Making Nice with BabyI am often asked about dogs and children sharing household space, along with the age-old question, "How do we introduce our dog to our new baby?" The answer I always give is, "It depends on your relationship with your pet".
Dogs and people are about RELATIONSHIPS, in which the human is the leader and the dog starts as an unskilled follower. Once you have clarified these roles, you then grow into a superior/subordinate partnership with more freedoms and privileges being earned by the dog along the way as he develops the needed skills. At this point, getting dogs to be successful in and around babies or children or any other new, unfamiliar or stressful situation becomes the benefit.
This statement always leaves most people with a puzzled look, as most are expecting an anecdotal list of things they should and should not be doing. The most common of these is playing audio of babies crying in advance of his/her arrival, with the idea that the dog will get used to (become conditioned to) the sound and his behavior won’t become erratic. Another is to never let your dog get his face near the baby (avoidance), for fear he might bite the baby. While you can apply micro-management, avoidance and desensitization techniques, this alone rarely creates a dependable dog. A systematic training and skill-building program combined with a temporary application of some precautionary measures is far more effective and dependable.
I like to compare the situation to individuals who want to lose weight. These days, most people have learned to stay away from yo-yo dieting. They have learned this slogan of balanced diet and exercise is the right way to get healthy. While I would agree with this statement in part, it's far too general for most people to understand the specific components inside those pieces. You can overeat healthy foods in the same way that you can “over-love” your dog. Diet is 80 percent of the answer to losing weight, and being healthy but eating healthy requires practice. The other 20 percent is exercise. But what kind of exercise? How much? How often? Random exercise, like random obedience exercises and random lifestyle protocol without specifics is going to provide people with inconsistent results. And let's not forget the importance of coaching. Having a system makes success much easier to achieve goals as opposed to random or spot training, regardless of the subject. All training is not created equal, so buyer beware.
The difference between diet and exercise and people and dogs is that you have chosen to live with an animal. The dog is a living, breathing, thinking, reasoning and emotional entity. Poor training or no training doesn't just affect the owner. Like cheating on your diet or spot training with no results, it affects the emotional, physical and psychological state of the dog too. While some of these conventional conditioning and counter-conditioning dog training measures can have some success, many are hit-and-miss and most are addressing the symptom, not the problem. This typically produces mediocre benefits and little reliability in the dog’s ability to self-regulate and make good choices in real situations. I would think that most people wouldn't want to entertain training measures that may or may not work regarding the safety of their baby or children. So instead of providing you this spot training list of anecdotal advice that addresses the symptoms, bringing to light the understanding of the root of the true problem is needed if we are to properly and reliably prevent or correct anything.
You need a dog that possesses skills for properly THINKING and reasoning his way through various situations, and an owner who possesses the leadership skills needed for that particular dog. Implementing a day-to-day protocol in which to live, combined with a properly coached obedience exercise curriculum is what does the skill building for both. It also teaches the dog to be responsible to something greater than himself and promotes a healthy team mentality. Thorough instruction and execution in leash handling is the key for this and becomes the dogs’ life-line. It's this initial leash training that begins to connect the owner and dog as a team and aids in building a trustworthy, cooperative and safe relationship. When done correctly, it creates a stable, controlled and trustworthy animal who's capable of following direction and who learns how to make good choices under stress. This works perfectly for dogs who are around babies and children of all ages.
So whether you're dealing with infants and crawlers, tail pullers, eye pokers and ear biters, all the way to young teens who feel they know it all, there is hope. Eventually, the child is going to do something to the dog that is uncomfortable or that the dog doesn't like in a setting that is beyond your control. The dog that has been taught to think before he acts and has skills for self-control, turns and goes the other direction instead of correcting the child himself. While teaching kids about safety and proper interaction around dogs is optimal, we as parents know that we can never supervise the dogs and kids 100 percent of the time. By teaching both kids and dogs how to interact with each other, we increase our chances of success by eliminating most of the risk. But remember, not all training methods are created equal.
As the parent of a five-year-old who has been raised around and by two American Pit Bull Terriers and a Boxer, people are shocked at first to find that I would not only trust dogs around my baby and young child, but that I trust those specific breeds. But when I tell them the roles they played, they are amazed. Krom fetched diapers and put them up on the changing table whenever the boy cried and I carried him to the room to change him. Quinn helped teach my son to walk, as he constantly placed himself in just the right position to be used as a stabilizer for balance and a pillow for a fall, then a helper to hold onto as the boy pulled his way back to his feet and started all over again. And none of these specific behaviors were formerly taught; they developed from the dogs’ understanding of their roles and participation in something greater than themselves.
It is the dog who has lacked true human leadership in his life that becomes unstable, fearful, uncontrollable and reactive to unfamiliar and/or stressful situations. He has never truly learned to be part of something bigger than himself and to trust a human as being a fit leader. He has lost faith and trust, therefore his own confidence is diminished. His behavior becomes erratic and unpredictable by interpretation. This interpretation in fact is NOT true, he is totally predictable. You can always count on never knowing what he's going to do under stress. Thereby, quality of life becomes restrictive and begins to diminish for all parties in the relationship. The number one reason dogs are cast out of homes is for behavior issues that are preventable if owners have access to proper training.
When I speak to prospective clients on the phone, most conversations begin with "here are the PROBLEMS I'm having with my dog". I explain to them as quickly as possible that those are not the problems; they're the symptoms. They are describing the end result that is no longer tolerable. If you try to spot train, you could very well end up dealing with an endless amount of behaviors from your dog that don't ever really get corrected and don’t align with your lifestyle. The dog has a brain in his head and is quite capable of being so much more than a mindless conditioned robot through patterning type training. That brain needs to be stimulated and exercised. Don't lower your standards; elevate your dog. Give him what he deserves, which is a fair chance at being successful, by meeting his needs and he will meet yours.
Spend your time addressing the symptoms and you could end up doing that forever. Correct the true problems and most symptoms will begin to disappear all by themselves, as they weren’t the problem at all. Build your house on a solid foundation, and it will stand the test of time under all conditions. Build it on sand, through short-cuts and anecdotal fixes, and it will come back to bite you when you least expect it.
Do it Right the First Time; Enjoy Your Dog a Life Time
Dean Miller-The Thinking Dog System
Dog's California Training LLC
Behavior and Obedience Specialists
"Because Your Dogs Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste"