Wednesday, December 26, 2012

And Baby Makes Three (or More)

For many people out there, their dog is their first "baby." For some, this may be their only "baby" if the owner is not having children in their dog's lifetime or has children that have grown up. My own dogs were my first "children" and I can tell you that it is very very difficult to add a human baby to the mix without some upset on the previous family dynamics. Thankfully, I did quite a bit of work to get our family ready for our first baby and while I did encounter some serious problems with my dogs and children, those problems did not occur till my baby was no longer a baby (past her first birthday). Bringing home a new baby is going to affect the parents, the pets and the baby. Therefore, you have three different parties to prepare for this new life. While no one can foresee exactly how daily life will play out with a new baby, there are things that are going to be set in stone that can be practiced and prepared for. Dogs I got all my baby equipment as soon as possible so my dogs could get used to it. They needed to not be fearful of the stroller, swing, crib, bouncy seat etc. I also wanted them to know those things were not toys. A little dog will need to learn that the bouncy seat or plush floor tummy mat is not hers to lay on! I even went as far as getting a baby doll and placing it in the equipment, teaching my dogs to heel next to the stroller with the baby in it and cooed and fawned over this plastic doll in the rocking chair, on the couch and carried it around. To desensitize them to crying, I played youtube videos of infants crying and gave them treats (open bar) while the crying occurred so they would not be stressed over crying. For fun, I even taught them to fetch a diaper on command! When my daughter was born, we had a good friend take our dogs for a few days while we were in the hospital and while we got settled at home for a day. I didn't want to be worried about the dogs on my first day home with my new baby. When the dogs did come home, I made sure to greet them away from the baby and give them lots of attention. Then we let them sniff our daughter in her carseat while she slept. I still remember feeling incredibly tense as my female dog Lucy pretended the baby didn't exist, and my male dog Lex, was tight as a bow string and I thought he might perceive her as prey. Turns out he was just ecstatic over her and became quickly obsessed about her whereabouts and wanted to not be out of her sight. People As hard as it is to imagine, try to imagine what your daily life will be like after baby. Will your spouse take over dog walking and feeding? Will you only give the dog fetch time in the evening after dinner? Will the dog no longer be allowed in the bedrooms and be sequestered to one end of your home? Give yourself a month or more before the birth of your child to start enacting the new routine so the arrival of the baby will not be to blame (in the dog's mind). It is better to ease into the transition of a new routine before you are flustered with a newborn as well! Newborns are a lot of work, yet not in a weird way. They require quite a few feedings in a 24 hour period, but they sleep a lot. I found myself with free time (but a baby on my chest) in which I would toss toys down the hall for the dogs. I pre-stocked my freezer with stuffed Kongs, bought a few new maze toys and bones that I could offer them during lazy days. Once I felt better, I learned how to use my baby carrier (like Ergo or Becco) and realized how transportable my baby was, thus enabling me to walk the dogs or get chores done. Baby How on earth can you prepare a fetus for dogs you ask? Well, I like to think that because of my daughter's exposure to flyball tournaments and practices as well as dog training sessions, that she got used to barking in the womb! To this day she will not wake if dog's are barking, yet my son (who was not exposed to random barking in the womb), wakes up at any barking. Once the baby is born, you can start his/her life with your dogs by simply not forcing a relationship with them. It is very tempting and unfortunately encouraged, to get the baby around the dogs. I can't tell you how many pictures I have of my sleeping daughter with a dog on a blanket with her, her feeding dogs snacks, her playing with their toys, crawling in their crates, petting them. I wanted her to be gentle with dogs, love dogs from an early start and while I did succeed in teaching her to be gentle, I also taught her to be drawn to dogs and teaching a toddler to play with dogs is NOT a good thing. As she got older, the dogs became uncomfortable with her advances (that is another story, and is on the blog under Lex etc.). However, knowing all this with my second child, I never pushed any interactions with dogs. I don't have a single picture of him sitting with a dog, touching a dog, feeding a dog and I can tell you that my dog Lucy, is very very happy that she can be in the same room with us without my son bothering her one bit. For more information on dogs and kids and "demagnetizing" children toward dogs, see this website;

