Training a dog for a new baby

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 4/17/11
By: Gail T. Fisher

Last week’s column addressed preparing the environment for a new baby in answer to a reader who wrote: “Max has been our baby for five years and is extremely jealous of babies or children. I’ve thought about carrying a doll and giving Max treats when he behaved properly. I'm hoping that he might become desensitized enough to ignore the doll after a while and could generalize this to a real baby.”

 


It’s important for all dogs to learn to respond to cues for basic manners such as walk politely on leash, come when called, sit and lie down when told. Basic training helps create a cooperative relationship that carries over to all areas of your life together with your dog.

 

Prospective parents can use training to accustom their dog to many changes related to the arrival of a baby. The more behaviors the dog is trained for, the more new parents can use them, or teach new behaviors to eliminate “sibling rivalry.” If you haven’t trained your dog, start now—it’s never too late! Positive attention for performing good behaviors can often prevent anxiety, which can lead to a dog acting out. True for all dogs and dog owners, for new parents, using your dog’s training lets him know that life as he knew it hasn’t gone away.

 


Most dogs gain our attention by nudging an arm to be petted. Not a problem for most of us most of the time, it can be a problem if you’re holding an infant. Teach your dog that he isn’t always the center of your attention with a cue such as “enough or all done” meaning, “You’re on your own ... I’m not going to pay attention to you now.” It says that you won’t give him your attention right now, or that you are finished petting or playing with him. “Enough” can be taught quite easily, and it isn’t a negative or punishment. It simply means “not now.”

 


Here’s how to teach it: While you’re petting your dog, stop petting him, and in a matter-of-fact, not angry tone of voice, say “enough” just once. Fold your arms, look away and ignore your dog. If he nudges, move your arm out of reach. If he paws, shift your posture away from him. If need be, stand and move away. Don’t repeat the cue, since you want him to understand that you mean it the first and only time you say it. Do the same thing when playing with your dog. At the end of the game, say “enough” and walk away. The first time you do this, your dog may be persistent. Be firm; don’t give in. The next time, he’ll stop pestering you sooner. After several repetitions, your dog will understand that when you say “enough” you mean it, and you won’t change your mind.

 


Don’t give in to attention-seeking behavior once you’ve said, “Enough,” or you’ll reinforce your dog’s persistence in pestering you—which you do not want to do! Once your dog understands this cue, hold a doll or Teddy bear and practice stopping attention-seeking behavior when you’re holding “the baby.”

 


Use training to get your dog used to equipment such as the stroller and baby carrier. Put the Teddy bear in the carrier and carry it around the house. Practice putting your dog through his paces while you’re holding the carrier. If you plan to walk Max and the baby together, start now, putting a weight such as a sack of flour in the stroller so maneuvers as if the baby is in it, and train Max while walking the stroller.

Dogs use their noses to “get acquainted,” and it can be helpful to let him “smell” the baby prior to him or her coming home. In response to last week’s column, a reader sent in the following great suggestion: “When my daughter was in the hospital after the birth of her baby, my son-in-law took one of the blankets the baby had been wrapped in home to their dog every night for the dog to become accustomed to the baby's scent. By the time they arrived home with their new daughter, their doggie daughter accepted her as part of the family.”

 


Finally, if the dog’s “jealousy” is demonstrated by aggression, or if a prospective parent needs additional guidance to introduce the baby and dog, consult with a qualified professional trainer, preferably before the baby arrives.


Copyright © Gail T. Fisher, 2011. All rights reserved. http://www.alldogsgym.com For permission to reprint this article or suggestions for future topics, please contact us.