Do you have any extra pointers or advice for bringing a new baby home? I’m expecting my first, due in August. My dogs have done well with your training, although my lab mix has growled at my 8-month-old nephew before when he was crawling on him – to which my dog was properly corrected. Plus, I re-enacted the situation (under extreme supervision with the muzzle) that day. Yet, since that day, I haven’t had another opportunity to train my dogs around small children.
Firstly, congratulations! How exciting for you and your husband!
Secondly, well done for jumping on that situation with your nephew right away. Re-enacting the situation using the muzzle on the dog is exactly what my Perfect Dog system teaches. However, it’s a pity you were unable to follow up very soon afterwards with a series of training lessons around children of various ages. This would have been most advantageous.
Nevertheless, it’s never too late. I would begin now before your first baby arrives as a full-time member of the family. Even if you have to go way out of your way to find willing participants to help you with your task, it will be worth it. Invite over family, friends, neighbors, etc. that have babies, toddlers, and older children. Maybe you’ll have to put an ad in the local paper to find the fullness of what you need.
No amount of training is ever too much when it comes to dogs and children. And, you can’t just depend on putting the dogs and kids together in a room believing that everything will get covered in time. Often, you have to make the effort to create scenarios. This requires forethought, visualizing all of the potentials of what could happen – from the mildest to the worst.
It would be a huge mistake to get casual and possibly fool yourself into thinking your dogs are good enough and would never actually bite. And, even though only one of them has shown signs of aggression around kids in the past, don’t be deceived into thinking your other dog that was “good” that day with your nephew is not a risk. Any dog can be a ticking time bomb unless you have done thorough, dedicated training around children in as many types of situations as possible.
Even then, my advice to everyone is still to never leave dogs and children alone together. My book (Wake Up and Smell the Poop!) tells of a horrifying story whereby a young girl choked to death in her backyard as her playful retriever tugged on her winter scarf. There were a number of dynamics to the situation which you’ll be able to read about in my book, but suffice to say that the situation clearly could have been avoided if the parents had known about – and followed – my rule.
Many people will try to tell you, “Well, just teach your child to be respectful of the dogs and things should be fine.” And, dog attack news reports often highlight comments such as, “Oh, it’s the child’s fault. She must have done something to provoke the poor dog!” Whilst my training system does encourage all parents to teach to their children – as early as possible – how to properly interact with dogs, I don’t agree with blaming the child for the dog’s choices.
All dogs can be successfully taught to deal with the highest level of hyperactivity – even certain mischievous behavior – from an untrained child. I’m not talking about extreme situations where some wicked kid might happen to do something horrific to a dog. This kind of thing is rare, and a dog’s reactions in this case could certainly be excused. What I am talking about is the average toddler that might unwittingly crawl all over the dog when the parents aren’t looking, or the average baby that might suddenly flip its arm out and accidentally poke the dog in the eye. Dogs can be taught to acceptably endure these situations – or to retreat to safety if possible. Dogs can be taught that retaliating with aggression – or any kind of dominance – is simply not acceptable.
So, having said all of the above, I do have some practical tips for you (see below). You should also read the following three additional Blog posts on my Blog page. They’re very relevant to your situation and they will most definitely be worth a read.
Apart from intense pre-training before the baby arrives (as already mentioned), here are my suggestions:
1) Choose to be dedicated to this rule: Never allow the dogs to be alone with your baby – ever.
2) Have the dogs muzzled whenever they are around the new baby and do every kind of test possible. Make the effort to enact a large variety of possible scenarios, and instantly correct the dogs at any sign of aggression or dominance. Do this thoroughly before you ever begin to have the dogs unmuzzled around the child.
3) As your child grows, teach the child to interact with the dogs respectfully (e.g. don’t pull their tails, pet them on the head and not near their eyes, don’t be rough with the dogs, etc.). Yet, don’t rely on this. Still teach the dogs to handle the unpredictability and awkward physical touches of a child that change as a child develops. What a baby does (or has the potential to do) is very different from how an energetic 2-year-old can behave. Continually do bouts of testing (always using the muzzle first) as the child gets older and stronger, to keep the dogs humble and acutely aware of what you and your husband expect as leaders of the “family pack.”
4) As soon as the child is old enough (a.s.a.p.), have the child “train” both of the dogs i.e. give commands and corrections (when needed), etc. Again, always use the muzzle first. The goal is to have the dogs come to view the child as another pack leader.
5) Continually reinforce to your child that the dogs are not “play things.” Teach the child that they are a responsibility – they need to be cared for and they need to be led. Yes, many fun times can be had with the dogs – daily – but rules and boundaries need to be respected, always. If your child isn’t showing sincere effort to comply with your expectations, your child needs to be banned from interacting with the dogs until such time as s/he matures.
– Don Sullivan, “The DogFather”
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