Vinny Viola, CPDT-KA, KPA-CTP, is a certified professional dog trainer in Rockland County, New York. He is the head instructor at Canine Coaching, located in Chestnut Ridge.
What can you do to plan ahead and prepare when you have a dog and are expecting a new baby?
There are going to be a few keys to successfully this transition in your life. I am going to go over the importance of fulfilling your dog’s needs, both physically and mentally; How to be proactive- in order to avoid problems- instead of reactively attempting damage control; and finally, I’ll cover some key signs it might be time to seek professional help!
First, let's talk about fulfillment. New baby on the way or not, most dogs unfortunately don’t get nearly enough mental or physical exercise. After all, up until recently, most dogs were bred with purpose. They were used for hunting or livestock guarding. Now, the only guarding they do is toward the mailman, and the only thing they hear is our slippers while we try to unwind and watch Netflix.
So what can you do to give your dog more exercise? Great forms of physical exercise can go beyond a slow walk down the sidewalk. Fetch and tug games are of a higher intensity and allow dogs to run, chase, and tug. Fetch, tug, and chasing toys allow us to tire our dogs out more quickly than walks, and give our dogs a chance to be dogs! On walks, it is important to work on proper leash skills, while also giving our dogs a chance to stop and sniff.
Most dog owners often overlook mental stimulation. Puzzles, snuffle mats, Kongs, West Paw Tux toys and many others give our dogs nice mentally stimulating challenges. Instead of wolfing down their food in seconds, using these tools allows owners to stretch out the time our dogs spend doing one of their favorite things to do: EAT. Enrichment should always be fun and enjoyable. If your dog is frustrated, barks at the food, or gives up entirely, your toys might just be mentally frustrating! Done right, enriching toys give our dogs a beneficial vice that helps soothe and calm them.
“Proactive, not reactive” is a phrase that can often be heard within the classroom of Canine Coaching, especially from the owner, Dottie Zarris! Most people wait for their dogs to fail, and then try to figure things out. We help owners prepare for the inevitable. This allows us to set our dogs up for success before problem situations even arise.
So, let’s talk about some inevitability. Your dog is going to have less of your attention once you have your new baby. Your dog won’t have access to the baby’s room. Your dog might have to be confined during parts of the day you need to be alone with your baby, and your dog is going to be exposed to new objects, toys, and contraptions that are associated with your new baby.
So how do we take a proactive approach to some of the things listed above? We want to work on the skills we are going to need BEFORE we need them. That way, if our dog doesn’t do so well with these new skills, we know that AHEAD of time.
If you have a crate or confinement area, start using it sporadically and randomly so your dog can acclimate. If you don’t have one, go about planning on a place, a crate, a room, or a gated area where you can keep your dog safely unsupervised. A crate is optimal as there is the least room for error. If the baby’s room is going to be off limits, make it off limits before your baby arrives. Set up baby swings, high chairs, toys, and other baby gear far in advance. Do training around these objects, expose your dogs to these objects, and get your dog accustomed to these objects BEFORE the baby arrives. If, for example, your dog is scared of a rocking chair, it’s better to address that before the baby arrives. This also prevents your dog from associating these scary objects with your new baby.
Now, once your baby arrives, how do you introduce your dog to your baby? The answer? You don’t have to right away! Just like socializing a puppy, it’s not about direct contact and engagement with the baby. It’s about becoming neutral and learning to coexist. If you’ve done your homework, you have a fulfilled dog that can handle being confined and separated, and doesn’t need to be involved with everything you do. All interactions with the baby should be carefully watched and monitored. Don’t allow your dog to interact during feedings, diaper changes, or other distracted and possibly problematic scenarios. Let your dog drag a thin leash in the house so that you can manage them efficiently. Finally, slow and steady gets you there! Don’t force, rush, or try to take shortcuts.