Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What to Expect......

With word slowly spreading about the upcoming "arrival", it seems a fitting time to make a blog post about not only "what to expect" for us, but what our canine friends may come to expect as the time gets near. 

Babies and dogs can go really, really well together.  Or things can go really, really poorly.  It all depends on your level of preparedness for what it means to share a home with both a newborn and a dog (and in my case, four dogs).  There are some fundamental skills that dogs should know BEFORE baby comes home - it`s not wise to wait until you get home from the hospital, and you don`t have the time to start training new skills.  In today's blog post I hope to share some of what I will be doing in my own home, in case that others may find it helpful. 

My dogs are my life.  And now, my future child will also be my life.  For me, it is not an either/or -my dogs are still going to, and always will, play a very important role in my life.  Therefore it is my responsibility to ensure my dogs' happiness, quality of life, and safety, as we all make this new transition into the next part of our journey together.  

Keep in mind, that your home and lifestyle may be very different than mine, and therefore your circumstances may be different, so please don't take this as "the only" things you need to teach your dog, as every single dog/family dynamic is different.

Go To Mat:  This, to me, is a very important skill to have.  This skill will allow you to include your dog in many more activities with your child. When a dog has the skills to go to a specific place and lie quietly, your dog is less likely to be left out of activities.  Whether it's feeding time, changing baby, or going on a picnic together, this skill can really increase your dog's involvement in your daily activities with baby.

Upstairs/Downstairs:  It is important not to overlook spatial skills as well.  My house has a main level and an upper level,  it also has a deck with stairs and a front porch with stairs.  Lots and lots of stairs.  When moving about the house, I am a strong believer of having the dogs go up and down stairs BEFORE me, not behind me, as that way I know exactly where they are relative to my location, and I don't have to be checking behind me to make sure nobody has decided to follow me halfway down the stairs.  A simple safety measure that should be considered in every home.

Stay: A no-brainer, really.  This plays a role in most of the skills the dogs will learn.  Having a dog be able to stay put when you need to do something (change the baby, answer the phone, etc), is a huge safety measure.  Having the dogs be able to go upstairs and stay upstairs without needing reminders is a really helpful thing to have on hand.

Off: I'm not ashamed to say that my dogs are welcome on my furniture, and they sleep in bed with me at night. I do not plan to take that privelege away from them.  That being said, I think it is very important that all dogs understand to "get off" something when asked, so that you can use the space for whatever it is you may need.  In this case, feeding a newborn is easier if the dogs are not trying to snuggle in your lap or lick baby's toes while you feed. 

Leave It:   Useful for far more things than just babies, the use of this skill becomes instantly clear when it comes to dogs and kids.  Preventing the dogs from pestering a baby in its swing or playpen, leaving baby's toys safely alone on the floor, leaving the pacifier that baby just flung at the dogs alone...well, the list will go on.  And the older baby gets, the more important this skill becomes!  This can also be important when you get to the point in walking with your dog and stroller (which I plan to do, I will be beginning stroller training in the next month or two when the snow is melted), it is important for your dog to redirect its attention away from something it wants quickly, easily, and without conflict.

Travel Safety: This will not be anything new for my dogs, as my dogs are always crated or seatbelted in a vehicle, but I thought I would throw it out there for others, whose dogs may have a history of travelling loose in a vehicle.   Dogs travelling loose in vehicles with young children pose great risks for both dogs and children.  Children may grab at, poke, pull, and throw things at your dog (after all, that's what babies do!), and if you are driving you are not in any form of control of the situation in the backseat. Your dog may get frustated, anxious, and defensive if it cannot stay safely out of reach of your child.  Also, in the case of an accident, an unrestrained dog can become a dangerous projectile for all passengers in the vehicles.  So if your dog is used to being loose in the back (or front) seat while travelling, take the time now to get your dog used to travelling in a seatbelt harness, being crated, or by purchasing one of those rear-vehicle barriers that keeps your dog confined to the back of a van or SUV.

Leave a Room on Cue:  Very helpful when you want the dogs to leave a room quickly, or when the dogs are entering a room when you are in the middle of a task with your baby. Perhaps you want them to exit the nursery (if you will allow them access at all) while you get baby ready for bed.  Or maybe you need to split your attention for a few minutes, such that you cannot supervise your dog and your child 100% (this is to be covered in a future posting). That way you can safely divert your attention for a few minutes while you do what you need to do.

Walking on a Loose Leash: I don't think this requires any special explanation, as the importance is pretty straightforward. 

Reliable Recall: There will likely be situations as time goes on when you need to quickly call your dog away from something (perhaps toddler and dog are playing nearby you, and toddler starts to cry and scream).  When you are more than two feet from your dog and child, the safest thing you may have at your disposal is a quick recall to call your dogs away, separating your dog from your child, so that you can then deal with the situation at hand.

The Ability to be alone: This will not pose a large problem for my dogs, as they are already used to having to split my attention from time to time.  I often have boarders or fosters who simply need my individual attention at that time, so they have learned long ago that just because I am home, it does`not mean I am available to them 100% of the time. I will be utilizing baby gates in my home as a safety measure (not just at stairs, but to separate different areas of the home as well), and I need to know that my dogs will not throw a fit just because they are confined behind a baby gate for a period of time.  If your dog has problems being away from you while you do something in the home, the time to fix that problem is long before you have a baby, not after you get home from the hospital.  Your baby will absolutely take your attention away from your dog at times, especially in the early stages, so it`s best to have them used to it before any other big changes occur.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it is a starting point for some of the things I will be working on regularly with my dogs in the coming months.  It is my goal to make the transition for them as seamless as possible, so that there are few to no surprises in routine (other than baby itself) when the time comes. 

I will look forward to sharing my experiences in this endeavour with you all as time goes on, and you can expect to see more `Baby and Dog` posts in the future.  While bringing a newborn into my home will absolutely be a new endeavour for me, I hope that my experiences with clients, understanding in canine behaviour, and my personal experiences in raising dogs and children together will help some of you who may be feeling overwhelemd about trying to decide how to keep the peace amongst what may feel like chaos at times.

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