Thursday, January 22, 2015

Getting Your Dog Ready for a New Baby and Introducing Them

Adding to your family is one of the most exciting moments in life.  If you're the couple like my husband and I were, we added to our family with our dog, Sydney, before we had our daughter, Taylor.  Getting Sydney ready for life with a human sibling was not something that we took lightly.  We also wanted to make sure that Taylor's homecoming would go smoothly for Sydney with this small person "invading" her "territory."

Sydney is and always will be our first baby.  We began to call ourselves Mommy and Daddy when we brought that adorable Shih Tzu puppy into our home in 2008.  Matt and I don't see Sydney as a pet or "just a dog."  She's our furry daughter and so much more.  So, when I unexpectedly got pregnant with Taylor, we knew that this baby's entrance into our lives would change ALL of our lives - that includes Sydney's!  Hearing a baby cry frequently, noticing her parents' attention shifted to this little person and not as much toward Sydney, and still having her own needs fulfilled was going to be a huge change for Syd!

According to the ASPCA, there are ways to get your dog ready for the new family member. The main two objectives in preparation involve 1) teaching your dog to interact safely with the new baby and 2) help your dog adjust to the new upcoming experiences as much as possible.

Consider working on some obedience training to help manage your dog's behavior once you have your hands full with a new baby IN ADDITION to doggy.  Sit, stay, down, and stop jumping on people are good examples of behaviors to correct early. Leave it and drop it are also good since your dog will be exposed to new toys in the house - that are NOT hers!  I have had to confiscate a pacifier from Sydney a few times because she liked it as a chew toy.  It was a chew toy; just not hers.  Over some training and time, she eventually learned that certain verbal cues from me meant, "Don't even think of putting that binky in your mouth!"  All I did was teach her that the verbal cue "Ah-AH" meant no (said in a very stern tone of voice to catch her attention).  This has to be done repetitively to learn it.

If you have any trouble training your dog on your own, an obedience class is a good option.

If you need to move some of your dog's stuff, such as food and water bowls, her bed, and any other of her belongings, gradually get your dog used to the new location early.  Move it a little bit at a time. Once that baby comes, your life may be turned upside down until you get more into a routine.  Moving your dog's stuff somewhere else is going to turn her world upside down as well!  She will get stressed out, and then you'll feel like you're ready to pull your hair out with a screaming baby, barking and whining dog, and probably very little sleep for you!

We took a Baby-Ready Pets class prior to Taylor's birth.  One interesting thing that we learned was to get a baby doll (as close to real as possible) and get the dog used to seeing you hold a baby.  If your dog sits on your lap without you inviting her first (assuming you have a lap dog), start to teach her to wait to sit by you or on your lap until you invite her.  You can use the baby doll in this training as well.

Visit the ASPCA's web site for more ideas on how to prepare your dog for the baby.  Decide on whether or not jumping on furniture will be allowed, sleeping in bed with you (dog, that is), and other things that may not seem like a big deal now but could become a problem down the road.

As for the first introduction between your furry baby and your human baby, there's away to make this first meeting go smoothly.  Every dog is different, and there is no guarantee that this first meeting will go 100% well, but this idea of the first introduction can help.

I will first tell you what Matt and I did when Sydney met Taylor, and then I will provide more expert advice.

The night before Taylor and I came home from the hospital, Matt took home one of the little onesies that Taylor had been wearing that day.  When he got home that evening, he let Sydney sniff the onesie to learn Taylor's scent.  We ourselves can't smell this "scent," but animals can detect this scent.  This scent becomes ingrained in her memory so that when this little baby comes in the house, her scent is not new.

So, Matt came back to the hospital the next day to bring his recovering wife (from c-section) and new daughter home. Before we entered the house, Matt carried Taylor into the house because Sydney, who would be excited to see me after I had been gone for 3 days, could greet me and get some attention from me upon my entry into the house. Sydney really did miss me!  I had trouble leaning down to see her with the big surgical incision in my lower abdomen, but I managed.

Then I sat down on the couch, put a boppy pillow around me, and took the baby from my mom (who had also joined us for our trip home).  I invited Sydney over to the couch cushion next to me, and I watched her every move as she leaned in to sniff Taylor.  Sydney's reaction was cute.  She did not rush over to sniff Taylor at first.  She was rather timid about it!  Sydney sat next to me on the couch, but she was unsure about coming over to see this little baby and get too close to her. She got used to her though.

Now, here is what the ASPCA says about bringing the baby home:

They suggest to put the dog on a leash before the baby comes in the house.  We didn't do this for Syd, but it's a judgment call for you.  They also suggest to have some treats ready for your dog's first moments around the baby to reinforce/reward good behavior or a bribe to discourage any bad behavior.

As your dog and baby meet, you need to remember that if you're anxious and nervous about this, our dog will pick up on it and also be nervous and anxious.  Do not teach her to be nervous and anxious around the baby as this will create a negative opinion of the baby.  Calm, happy voice is the key to teaching your dog that this baby is a fun and good thing, not a bad thing!

Learn canine body language to assess whether or not things are going well and your dog is relaxed.  It is up to you on when to let the dog sniff the baby and get close to her.  Again, remember to STAY CALM!

Once you're ready for their first interaction to take a little break, treats and toys are a great distraction for your dog.  Have someone else (husband, friend, relative who is present) do this distraction with the dog.

