Thursday, September 24, 2009

Introducing your dog & the new baby

How will my dog react to the new baby?
No matter how much you plan ahead, the addition of a new family member may be difficult for your dog. Remember, your dog was your first "baby" and is used to being the center of attention. So it's understandable that he may experience something like sibling rivalry when you introduce a new human baby into your household. Minimize this by working with your dog before you bring the baby home. For example, because your new baby will demand a lot of your time and energy, gradually accustom your pet to spending less time with you. Drastically decreasing attention and frequent scolding, ignoring, or isolating your dog after the baby comes home may well stress your dog. If Fido is particularly attached to the mother-to-be, another family member should develop a closer relationship with the him. That way, your dog can still feel loved and provided for while mom is busy with the baby.

How can I prepare my dog?
Here are some suggestions to make introducing your dog to your baby safer and smoother. Be sure to carry out these changes well before the baby's arrival.
  • Take your dog to the veterinarian for a routine health exam and necessary vaccinations.
  • Spay or neuter your dog. Sterilized pets typically have fewer health problems associated with their reproductive systems and can be calmer and less likely to bite.
  • Consult with a veterinarian and pediatrician (and even your dog trainer) if the thought of your newborn interacting with the family dog makes you uncomfortable. By working with these experts before your baby is born, you can resolve problems early and put your mind at ease.
  • Address any training or behavior problems. If your dog exhibits fear or anxiety, now is the time to get help from a trainer or behaviorist.
  • If your dog's behavior includes nibbling, pouncing, or swatting at you and others, redirect that behavior.
  • Train your pet to remain calmly on the floor beside you until you invite him on your lap, which will soon cradle a newborn.
  • Consider enrolling in a positive reinforcement training class with your dog. Proper training allows you to safely and humanely control your dog's behavior and enhances the human/canine bond.
  • Encourage friends with infants to visit your home to accustom your pet to babies. Supervise all dog and infant interactions.
  • Accustom your pet to baby-related noises months before the baby is expected. For example, play recordings of a baby crying, turn on the mechanical infant swing, and use the rocking chair. Make these positive experiences for your dog by offering a treat or playtime.
  • To discourage your dog from jumping on the baby's crib and changing table, apply double-stick tape to the furniture.
  • If the baby's room will be off-limits to your dog, install a sturdy barrier such as a removable gate. Because these barriers still allow your dog to see and hear what's happening in the room, he'll feel less isolated from the family and more comfortable with the new baby noises.
  • Use a baby doll to help your dog get used to the real thing. Carry around a swaddled baby doll, take the doll in the stroller when you walk your dog, and use the doll to get Fido used to routine baby activities, such as bathing and diaper changing.
  • Talk to your pet about the baby, using the baby's name if you've selected one.
    Sprinkle baby powder or baby oil on your skin so your pet becomes familiar with the new smells.
  • Finally, plan ahead to make sure your dog gets proper care while you're at the hospital giving birth.

What do we do after the baby is born?
Welcoming a new baby is exciting for your family. But before you bring your baby home from the hospital, have a friend or family member take something home with the baby's scent (such as a blanket) for your dog to investigate.

When you return from the hospital, your dog may be eager to greet you. Have someone else take the baby into another room while you give your dog a warm, but calm, welcome. Keep some treats handy so you can reward your dog for good behavior. After the initial greeting, you can bring your dog with you to sit next to the baby, rewarding him with treats for appropriate behavior. Remember, you want your dog to view associating with the baby as a positive experience. To prevent anxiety or injury, never force your pet to get near the baby, and always supervise any interaction.

Life will no doubt be hectic caring for your new baby, but try to maintain regular routines as much as possible to help your dog adjust. And be sure to spend one-on-one quality time with your dog each day. With proper training snd supervision, you, your new baby, and your dog will live together safely and happily as one big happy family.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Zero to 8 Minutes at Breakfast

Today's training focuses on self-control. When you welcome a new puppy or an adult dog into your family, hand feed morning and evening. Not only does this help with the human-canine bond but it's a terrific time to train your dog. This morning's training is with Lilly, a nearly six-month-old Lab and service dog trainee. She is doing a board and train stint in my home.

Lilly has very little self-control - pretty standard in pups. It is my job to teach it. Fortunately, she is food driven. And after a good night's sleep, she is hungry. Perfect training scenario.

Lilly has a terrific sit/stay but a sloppy down/stay. This morning she earned her entire breakfast working solely on the down/stay. Since measuring training results is extremely important, I pulled out the stopwatch. I put Lilly's dog food in her dish but made it inaccessible to her. She could see and smell it but couldn't get to it. Next, I needed a baseline. I learned she could not down/stay for 30 seconds, so I backed it up to 20 seconds. It took many false starts until she understood that a piece or two of dog food would be delivered only when she maintained the down/stay. Initially she popped up into a sit as I approached with kibble in hand. Each time she did, I put her back in the down/stay and started over. Finally, we got our 20 seconds. Then we got 2 minutes. Then 3 minutes 43 seconds. And the last, from which I released her for a potty break: 8 minutes 13 seconds.

While the above scenario played out, my two adult Labs were in down/stays about six feet from Lilly. As we worked on the stay, I walked around the living room and toward the end, out of sight into the kitchen. Other dogs and my movement were intentional distractions. More distractions will be added as Lilly gets better and better at her down/stay. For now, we work on duration.

Note: It is important when starting to train this behavior to deliver food rewards low, at nose height, to discourage breaking the stay.

Keep your dog safe as the weather gets warmer

As the weather warms, get out there with your dog and enjoy yourself. Here are a few reminders to help keep your four-legged friend safe...