, hard on the kids you already have, and hard on your pets.
Start as you mean to go on.
It seems pretty simple, but in practice it can be really difficult. I know that as a mom, I always want to give in when my kid gets upset, because I don’t like seeing him upset. Also, he picks opportune moments. But you’ve got to do the hard stuff so the easy stuff stays easy. If your dog always sleeps on the couch with his head in your lap, but you want to breastfeed, stop that tradition. He won’t get it in his head that the baby has usurped him if he didn’t enjoy the privilege anyways. If he always barks at the leaves falling off trees, re-train him now. Otherwise, you’ll be too exhausted to train him when the baby’s finally asleep.
His Happy Place.
Set up a special place just for your dog. Whenever your dog feels like he can’t deal with the kids anymore, he needs an out. Give him a special bed that he can snooze in without the kids bothering him. Never allow the kids to touch or interact with him while he sleeps or rests in his happy place. Put it in a spot the kids won’t notice him, like a bedroom closet or the laundry room. He will appreciate having a space of his own. The baby-proof dog goes to his happy place on command. If you see him getting too excited from the kids, you can send him to his happy place and he can wind back down. Get him a few toys to keep in his happy place, so he can chill out without interruption.
As your infant grows into a baby, the grabby hands will emerge. Work with your dog on being comfortable with having his ears pulled, feet picked up and prodded, tail pulled, coat brushed backwards, and all of the things that you can imagine a child doing to him. A baby-proof dog tolerates this with no complaints, and give him treats liberally for letting you do these things. At the same time, as soon as you can feel him start tensing up when you’ve gone a touch too far, send him to his space. He’ll learn that as soon as he starts feeling tense, he goes to his happy place. Even after baby arrives, give him treats and praise every time he allows your child to interact with him. He’ll start looking forward to contact, instead of avoiding it.
Giving Up Good Stuff
Lots of dogs have possessive tendencies. They react aggressively or even just stressed when others handle their toys or food. Deal with it before you bring a child into your home. Your child will touch something that your dog perceives as “his,” and a dog like this absolutely will bite your child. If your dog has already bitten or snapped at someone, get the help of a licensed professional to retrain him or advise on your options. If, however, your dog simply tenses up and freezes, work with your dog. Daily. Every time he’s got something good, walk over to him and toss him a high-value treat, like liver or cheese. Eventually you will be able to get closer and closer, and start touching his things. You must resolve possession—a dog that is tense around his food or toys will get worse, and “worse” is biting.
Get off the furniture!
A lot of families allow their dogs on the furniture, and most dogs remain respectful of the family. Teach your dog to get down when commanded. Dogs view their position in the family in a very linear manner, and something as simple as “you get off the couch when you’re told, no matter who tells you,” reinforces their place in the hierarchy—the bottom. This helps prevent many issues in otherwise reasonable dogs, like food guarding, shoving, and stealing food from toddlers.
Train the kids.
You’ve got to train the kids, too. As they grow, they should be taught how to be gentle with your dog. They should stay away from your dog while he’s eating or chewing a toy—even if your dog doesn’t care. Children should leave your dog alone when he’s sleeping or in his happy place. Their experience with your dog, in your home, will shape their interactions with all other dogs. If they understand that they should leave your dog alone while he eats, they won’t bug their best friend’s dog, and that dog might bite. It keeps them safer not only in your home, but out in the world as well.