Dogs and Babies

It’s been awhile since my last post. I guess I’m just recovering from all of the non-stop blog writing. It could also be the fact that having a 5 month old keeps you on your toes. Or that the holidays are extremely taxing on your ability to get anything done. Oh, okay, it’s probably all of the above. Apologies aside… I want to share my experiences and plans for keeping my dog happy and my child safe as she grows up.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas. I know our little family did. Evey enjoyed something special (a pigs ear). It was Amelia’s first she’s almost 6 months old now! Noah and I just enjoyed watching our girls play and be happy.

Every day Amelia does something new. She grabs things like toys and wrapping paper. She unwrapped all of her toys this year, although she had a lot of help :-). Amelia is also experimenting with new noises, squeals and grunts. Soon she’ll learn to roll over and crawl shortly followed by walking. Jeeze, I really can’t believe it! As I watch Amelia grow and learn new things everyday it reminds me how careful I need to be with her around Evey.

Evey is tolerant of children but she doesn’t love them, at any age. When Amelia first came home Evey showed a healthy interest in her new baby sister. I also notice that when I play with Amelia and Evey thinks I’m getting too rough she displays a natural “splitting” behavior. This means that she places herself between me and Amelia in an attempt to calm us both. Splitting is common between dogs when two dogs are getting too excited the third will put herself in the middle.

The dangerous part about splitting between me and Amelia will happen when Amelia begins to grab and hold herself up on things. Amelia will eventually grab Evey out of necessity and interest. I am quite confident that Evey will not appreciate this. For now as prevention, when Evey splits, I give her permission and assurance she can leave by asking her to go to her mat. Go to mat is a behavior Evey has known and practiced for years. She has a very strong reinforcement history with it.

When Amelia starts to cry Evey quietly leaves the room and finds her happy place. This is something I appreciate and reinforce as well. I make sure that leaving is always an option for Evey not just with my own child but with visitors as well. My reasoning behind this is that, once leaving no longer relieves Evey’s worry about children she will escalate her behavior to snarling, growling, snapping and then biting. Unfortunately, this theory was proven when I was in the hospital delivering Amelia. The good news: 1) she showed great bite inhibition 2) she had an excellent warning chain (she snarled first, snapped second, and then bit without breaking skin) 3) since this incident, Evey she has been able to tolerate the same children she snapped at and bit as long as she has the option to leave.

Don’t get me wrong, Evey is a great dog, but I’m not disillusioned that she is trustworthy around them despite her reinforcement history with children. Evey’s volunteered and done well at a children’s camp. At camp she showed campers how to run an agility course and then she did a trick for each of the campers. This was not a free for all. I have also always been cognizant that when children get past me and hug Evey (a never behavior with dogs IMO), she always gets lots of high valued treats and the child is taught a better way to interact with Evey.

Back to Amelia: Right now Amelia is learning a lot of things but one thing she does not know is how to follow directions or even understand them. For me that means STRICT management until she can follow directions, which will probably be a few years, longer if we decide to have a second child. What will my management look like:

  • Decrease Magnetization
    I don’t ask Amelia, “Is that your doggie? Do you want to hug/kiss the doggie?” I tell her, “that’s Evey, your sister. We don’t hug/kiss/touch doggies.” This is so that as Amelia grows up she doesn’t feel like Evey is something to chase around. Not only will this make her safe with Evey but it will teach her good dog manners and keep her safe should she go to a friends house that also has a dog that doesn’t love children.
  • Strict Supervision
    Evey and Amelia (and any other child) will never be left alone together. This means that when they are allowed together I or someone else (who can and is willing to intervene) is watching. Should Evey start to show signs of discomfort I (or the other person) can tell Evey to go somewhere else. This is why I’ve trained go to mat with multiple locations and different cues. Since I’m watching, should Amelia corner Evey I can also go and pick Amelia up and redirect her interest to something more appropriate.
  • Separation
    When I cannot be watching them both they will be separated by a physical barrier. Amelia isn’t quite here yet but I’ll be getting plenty of baby gates and playpens to keep her separated from Evey. I’ll also have to do some training with Evey so she is comfortable being separated from me as well. I will most likely make is a really good thing to be on the other side of the gate by giving her a food puzzle to do (KONGs, and the sort). For now Amelia has her Exersaucer and she is usually entertained and restrained.
Amelia restrained in her Exer-saucer!

Amelia restrained in her Exer-saucer!

  • Time with Mommy
    Amelia gets a lot of one on one time with Mommy. However, Evey has been a bit neglected in this aspect. This means that I have to make sure that I am making time for Evey. This might be in the form of an enrichment walk, training, a run, food puzzles, throwing a ball, or agility practice. Evey may be 7 years old but she certainly still has a lot of energy physically and mentally that needs to be burned or she’s going to regress in her training.

This is Amelia seeing Evey for the first time at about 3 months old. Evey is actually trying to get my attention by putting her chin on the crib. Evey does chin targeting as a known behavior and she’s just trying to get my attention. I guess it was time for a walk!

If you find yourself with a dog and pregnant, the best time to prepare for baby is now, before baby is here. Picture what your family will look like. What is your house layout like? How will you keep the dog and baby separated and safe? What does your dog need to learn before baby comes; go to mat, door greetings (there will be a lot of guests coming over)? If you need help please contact me, I am happy to help!

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