Expecting a new baby into your family can be very exciting and nerve wracking for a new Mommy, especially if you own a dog who hasn't been around babies very often. You're probably wondering, "Will my dog be good with the baby? What if he's not good with the baby? How should I introduce my dog to the baby? Etc..." All of these questions are very good concerns, but just remember, your dog is very attuned to your changing body, thoughts and stresses. By worrying about the "what ifs" you will just end up wearing your stresses all over your body language and your dog will pick up on your fears. By preparing yourself and your dog for the big new changes, you will feel better and more relieved that your dog will continue to be an important, well-behaved member of your growing family.
Months before the arrival of your baby, prepare your present fur baby by brushing up on all of his basic obedience commands. Does your dog know sit, down, stay, leave it, touch, look, come, go to your spot, off, back and heel? If you answered yes to all of these questions, you most likely have a very good Zen dog. Even if your dog does know all of these commands, practice them using training games such as, Go Find It, Hide and Go Seek, Constructive Tug, Active Fetch etc. Getting ready for a baby can be all consuming, and oftentimes, dogs end up getting less attention that they are used to and naughty behavior can pop up. Playing and doing training games will strengthen your bond with your dog and will sharpen up your dog's cues. If you answered no to the questions above you may want to call a professional positive reinforcement trainer to help you teach your dog all of these commands so that you feel more confident and in better control of your dog before you bring your baby home.
Down-stays, go to your spot, leave it, back and heel are the most important commands to focus on when getting your pup ready for baby. Down-stays and settle at your feet will be very important when feeding your baby on the couch and for telling your dog to settle when the baby is crying. To teach your dog to settle at your feet, tell Dino to lie down and stay right next to you. Click and treat your dog for laying peacefully at your feet. Place the treat on the ground in between his two front paws so that he is concentrated on the floor instead of what you have in your hands (a baby, bottle, etc.). Increase the amount of time between clicks and treats so that your dog will learn to settle at your feet for however long that you need him to. Always release your dog with a "Ok!" to tell him that he can get up. If your dog is allowed on the couch, practice the "off" command and click as soon as all four paws are on the ground. It's also important to teach your dog that he's only allowed on the couch when you invite him up. I like to say, "Up, up" and pat the couch twice to signal to my dogs that they're allowed on the couch or bed. Dogs that do not know the off command, shouldn't be allowed on the bed, especially if they show any territorial behavior. Also, if your dog has always been allowed on the couch and/or bed, but now you have decided to not let him because of the baby, make sure that you set these rules months before the baby arrives. Make sure that your dog as a comfy dog bed nearby the spots that you're dog used to lay on.
Teaching your dog to go to his spot or his bed, whichever you prefer to call it (just make sure it's the same thing all the time), is very helpful when you have a new baby. This way your dog will not be under foot all the time and your dog will be happy knowing that he's being a good boy waiting on his spot while you're busy with Baby. To teach your dog to go to his spot, lure your dog onto his spot with a treat and when all four paws are on the bed, click and treat. Do this two or three times and then phase out the lure, meaning, point to the spot without a treat in your hand. As soon as all four paws are on, click and treat. Be sure to toss the treat onto the spot so that the dog is associating the spot with the treat. As soon as your dog starts to "get it" and starts heading to his spot consistently, you can slowly increase the distance that you stand away from the spot. Turn this into a fun game by teaching your dog to go to his spot from wherever you are in the room, or even in the whole house. This will also help when you need to place your baby on a blanket on the floor. How cute is it that they'll both have their own spot?!
Speaking of blankets, teach your dog to stay off the blanket by leading your dog to the edge of the blanket. Click and treat your dog for staying off the blanket and say, "good leave it". If your dog goes to step onto the blanket, use on interrupter signal (kissy noise) to get his attention and then click and treat and say "good leave it" when your dog steps away from the blanket. Keep "proofing" this by leading him all around the blanket. Interrupt him and don't feed him a treat if he does step on it. Pretty soon you'll be able to say "leave it" to the blanket and to your baby, and your dog will know to step away and keep off of the blanket.
Teaching your dog to "back" up is also a helpful command because your dog will be very interested in getting his big wet nose into the action when you're giving your baby a bottle or changing him. "Back" is really easy to teach your dog and can also be turned into a fun game. Simply take a treat and move your hand towards your dogs chest, as soon as he takes a step back, click and give him the treat. Keep doing this until he is taking a couple of steps back. Then reward your dog by tossing the treat behind him onto the floor. Your dog will be backing away like a champ and will have a ton of fun chasing the treats that are raining down on him. He'll learn to stay out of baby business without being confused and upset by being yelled for just being interested in all of the new baby action.
Before bringing home your new real baby, teach your fur baby how to walk next to a stroller without pulling. You may look funny walking around the neighborhood with a babyless stroller, but it's all for a good cause. Most strollers have a water bottle holder on it, which is perfect for placing a cup full of training treats. Click and treat your dog for staying by your side and for staying behind the stroller. Every time your dog pulls, simply stop and "be a tree" until your dog takes the tension off the leash by himself and gives you attention. As soon as he slacks off the lead, say, "good, ok" and then continue walking. Do not just stop and have your dog sit because he will not learn to drop back by your side. Also, do not lure your dog into a heel and treat him otherwise your dog will learn to pull then stop then get a treat. A hands free leash that snaps around your waist will teach your dog to walk nicely without pulling and will keep your two hands free for holding the baby or keeping a grip on the stroller. This hands free leash by Jac Trac is perfect because you can adjust the length to keep your pup by your side. For big time pullers, a Gentle Leader by Premier will allow you to control your dog better while using a stroller and will help teach your dog not to pull. Put in the time and energy to train your dog to walk nicely by your stroller and the three of you will love going out for family outings. If you have any anxiety about whether or not your dog will like the baby, just remember that babies and toddlers usually mean lots of fun walks with the stroller and lots of food to clean up on the ground around highchairs. What dog doesn't love those two things?!
Another good thing to ease the transition for your existing fur baby is to purchase a real looking baby doll. Wrap it up in a blanket and carry it as though it were a real baby. Do your training sessions with one arm holding on to the pretend baby and one hand giving out toy or treat rewards for good calm behavior. This is a good exercise for young puppies who have a tendency to jump up and grab at toys. Teach your dog to automatically sit-for-pets and to sit and wait if they want a toy in your hand. Once your dog sits and waits, say "Ok get it!" and then toss the toy away from you. Always tell your dog when he can have something to prevent "grabby" behavior. Last thing that you want is for your dog to jump up to grab a poopy diaper! You can also practice putting the doll down on the couch or on a blanket on the floor and tell Dino to leave it. Leave it just means, "Don't touch it and look at me instead." Practice this "game" with all kinds of baby items and your dog will learn to not touch things that are baby related (diapers, bottles, toys, etc.).
Babies make all kinds of noises that may make your pup nervous if he's never heard them before. Get your dog ready for these sounds by playing videos of babies crying, laughing and screaming on Youtube, while you're doing your training games. Your dog will have a positive association with these sounds before Baby comes home and will not be confused and worried by all of the new commotion in your home.
There is so much more to baby and dog training that I'm going to have to write a novel about it instead of just a blog post! Check back often for more baby and dog training tips. I'll post another one soon about how to introduce your baby and dog for the first time! How exciting!!