This week’s post is by our guest writer and dog trainer, Deborah Rosen of Good CitiZEN Dog Training which has franchises in WA State, Denver, and Florida.
In the last blog post we discussed the need to take great care when introducing a new baby to your family dog. These may be precautionary measures since many dogs take a shine to children and will not behave badly; however, even the most socialized of dogs may have difficulty with a new baby and it’s always best to put safety first.
There are often things that children do, naturally, that may provoke anxiety and reactivity in dogs. A child may start crying, emit a scream if excited or upset or even throw something from a high chair or crib that could be viewed as hostile to your pup. While it is difficult to know what might irritate a dog, it’s best to get a “jump start” on desensitizing him before trouble presents itself.
Babies are Good Things!
Always start with the dog and baby at a safe distance from one another. The instant the dog observes the baby, be ready with a treat and effusive praise. It’s important to deliver the treat and praise quickly since dogs have a limited attention span. Wait patiently and allow the dog to look at the baby without prompting. Once again, deliver the treat and praise as an “unexpected surprise” to the dog.
What the dog comes to quickly understand is that the baby is a “predictor” of good things. This simple exercise results in the dog feeling that the baby is a terrific new addition to the family. In the mind of the dog, we are creating a positive connection to the baby, or what we call a “conditioned emotional response” of the most pleasant kind. Now it’s important to do this at several different times during the day. Start when everyone is in a good mood and do it many times until the dog looks at the baby and then, automatically, back at you for his or her treat. It’s important to keep this going. As the baby starts to emote, as babies often do, keep treating and praising the dog.
Crying Babies – not so bad!
Once you have done this multiple times and moved to a distance much closer than where you first started, you may begin the exercise when the baby is not so happy. A crying or screaming baby can irritate and arouse much deeper and darker instincts in a dog. It is important when working with a crying baby to have two people present – one to work with the dog and another to administer to the baby.
Start the process again, first at a safe distance (8 – 10 feet) and then slowly, moving closer. Allow the dog to look at the baby and then interrupt the look with a high-pitched happy praise and a high-value treat. Once you have repeated this many times at a distance, you may begin to slowly move closer. By doing this slowly and repeatedly, you are helping the dog to understand the baby, although upset and crying, is not a threat or a thing to be viewed negatively. You are helping to turn an otherwise unpleasant occurrence for the dog into a more positive experience.
Even if you have no concerns about your pet dog, doing these exercises will help instill in the dog the right set of emotions and skills needed to withstand the onslaught of the new addition to the family. And, it’s still best to never leave a dog and a baby alone. Although it’s hard to imagine our beloved pet doing anything that might harm a child, it’s always best to be safe!