Baby Love

By Diane Schlindwein

January 16, 2009 6 min read

BABY LOVE

How to acclimate your dog to your new bundle of joy

Diane Schlindwein

Creators News Service

Bringing home a new baby makes for happy yet somewhat stressful times for all members of a household -- including the family dog.

That's why it's important to change routines well before the child arrives, said Barbara Shumannfang, a certified dog trainer, founder of Top Notch Dog in Durham, N.C. and author of "Happy Kids, Happy Dogs: Building a Friendship Right from the Start" ($16, Lulu Press).

Shumannfang recommends introducing a "safety zone" months before your due date. The safety zone is an indoor spot where your pet and child cannot interact -- this could be a baby-gated room, a crate or an exercise pen where the dog can relax and enjoy his meals or an edible toy.

Other ways to prepare your pup include having him checked out by a veterinarian, acting on any problem behaviors and participating in training lessons. Get him used to baby smells, sounds and movements and practice caring for a baby with a doll, said Shumannfang.

Since your new child will be taking up more of your attention, the dog should get used to spending more time in the safety zone while you are home and away. Remember that your animal requires exercise, no matter how tired you feel.

Madeline Gabriel, another certified dog trainer who teaches over 20 classes per year to expectant parents at three major San Diego area hospitals, said parents-to-be should devise a "job description" for their pet. "Dogs have no idea what's going on with the baby. Their job is to be your companion," she said. "If you are going to ask more of them, expect to help your dogs be successful."

When baby arrives home, patience is important. "Basically, a dog can come up and meet the baby when everyone is comfortable with the idea and the dog doesn't seem to care that much anymore," Gabriel said. "This can be 10 minutes after you get home or possibly even up to two weeks later."

When you introduce Fido to your baby, hold the baby close and facing your body with no dangling limbs, Gabriel said. Let him have a casual sniff or two and then tell him, "Good dog. That's enough."

"Either move along with the baby or send your dog off to do something else. Set the tone that there is no need to linger up close with the baby," Gabriel said. "After all, it's your baby, not your dog's baby, and there's not much else you'd want a dog to do with an infant anyway."

Never leave your pooch unattended with an infant or place them on the floor or furniture together. "If does not matter if the dog is Lassie; it is never a good idea to leave your baby, even in a crib, a mechanical swing or a car seat, when you step out of the room," Shumannfang said. "It is not paranoia; it's common sense.

"I could tell stories of preventable incidents that would curl your toes," she said. "These attacks do not come out of the blue, but most people do not recognize the warning signs before it's too late."

Some signals of stress in your pooch are avoiding or walking away from a child; looking away during an interaction; and yawning or licking lips. If any of these scenarios play out, put the dog in a safety zone and try to figure out what is causing his stress. If you see these warning signs frequently, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a professional.

Rarely a dog gives signals of possible predation to a baby or child, Shumannfang added. Among the very serious signs to look for are: staring at a child and/or whining or barking; staring silently; pacing and whining and/or panting near the baby or where he sleeps; lunging or leaping up at an infant, usually silently or with whining; poking at a baby with muzzle and mouth closed; touching the baby with teeth; or aloof behavior and lack of sociable behaviors toward a child (these include ears back, gentle licking, widely wagging tail held below the dog's spine level and/or soft, squinty eyes).

"Anything that doesn't seem quite right or worries you should lead parents to immediately board the dog at vet clinic until they have an appointment with a professional," Shumannfang said.

After a dog has proven to be trustworthy and the child is old enough to interact with him, it's up to parents to teach "gentle touch" methods to him or her, starting with a stuffed plush animal first. "You must teach your child how to touch your dog correctly, so that your dog will enjoy your child's hands on him," Shumannfang said.

The child should gently pet the dog's chest or side of the face. Rather than using hugs and kisses, teach your child to kiss the palm of her hand and then "give the kiss" by petting your pup.

Always use reward-based methods to train your pooch, Shumannfang concluded. "If you want your dog to offer self-control and feel relaxed around your baby, your training must make your dog feel happy and relaxed, too."

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