To kick off our new guest-blogger series, we bring you dog behaviorist Michael Wombacher, who has performed some 20,000 in-home behavioral consultations covering the entire spectrum of dog behavior from the mundane to the bizarre. He frequently appears on TV and in magazines, and is author of the books, There’s a Puppy in the House, and There’s a Baby in the House.
Mike has trained dogs for such high-profile humans as Charles Schwab, Robin Williams, Barry Levinson, Joe Satriani, Bob Weir, Linda Ronstadt, Kirk Hammet (Metallica), Armistead Maupin, and Michael Tilson Thomas. The conductor commented that “Michael Wombacher is a maestro of dog trainers. His clarity of thinking, sense of humor and skills in communicating make dog training fun for both pet and pet lover.”
Today’s post will be of interest to anyone who will be bringing their human baby or grandbaby into their doggy home. You can learn more about the topic at his site, Good Dog, Happy Baby. Or click on his main website, Dog Gone Good!, to get tips on other behavior and training issues.
And now I’m pleased to introduce Mike Wombacher!
By Michael Wombacher, Guest Blogger
Congratulations! You’re pregnant and your “pack” will soon be growing. If you’re like most people, you’re caught between anticipation and trepidation. As an expecting dog owner the very first thing that you should do is to identify the changes that need to be made in the life of your dog once the baby arrives and implement them NOW!
You do not want your dog to associate any changes that need to be made in your relationship with the arrival of your child thus setting up a competitive or jealous dynamic. Failing to implement relevant changes in the life of your dog prior to baby’s arrival is the single most common mistake expecting dog owners make. And keep in mind, things that you do not consider problematic now might become problematic with a child in your midst.
So take a careful look: is your dog sleeping in bed with you, pushy and demanding, barky, prone to steal things and get into mischief when you’re not looking? Or worse, is he over-protective, suffer from separation anxiety and sensitivity to sudden and unpredictable movements?
Problems like these are readily resolvable but resolution depends on building the right relationship with your dog, a relationship in which your dog is in the habit of taking direction from you. Simple things like always giving your dog a command before you have an interaction with him, not letting him run out the door ahead of you, and being a little aloof with him can do a world of good in causing your dog to cheerfully accept your leadership role.
Additionally, there are many things that help create not only safety but very positive associations for your dog with the presence of your child. Here’s an example. Start by making the future baby’s room off limits to your dog. Once thats handled, allow him to enter the room only with your permission and accompaniment. Once in the room always ask him for certain obedience exercises, especially down-stays. Soon he’ll get the idea that when he enters this room he’s to do a down-stay in the corner (you could even put a bed for him there).
In addition, teach your dog to tolerate alone time every day. Once your baby arrives, allow your dog to come into the baby’s room when you go in to change diapers or play or whatever and assume his down-stay. If he has been left alone for a few hours prior to that he will welcome the contact. In other words, the presence of your child means a positive social engagement for him. This is quite different than what usually happens which is that when mommy goes to play with or care for baby, doggie gets thrown out, thus potentially setting up a competitive or jealous dynamic.
Other things that you can do to ensure a seamless transition to siblinghood for your dog include:
Teaching him the difference between doggie toys and childs toys (start by getting doggie toys that are distinctly different from baby toys since often these two bear striking similarities).
Get a baby doll and wrap it in a scented baby blanket and teach your dog appropriate manners around your “faux baby,” thus setting up a template of behavior for future interactions.
Hire a dog walker to take over exercise responsibilities during the period immediately after birth. This will take a lot of pressure off of you and produce a tired dog.
Never allow unsupervised interactions between your dog and your child.
While the above does not comprise a comprehensive list by any means, it should serve to provide a sense of direction and purpose.
All that having been said, keep in mind that your true test of the success of your efforts at integration will be seen once your child passes the eight-month threshold when your little one starts crawling and becoming mobile. This means that the frequency of unexpected encounters between your child and your dog will increase dramatically. That’s where youll find out if all your hard work paid off.
In closing, please understand that what I’ve outlined above represents the tip of the iceberg of strategies designed to make the integration of your dog and your child as seamless, warm and rewarding as possible. While learning and implementing such strategies implies varying amounts of work, it promises a wholesome and fulfilling relationship between your child and your dog. The payoff of this relationship will last for years and thus makes any work you have to put in on the front end more than worth it.