The baby or the dog?
Ten ways to keep your fur-baby happy once the baby arrives (you can keep your puppy too!)
Dogs respond well to predictable behaviour and a set ‘pack’ hierarchy. Having a baby can upset the balance and change the way that a dog might behave. However having a baby also changes the way you behave towards your pets which can come as quite a surprise if you were not expecting it.
“I love my dogs. I won’t love them any less just because we are having a baby.” I said this too – but things have changed in a way that I could not have predicted.
Of course I don’t love my dogs any less, the animals in the house have just been shifted lower in my priority list as I find my time taken up by the needs of my child.
It has been a shift that I was not expecting. Even though I had dog training experience and was used to reinforcing ‘bottom of the pack’ hierarchies for behaviour control of my large dogs, suddenly the dogs were demoted even more.
So here are a few strategies to keep your fur baby happy during the ‘settling phase’ (and beyond) while everyone adjusts to the new little bundle of mini-person.
1. STRUCTURED GREETING
To avoid your dog getting confused about their place in the pack, make sure you do a few things before you greet them. Go inside, settle the baby, walk past the dog and ignore it then (when you are ready) give them a whole bunch of cuddles and pats. A happy dog is one who knows that affection is given on your terms, not theirs.
2. LEFTOVERS ONLY
If your dog is an inside dog, make sure it realises that the baby is well above them in the pack. Feed the baby in front of the dog (ideally higher than the dog). Feed yourself. Then when everyone has eaten, feed the dog their meal. This will help them to realise they are never allowed to take the baby’s food later too. Our dogs know that they need to wait to be ‘allowed’ even to clean up scraps on the floor because of this strategy.
3. DIFFERENT TOY
Give your dog a special toy to keep it occupied when the baby arrives. A puzzling toy (see number 7) or something nice and chewy like a minty chew toy will keep them entertained so that they can gnaw happily away while you look after the baby. It’s important that the dog toy is different to the baby’s toy so that there are never any toy-fights later on. (Try to avoid soft furry toys as this can confuse the dog in terms of being ‘allowed’ to chew small animals. Speaking from experience here L)
4. DOG ISLAND
Dogs like to know what kind of behaviour is expected of them at all times. A dog that has to think too much for themselves can become stressed so if you give them clear guidelines about where they should be/not be they will become a more relaxed animal. We use an Outie Splat Mat as a ‘dog island’ inside. It takes a while to teach them but you just say ‘Mat’ every time they go on the mat. When they step off the mat you say, ‘No’ or another alarming ‘Ut’ sound. Soon enough the dog will know that they are required to stay on the dog ‘island’. This has been great because it means I can take my dogs and a Splat Mat and I can teach them where they are allowed and not allowed quickly even in new environments.
5. MIND GAMES
When you don’t have time to exercise your dog, you can still exercise their mind. Some fun activities you can teach your dog is hide and seek or you can teach them tricks. ‘Hand’ for shaking hands, ‘Roll over’ for rolling over, ‘Bang’ for lying down and playing dead and ‘Speak’ for barking on command are fun tricks for dogs to learn. You can use a clicker tool (it just makes a sharp click sound when you press it so that the dog knows when they have done something right) to teach them, or you can use treats. (Cubes of old cheese are my fur-babies’ favourites). Learning will tire their mind on days when you can’t get outside to run them.
6. FROZEN TREATS
Dogs like anticipation. If your dog is outside, you can freeze a meaty bone in a bucket of water with a loop of rope in the water. You can hang the frozen giant ice cube by the rope from a tree and as it melts, the doggy is rewarded by a magical bone dropping from the ‘sky’. (This is a great tip if you are working and doggy is alone at home too).
7. PUZZLE TOYS
You can make your own ‘puzzle’ toys for dogs from things found in your recycling bin.
a) Cut a small hole in the corner of an ice-cream container large enough for a dog biscuit to ‘just’ come out through. Fill with dog biscuits. Put the lid on and seal with tape. Your dog has to bat the toy around to be rewarded with little treats.
b) Hang a ball from a rope with another ball on the other end. Hang over a tree branch. The dog will want both balls but each time he pulls one, the other one will go higher.
c) Hide tennis balls inside a pair of old stockings. The doggy will love chewing on the tennis ball and trying to get it out of the stocking.
d) Knot fabric into big rope-knots. Your dog will enjoy chewing it to ‘undo’ the knot.
e) Fill the hollow part of a bone with peanut butter, put on its end and fill with water and freeze. The dog will have to chew out the ice before they can get at the yummy peanut butter. (Definitely an outside toy as this one gets messy!)
8. PLAY DATES
Dogs are social animals and they love romping with other dogs. Find a friend with a dog that socialises well with your dog and let them play and romp around together. You could also take your dog to a leash-free park to let them have a bit of rough and tumble play to wear them out whilst you can sit and have some quiet time with your baby.
9. CAR TRIPS
Even a change of environment can be stimulating for a dog. If you are running a few errands, take the pooch with you. Just be sure to always leave a window down. I have a large Splat Mat in the back of my station wagon so that the dogs can mess up the boot without covering my carpet in dog hair too. They love being part of the pack, so take them along for a ride. My man takes them on the back of his ute for a bit of adventure – even when just popping out for a short trip.
10. DOG WALKERS
Dogs still need regular exercise so maybe a favour you could ask of friends is that they take the dog for a walk for you. Or ask someone to mind the baby during a nap, and take a walk yourself to get some much-needed fresh air. It is a nice time to have some ‘you time’ even for a small window of time. When babies are small, you can wear them with a baby sling or wrap and walk the dog yourself/ Later you can train your dog to walk nicely beside the pram to make walking a part of your new lives together.
(My brother even built a cart for his large mastiffs and they pull the kids along!)
I am not a dog whisperer – but I am an owner of large dogs that I want to keep around. These are some of the strategies that have worked for us and hopefully you find them useful too.
Over and Outie.
Illustration courtesy of http://www.facebook.com/DeskDrawer
copyright Katrina Ward 2013).