Ignoring Commands

There comes a time in pretty much every dog's life that he will not take a given command. The reasons for this are numerous, ranging from just an age related phase, not adequate training, fear, or just simple distraction issues. The first step a frustrated owner should take is to try to assess WHY their dog is not taking a command, as the solution differs for each reason. Age Just like human babies, puppies go through quite a few learning stages. For example, puppies have an ideal socialization "window" before 12 weeks of age where they are very accepting of new places, people, sounds etc. After 12 weeks of age, pups become more aware and skeptical of their surroundings and socialization doesn't come as easily. Pups also go through several fear phases where they are suddenly frightened of things that didn't bug them before! When adolescence approaches, many pups go through a period of rebellion. Usually this is when a pup that was well trained seems to not have any training at all! This stage occurs most often between 6 and 18 months. What is going on? For dogs that are not altered, this is the time of sexual maturation and the hormones and drive that go along with that create a dog that is less inclined to listen to his owner. Even altered dogs are going to have attention issues because there is a whole world out there that he has just discovered! Follow instinct is now gone and most pups no longer have the desire to stick near their owner when there is action going on. The solution to this issue is to go back a little bit with training. Be sure to proof commands in order of less distracting environments first (house, yard, front yard, neighborhood, empty park, slightly busy park, friend's house, dog park). If your dog cannot listen to your command in the backyard, he surely cannot listen at the dog park! During this time you may have to use high value treats, start incorporating play-training, and even take a look at a "Nothing In Life is Free" protocol. Not Fully Trained Some dogs aren't listening simply because their owners have a misunderstanding of how well they trained their dog. If the dog has a so/so recall in the yard, expecting him to come at the park is just silly. Humans feel embarrassed and tend to ask too much of their dog when in public places (such as the park, pet store, vet or groom shop). Getting frustrated that their dog won't sit at the vet when he has to be told and lured at home is the owner setting the dog up for failure. The solution is to simply not ask the dog to things he is not capable of doing and go back and do more training! Fear Every dog is going to have a fear of something or someone in their life. Dogs are not very obedient when afraid, and for good reason! They are worried about themselves and there are chemical reactions and bio-feedback going in in their brain that makes it extremely difficult to listen to what the human is saying. During a small fearful event such as visiting the vet, the best solution is to just be comforting and understanding. Don't ask your dog to sit, stay etc. when he is terrified of anything, and do not force a position especially! If the fear is an ongoing thing of something that is a regular occurrence, seek training help to start a counter-conditioning and desensitizing program. Distraction Distraction goes back to a dog that doesn't have adequate training. I hear all the time from clients, things like, "My dog listens great, till he sees a squirrel!" My reply usually is that my dogs don't have issues with squirrels or prey animals or food dropped because I worked on it. I systemically worked up to each distraction level with each command essentially. Distractions can be objects, people, animals and even environments. To work on distractions, start with something like can my dog sit in the kitchen with no distraction? Yes, then move onto asking for a sit in the kitchen with people milling about, family members talking, eating, throwing a toy to each other. Move out into the yard and start over with minimal distractions and work up again. Do the same in each new environment. When you add an aspect, you must go back a little in another area, meaning if your dog can sit in the most distracting environment you can think of, don't suddenly switch gears to asking for a down stay in that same environment if you haven't worked on the down stay in the lower distraction scenarios first. Pain Lastly, there are times a dog doesn't listen because he is in pain and the owner is not aware. This can obviously happen at any age, but senior dogs are more likely to have pain related to unseen issues like arthritis. My own dog refused to hold a down on hard surfaces for about a month and I was pressuring her and working on it till I realized she will hold a down for a long time on any soft surface. When it occurred to me that she was around 7 years old, it was winter and her joints were bugging her, I put her on some joint medication, gave her a little break and she was back to holding downs on any surface. Listen to what your dog is telling you! A well trained older dog proofed with distractions that isn't showing fear, most likely has a very good reason for not complying with a command. So remember, dogs don't just "blow you off" for no reason. Find the reason and remedy it, and your dog will be back to listening in no time (or as much time as it takes to fix)!