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Monday, June 13, 2011

Ask the Dog Trainer:
Helping Fido Manage Meeting Baby

by Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC
Baby and Fido Need Your Guidance
to Understand Good Manners
Dear Michael:

My daughter has a 4 month old baby. Since his birth, my tiny dog has been nothing short of a nightmare around him. He wants to get close and lick him and play with him. The more we restrain him the more he cries, pants, and barks. We dare not let him anywhere near the baby unless we have him by the collar. He doesn't bite, just licks and prods. He is fine with toddlers we meet in the street. How can we have the baby in the house without our little dog causing such exasperation?

Recently things have improved very slightly.  Whilst he is still uber uber interested in him, he now lies beside him, suffering all the involuntary arm and leg prods and jerks from the baby and rests his head on baby's legs (when he is still, which isn't often!).  He seems to have been wanting to be very close to him all this time and of course we were prohibiting that.  He is, it goes without saying, always supervised.

Dear Cathy:

Babies are unusual creatures to many of our dogs (and to many of us for that matter).  They move differently than adult humans.  They sound different and smell different.  From our dogs’ point of view they are new and unusual, weird even.  It sounds like your daughter’s dog is a bit nervous about the baby, or at the very least excited.  We need to help him out.

You have two goals here.  First, teach the dog that babies are cool.  Try very hard to never yell at or hurt the dog when the baby is around.  That’s only going to make things worse.  In fact, only delightful things should happen when the baby is on the scene.  If the baby does something weird, like scream and wiggle like a fish, you might even slip the dog a special treat.  That’s called respondent conditioning (classical conditioning).  Baby = good things for doggie.  The idea here is to make sure the dog doesn’t start disliking the child because being around him is so awful.

So, wait a minute.  Does this mean the dog just gets to run amuck around the baby and get treats all the time?  Well, no.  Your second goal is to teach the dog what to do around the baby.  But, here’s the deal.  Your “grand dog” is still going to get lots of treats, because you’re going to use food, praise and maybe some toys to train him.  If you haven’t already, you need to start working on the dog’s come when called, sit, and eye contact (look at me) skills.  Right responses get sweet talk, smiles and tiny bits of yummy food.  I like to say “yes” when my dog gets something right, followed immediately by a treat.  At any given time you need to be able to call your dog away from the baby and to you.  That’s just good manners.

Once you get that going, teach the dog to lie down and stay on a particular spot of your choosing.  It can be away from the baby or within eyesight of the baby.  That’s up to you.  I don’t recommend the close cuddling you’ve got going on now, though.  

My dog, Stella, has a wash cloth that she’s learned to target using clicker training.  Wherever she goes, I bring the wash cloth.  Once it hits the ground she finds it and lies down.  It works like a charm.  I’ve included a short video of this trick.  (A note to clicker trainers: the delayed click was because I was teaching her to lie down and stay).  

When you’re first teaching this exercise you’ll click and treat as soon as the dog makes contact.  You might want to bring in an experienced clicker trainer to help you with this.
I commend you for supervising the baby and the dog at all times.  It’s also definitely okay to put the dog in a crate or in another room away from the baby for short periods.  Include a nicely stuffed Kong Toy to make it a real joy.  Of course, sometimes just getting away from the cute little creatures in our lives is reward enough, right?

© Brett Chisholm Photography
Michael with Stella
Houston dog trainer, Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC, is the director of training and behavior at Rover Oaks Pet Resorts.You may reach him at the link for a personal consultation, or write to him at our ASK THE DOG TRAINER Column at LetsAdoptaDogPark@gmail.comMichael's advice does not replace an actual consultation with a qualified trainer.


Boondocks and Kudzu said...

This article is an example of one of the reasons we chose your blog to receive the Inspiring Blog award! You can stop over at our place to pick it up. We wuf All Things Dog Blog!!!

Boondocks and Kudzu

Dawn said...

Great post! I am bookingmarking it for later as my husband and I are planning on having a baby in the near future. :0)

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

Drats....I know too many Dawns. I have no idea which one you are. Curiosity is killing me!

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