Southern Skies Flat-Coated Retriever Club

Introducing The New Baby To Your Other Baby
Cynthia McCollum

 A woman called my office for help with her dog. She asked how long it would take to get him under control because she was pregnant. I asked how pregnant? 8 1/2 months.
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Like many parents of adult children, our daughter moved back home with us this summer. Unlike many, however, she brought a Great Dane. Unlike many, my daughter was 5 months pregnant.

Big Boy (great name for a Dane), while not terribly misbehaved, had been raised in the country and was not civilized for suburban life. My Flat Coat pack, while VERY civilized and well behaved, had never been exposed to a human infant except Rose who thought babies were wonderful and God had placed them here just for her to wash.

The key to easily mixing dogs and babies is to have well mannered dogs to start with. How long it will take is a very individual thing. We immediately started Amanda and Big Boy in a basic obedience and manners class. Our pack was put on a rather stringent brush up routine.

Our family established this list of realistic goals for all dogs:
1. All dogs must sit on command instantly, and hold a stay until released.
2. All dogs must down on command instantly, and hold a stay until released.
3. All dogs will greet people by sitting.

4. All dogs will honor the boundary of Amanda's doorway even if it is open. They will enter by invitation only.
5. All dogs will honor the command ENOUGH. (def.: what you are doing is not bad, just stop it. eg. ENOUGH kisses.)

I feel this is a realistic set of rules for any household. Generally, this is how my pack lives in peace in my home. Now, with the addition of a tiny, fragile infant, it was imperative that the generally come closer to perfection. This required the cooperation of the entire family.

Since any obedience instructor worth your money can help you teach your dogs these individual exercises, I will not get into the specifics. If you have ever had any problem with aggression in any form, do not walk, run to that instructor for immediate private instruction.

Once the dogs knew these exercises individually, we started them in groups. This was incorporated into our daily routine and was reward based. For example, when sending the dogs outside the command SIT is given one time at the door. The dog who sits first got to go out. No further command are given. The person letting the dogs out stares at the rest of the pack until they sit. They are released one at a time in order of their SIT. The same routine was followed letting the dogs back in. The dogs are required to hold their SIT STAY while their food bowls are set out. If any dog moves before being released, the bowl is picked up and the dog not allowed to eat until the stay is successful.
We practiced DOWN STAY in the kitchen for ice cube treats and in the living room for evening chew time. This would have been a lot easier for us if we only had one or two dogs, but our 5 managed pretty well.

In addition to general manners, the individual dogs were fine tuned. Big Boy was taught to quit using his paws to get our attention. Whoopi learned No Kisses and worked on Off. Casey worked on Quiet! Even the cats worked on boundary training.

When the day finally arrived to bring the baby home (IT'S A BOY!) we had a plan. Knowing the dogs would be excited to see Amanda, the first 15 minutes or so would be important in establishing our new rules as law. This is how we did it.

1. When we got home we left Amanda in the car and put all the dogs in the yard. They could have been kenneled or put in another room. We did not want any dog jumping on her or the baby in the excitement.

2. After Amanda and Dalton (his name, isn't it great?) were in and comfortable, we brought Big Boy in ON LEASH. We approached her slowly and he was commanded to SIT. They greeted each other calmly and lovingly. This was repeated with each dog.

3. Then we proceeded to the bedroom. The dogs were given their boundary command. If this command was not consistent yet we would have closed the door. One dog at a time was invited in to see and sniff the baby. They were fascinated for a very few minutes and then lost interest. Newborns don't do much. Only Rosie had to be controlled. She wanted to wash him vigorously. The ENOUGH command came in very handy. Rosie will have quite a job once he starts eating solid food.

One thing we had not considered was Amanda having a C-section. She was very painful for several weeks and our dogs "hug" by thrusting their heads into our bellies or chests and rubbing. We rub back and scratch their heads, necks and backs. Amanda had to keep a pillow in her lap to pad her from surprise hugs and use a firm NO! WAIT! when walking around. Big Boy really had his feelings hurt. We gave him extra love and attention, but it was not the same. He displayed some very interesting denial behavior. When Amanda was sitting with either the pillow or the baby he would approach, sit without being told and purposefully turn his head and eyes away, lift his chin, fold his ears and raise one paw slightly off the floor.

At five weeks, the family and the pack have adapted to having Dalton around. Amanda feels much better and can give her dog the attention he deserves. He is a lot happier. Casey and Whoopi are vaguely interested in the baby, but still don't think he does much. They are most interested in him when he needs changing. Rose loves him dearly and has learned to kiss gently. She anxiously awaits the day when he gets really grubby and she can give him a proper washing. Tasha, our rescue foster dog, got to learn about babies before going to her new home.

Dogs and babies can mix successfully with a little extra planning and training. There is no need to abandon your first baby because you got another one. You will both benefit from training by establishing a closer bond and better communication.

Dalton, by the way, is a beautiful and talented child obviously destined for greatness. He likes to watch ceiling fans and chew on his clown.

(Cynthia McCollum is a dog trainer, writer and owner of Best Friends Dog Training in Clearwater. She lives in a multi-species pack of 4 dogs, 2 cats, a husband, daughter and grandson.)

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