New Baby in the Family

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A couple of weeks ago we welcomed home our newest addition, Toby!  He's our third little boy and I'm sure will be all too quickly tailing his big brothers around the house.  Being a family with two cats, two dogs, a three-year-old boy, a two-year-old boy, and now a newborn definitely provides plenty of opportunities for my husband and I to practice our management skills!  As a family that has experienced bringing home newborns a couple of times in the last few years, made it a little different for us in terms of preparing our dogs for this latest change.  I now know that our dogs are fine with baby swings, baby chairs, diapers, music, white noise, crying infants, etc.  Most of the things that we worried about preparing them for in the first (and even to some degree with the second pregnancy) were not really concerns for us this time.  Some things, however don't change.

1. Furniture changes - even though Beskow and Kaylee have dealt with all of the infant furniture before, it was still a big change when we started bringing out the baby furniture and toys, so we made sure to do this well before the baby was due.  Our crib, changing table, and everything else were old news once again by the time Toby made his appearance.

2. Sleeping arrangements - as noted in my last post, the dogs (and cats) typically sleep on our bed.  With a newborn in the bedroom and us moving around at night, this was not an option anymore.  In the last couple of weeks before Toby was due, we started crating the dogs at night again.  This is something that they don't mind, but it was something they hadn't had to get used to since Felix was born two years ago.  The first couple of nights Kaylee whined a bit and when we got up during the night Beskow would perk up and decide she should wake up, too - but after that they settled right into the new routine. This meant that by the time the baby came, they were used to going up to bed in the crates and, just in case the crates were something they considered less desirable, they were in no way associated with the arrival of the baby.

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3. Refreshing training - there are some behaviors that I don't mind (my dogs jumping on me when I come home being one of them...) that aren't okay when we're carrying and caring for a newborn.  So in the last two months of my pregnancy, we refocused on the jumping on me at the door.  They're now past it (at least for now!) and I feel confident they will keep their feet on the floor when I'm coming in and out of the front door carrying or wearing a newborn. We also reviewed their drop its, leave its, go to bed, and "off" of the couch.  Since they have had good training in the past, this was pretty straight forward but a few treats thrown at behaviors tends to make them stronger again!

4. Lastly, space management.  Now, more than ever, we have to know where the dogs are all the time.  Our older two are not old enough to be trusted alone with them and our youngest can't be left out of sight with them. Our house has gates at the top and bottom of the stairs, crates in our bedroom (which has a door the kids can't quite open yet), and cribs for the kids.  There's a fair amount of coordination required, but we very much define our parenting of kids and dogs at this point by the Family Paws concept of Success Stations.  When the older kids are home the dogs are frequently gated upstairs or downstairs away from them.   This still leaves them lots of time with me during the day since I'm on maternity leave, and time with us in the evening after the kids are in bed, but during "flash points" in the day- breakfast, dinner, bedtime- we can keep everyone safe, happy, and in an environment that is as minimally stressful to them as possible.

My priority at this point is in preserving everyone's relationships until my boys are old enough to truly engage successfully with the dogs.  I love all five of them (and the two cats!) but at this point, so much of our life revolves around managing the dogs and kids successfully so that they can't accidentally hurt each other or make each others' lives more stressful.  Introducing another new baby adds an extra challenge, but also reminds me of how truly awesome my dogs are and how happy I am that my kids will have their early learning experiences in canine companionship with these two pups!

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Gratuitous baby picture.  Welcome, Toby!

 

Un-"magnetized" Toddler

Long before Oliver (my 19-month-old son) was born, I began planning how to make my dogs happy, comfortable, and safe to have around my toddler.  However, as I worked on that, I also came to realize that it was not enough.  There are many, many dogs in the world, and I wanted my son to be as safe as possible around ALL of them.  While avoiding them might be an option for some people, I’m a dog trainer- many of my friends have dogs, and all of my clients have dogs,  People in general expect me to like their dogs and want to say hello (and I do want to- just not necessarily with my baby in tow!).

So, how could I make sure my son was safe around dogs that had not been prepared to deal with a running, yelling, exuberant toddler?  This question led me to Madeline Gabriel’s blog: www.dogsandbabieslearning.com.  She has a fantastic series of articles about not “magnetizing” your baby to dogs (here).  Think about a compass that always points north… a magnetized baby can usually be found hurtling towards any dog they see, while screaming “doggy” and charging in for a pet and/or hug.

I’m not going to rewrite what is a truly fantastic series- but I do encourage ANYONE with kids or expecting a baby to read all of the parts of this series. In these articles, she basically shows the reader how to teach their baby to be safe around dogs, the same way you would teach them not to touch knives.  Just as you would never leave a baby alone with a knife, you should never leave them alone with a dog- but in both situations, you canteach your baby to be behave in a pretty reliable and safe manner.

Since Oliver was very small, we have spent a lot of time using the language that Madeline Gabriel encourages in her blog, i.e. “Yes, that’s our dog, Kaylee.  Kaylee is a good dog,” or “Dogs like a little more space.  Let’s move over here so she feels safe.  Look, our dog is staying with us!  You helped her feel safe.  You are a good friend to dogs!” I’ve also added phrases like “We only touch the dog with our hands!” and “Beskow’s sleeping right now, let’s leave her alone to rest,” and other (often self-evident) phrases.  The importance of this dialogue is three-fold: it makes your child engage with you rather than with the dog; it reminds you what is appropriate behavior around the dog and encourages you to always be paying attention; and, as your child grows, they start to understand what you’re saying, it sounds familiar, and they’re used to listening to those phrases.

In our family, the result has been a child that likes the dogs, likes to share his food with them (sigh), but leaves them alone when they’re on the couch, in their beds, or eating their dinner.  He often plays next to them on the floor without so much as looking at them.  Is he 100% reliable? No! He’s still a toddler, but most of the time, he leaves them alone or interacts appropriately.  This morning, when he came over and started driving his car along Kaylee’s back, because we already had the rule “we only use hands on the dog,” he cheerfully relinquished his car, gave her a nice pet on her shoulder, asked for his car back, and went to back to his play on a more appropriate surface.

When we’re out of the house, now that Oliver is walking, I pick him up when we approach dogs, he waves hello, and we go on our merry way.  As far as I can tell, he has never considered running up to a dog to say hi- it’s not in his behavioral repertoire.This weekend, however, was our first real test.  We went over to a friend’s house to play. They have a toddler, so I was pretty sure their two dogs - a Doberman Pinscher and a small Rat Terrier mix - were safe for my two babies. When we got to the house, the Doberman was crated to avoid an overenthusiastic greeting (hurray for dog owners who know their dog!), and the little dog came running over to give Oliver’s hands a thorough licking.  He looked down at the dog, smiled … and then went over to play with the other little boy! WOW! I was FLOORED! He’d never been in a situation with a small, excited dog to play with- and he acted completely unmagnetized. I was incredibly excited.  The second test came about 45 minutes later, when they let their Dobie out of his crate.  Now, our dogs are medium-sized, but Dobies are big.  I was sitting on the floor and his head was well over eye level.

As far as I can remember, Oliver has never been around a dog that big.  Dexter the Dobie came out happy to say hi- licked Oliver’s face a couple times and began making the rounds.  And … Oliver just kept playing!  I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I was about this.  If anyone out there doubts the power of Madeline Gabriel’s advice, I challenge you to raise your child this way and see how he or she handles these situations.  I could not have been more thrilled.  Even if either of those dogs had been a little nervous around little kids, they would not have had to deal with any staring, chasing, or grabbing- Oliver would have given them a safe, appropriate amount of space.  My child, I believe, can be declared unmagnetized to dogs!