So, now that you've integrated your baby into your family's life, remember this VERY IMPORTANT TIP about life with a dog and baby: Even if you think you can trust them alone together, NEVER leave them alone together!  If you have to leave the room, take one of them with you.  Sometimes it's easier to tell your dog to "Come," than it is to wake a sleeping baby to carry him or her with you.  I used a baby sling at times, which Taylor had fallen asleep in anyway, and that way had the baby close to my body while still able to be hands free.

One tool to help with certain times that may involve baby and dog separation (these aren't always bad): BABY GATES.

Your dog may adjust to a mostly sleeping newborn at first, but that baby will eventually become a grabbing and mobile baby.  This is when you need to watch and be proactive to prevent disasters (such as a curious, crawling baby trying to grab the dog's tail or ears) in which your dog may have to defend him or herself!

So, before you try to find your dog a new home before the baby arrives or have a hard time dealing with your dog's stressful adjustment (leading to finding her a new home), do some preparation to make this transition as smooth as possible!  Parenting a new baby is hard enough.  Parenting a new baby with a stressed out dog makes it harder.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dog-Care Chores: Getting Children Involved in Their Pet's Care

"Mommy gives me Sydney's treat jar, and I tell Sydney to, 'Sit,' and then put the treat in her mouth."

Some parents may feel overwhelmed taking care of their human children and then furry children as well. It's true that children and pets are dependent on the adults in the house for their needs.  Although parents are still primarily responsible for their pet's care, does this mean that children can't help out with the pet-care chores?

Certainly not.

Helping out with the family's furry (and scaly, feathery, and slimy, if you have those) members has many benefits for your young family members.  They learn to bond with them.  They learn responsibility and to have a good work ethic.  They learn some degree of selflessness.  There are probably many more benefits, but those listed above are to name a few.

I am focusing on dog care since that is what I'm familiar with, but if you have cats or other animals, you can apply some of these ideas to those animals as well.

When is too young to start?  Well, as the parents knowing your own children and furry babies, that is completely up to you.  Use your judgment and common sense.

Some web sites that I browsed on this topic started their chore suggestions at age 4.  My daughter, Taylor, however, has started to help out with our dog, Sydney, at age 3.  She does simple chores for now, but they make her very proud of herself.

One of the topics that "Sydney & Me" touches on is how Taylor helps out with Sydney's care.  At this point in her life, Taylor can't walk Sydney by herself yet -- Taylor can't even take herself for one yet for that matter -- but she likes to hold a part of the leash while my husband or I walk her.  It makes her feel like she's doing the dog walking while I still have control if Sydney sees a squirrel and starts to make a mad dash for it.  It seems like a minor chore, but it's the start of her learning how to do bigger Sydney chores in the future. Someday Taylor will be able to handle the dog walking on her own.

Per the above picture, Taylor's favorite chore is giving Sydney a treat after Sydney has gone to the bathroom outside.  We have a special treat jar for Sydney, and the lid seals pretty tightly when closed.  So, I open it for her (if she did it, who knows what would happen?), and Taylor gets a treat from it.  She has seen me tell Sydney to sit before giving her the treat many times, so Taylor started to do this as well on her own. A child will have to be taught how to hold the treat so that the dog does not accidentally bite his or her little fingers as the dog takes the treat in her mouth.

I looked on a page called, which had this article on age-appropriate chores for children to help with dog care.  It starts at age 4 and states chores through age 15.  Keep in mind that these are guidelines.  Again, as the parent, you know your kids and furry kids as far as how many of these chores are appropriate for your child.  If you look at age 4 ideas, petting the dog may not seem like a "chore," but petting is important because it makes your dog happy.  If your child isn't comfortable having the dog take a treat out of his or her fingers, you can do what this article suggests - let the child drop the treat on the floor and let the dog pick it up. Taylor started out doing that, but now she has learned how to put the treat in Sydney's mouth without her fingers accidentally getting bitten from it.

By age 9, children should be able to help their parents bathe the dog.  By age 12, your child can teach your dog new tricks and learn how to give your dog a "checkup" (check for any obvious problems that may require an adult's or vet's care and/or first aid.  For instance, your child may feel a bump on the dog that may indicate a tick or some type of injury.  Or your child can spot any abnormalities in the eyes or ears.  Show the child while the dog is completely without injury or problems what a healthy dog looks like.  If they find something that could be out of the ordinary, they are not to hesitate to tell their parents.  Finally at age 15, they should be able to do all of these things plus pick up poop in the yard.

Another web site called has some other very similar suggestions in their article about pet chores for kids by age. Their suggestions start at age 2, which are playing with the animal with parental supervision and picking up the animal's toys. As the child grows older and more responsible, he or she will take on more responsibilities for the pets.  By their mid-to-late teenage years, he or she should be able to do most of the chores that the parents can do (maybe some emergency situations will require just Mom and Dad though).

As with any chlid-dog interaction, NEVER leave a young child and animal alone together!  Even if your child and dog have good temperaments, you just never know when something bad could happen.  Don't put your child in a position of being vulnerable to an animal's attack, and don't put your animal in a position of feeling like he or she needs to defend him/herself by using aggression - thus possibly resulting in the animal being put down.  As the parent, you are the "pack leader" and will need to lead the child and animal in building their relationship, and that may include being the buffer between a tragic disaster and no disaster.