I recently spoke with a grandmother who was lamenting the fact that, due to safety concerns, she always had to lock up her little dog who became nervous whenever her grandbaby was over. Chances are you’ve had similar concerns. Many dogs become nervous and stressed or overly rambunctious when exposed to infants and young children. Even very friendly dogs, who are well socialized to children, can become overwhelmed by prolonged or frequent interactions with exuberant little ones. That is because these new family members behave VERY differently than the humans the dog is accustomed to (and the adults start acting differently too!). Here are four important things to consider when bringing together your dog and your grandchild.
- Step back and evaluate your dog’s behavior with a “baby-proofing” lens. Think to yourself: Are there gaps in training, such as too much jumping up? Is your dog uncomfortable when guests or strangers visit? Has she shown nervous, growly or nippy behavior sometimes? Most dogs have some areas that could use a little work, so don’t feel discouraged. It’s a great opportunity to start working with a rewards-based trainer or behavior consultant. It’s never too late to make positive changes!
- Keep in mind that there is no rush to get kids and dogs snuggling together on the sofa! Many conflicts between dogs and children come from moving the relationship too quickly. Most times, just being comfortable and happy in the same room is an excellent start! They have many weeks, months and years ahead to forge a friendship. Starting with a simple “hello” is just fine!
- When in doubt, divide and conquer. The ultimate goal is to have the whole family happy in the same room. However, making use of doggie alone time is an important tool toward making that goal happen. Teach your dog to LOVE a “Safe Zone” (or zones!) so that you have options for separating the dog and the child when they cannot be actively guided in their interactions. Safe Zones can include teaching the dog to enjoy being crated, gated and/or tethered on their own for a while. These will be valuable tools with fearful dogs, excitable dogs, or dogs who are protective of resources such as food.
- Err on the side of caution when it comes to the first introductions of dog and baby. Again, don’t push for interactions and Facebook photos. Instead, teach your dog that good things happen for him when the new kid is around. Designate one person to focus on the dog – give lots of rewards for good behavior, lots of attention and praise, and watch for signs of stress. Take walks, potty breaks and trips to the safety zone proactively, as needed. Everyone wants to visit with the new human baby, so it’s ok to switch off, just be sure someone is ensuring that the dog is being managed and learning to enjoy rather than resent or fear the baby.
Megan provides private consultations and teaches dog and baby safety classes for parents and grandparents in Colorado Springs. Learn more by contacting Megan@TrainWithTrust.com (719) 377-0867.