Things are going really well in our household since Puppy E came home several weeks ago. And it’s not just good luck — we did plenty of preparation ahead of time to get the dogs accustomed to the routines, sounds, smells, and general presence of a baby in the house. But there’s a lot more to it than that, too. The biggest success factor, in our opinion, is to make sure that the dogs feel calm, relaxed, and safe in every single interaction with the baby.
The other day, a friend was bragging to me about how good her dog is with little kids. Several toddlers had been over at her house, and decided to play with her dog. The dog tolerated their ear tugging, tail pulling, and wrestle moves, my friend boasted, even though he was clearly unimpressed. According to my friend, the dog was looking to her, like: Mom, I know I have to tolerate this, but I am really unhappy. What struck me about this story was that my friend chose to observe and allow this behavior to continue even though her dog was uncomfortable, rather than intervening on his behalf.
What my friend didn’t realize is that on that day, she sent a message to her dog: you are on your own. Luckily, her dog is laid-back enough to have tolerated this particular interaction with these children without acting out. But there is no telling whether a day will come when he decides he has had enough and, fairly, tells the children in no uncertain terms to back off –– or worse. If the dog did growl, snap, or bite, he would most certainly be blamed. Called aggressive. But in reality, he had looked to his people the whole time to help out, but no one paid any mind. Can you really blame the guy?
It is our responsibility to be our dogs’ guardians. It is our duty to keep them safe and happy, and protect them in situations that make them uncomfortable. Even when the children are our own, we must look out for the dogs –- as well as the kids.
A new baby coming home creates a lot of excitement in a household. Dogs, accustomed to living in a house with no tiny humans, may be nervous or over-excited when the new human first moves in. Obviously, this is understandable. But it is during those moments of over–arousal that dogs tend to make poor choices or act un-gently. And and un–gentle dog, even if it is super friendly, can spell trouble for a tiny human.
So in our house, we were especially careful about one thing. Before the dogs were allowed to interact with Puppy E at close range, they had to be totally over it. We did not want any tap-dancing paws, fast–wagging tails, or excited puppy kisses. We wanted total boredom. And we got it. How? Simple. When the baby first came home, we kept the dogs busy with plenty of enrichment activities. Lots of walks, stuffed bones and kongs to chew on, puzzle toys to play with, and slow, controlled–based exercises in the presence of the baby. Things like sit-stays and down-stays. After a few hours for Chick and a couple days for Doodlebug, they thought the baby was the most boring thing in the world. A total non-issue. And that was exactly what we wanted.
So now, all of our interactions are monitored. If either dog shows the slightest sign of being nervous or too excited, we gently invite him to walk away. The message? If you are nervous, you don’t have to stay. The dogs both seem to appreciate this, and now enjoy spending time in the presence of Puppy E without feeling any pressure to stay or to go. As Puppy E gets older and becomes mobile, new challenges will pop up. But we are betting that by setting up the relationship between the dogs and baby correctly from the start, we will be better able to face these challenges gracefully.
For more about preparing your dogs for a new human addition, check out our Preparing for Baby Mini-Series: