Resources For families with dogs and babies!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baby and dog sharing food bowl....YIKES

To some this video may be cute.  The dog and baby are "sharing" the meal.
To me I see a German Shepherd who wants to be left alone.  Yes, he is being polite and indicating by pulling his bowl back that he really wants to eat in peace BUT how many times does he have to "tolerate" the interference of this child as he eats?  He is learning that his food must be guarded from this baby.   Dogs use their body to communicate with us.  This baby is in the dog's space and not respecting the dog's attempt to be left alone. Over time if continued this will escalate especially once this baby is mobile.  The dog is learning that the baby is a threat to his food and can not be trusted.  Overtime this will lead to guarding behavior.
Watch the beagle.  The beagle is showing concern about the baby.  Taking a bite, watching baby, eating fast, watching baby.  This dog is already indicating a threat and is very likely to be reactive if that baby crawls nearer to it's bowl. 
Dogs should not be expected to "share" food or eat around small babies, toddlers or children.  Leave a dog alone when they are eating is a oldie but goodie rule of thumb!  Expecting your dog to enjoy the company of your baby while they eat is a disaster for all involved and setting everyone up to fail.   This situation is teaching the dog/s that this baby is not to be trusted by their food and that their adults will allow this little one to take their food and crowd them during their meals..

Here is what I like to teach dogs about people approaching and being in their space 
when they enjoy a treat, meal or special spot.

A simple exercise done throughout the day randomly is best.  I use high value treats or middle value treats such as cheese or chicken for this activity depending on the context and dog.
Here are the steps.

1.  While dog is enjoying their food in it's bowl I walk by and drop (while standing) a small bit of higher value (warmed up hot dog or chicken) without saying a word or stopping.
I repeat this walking casually by when they are on their bed, or enjoying a toy or anything they are focused on.
Many dogs will immediately grab the treat and then quickly return to the bowl never looking up. I repeat this until the dog begins to look up anticipating the higher value treat.  As if to say"hey whatcha got?"  Now the dog is anticipating and thinking approaching people could mean opportunity vs. ut they come again to steal my stuff!

2.  I begin (over time) to expand the distance from the bowl to where I drop the treat.  This challenges the dog to "choose" to leave the bowl to get the treat.  Learning that it is ok and his food is not in danger of being taken by people walking by. There is no threat and no need to guard.
I repeat this step at different paces, with different shoes, crawling by, stomping by etc.   Again, until the dog begins to look up happily at my approach as if to say "whatcha got for me?"  

3.  I then vary the location of where I drop the goodie to either by the bowl, in the bowl or a bit away from the bowl once the dog is happily looking up at my approach.  Sometimes even toss goodie to the dog. 
This allows the dog to see a person as an opportunity vs. threat around their food, treats, toys or special spots.
Guarding food is a common behavior and families with children must take this seriously.  If your dog is demonstrating guarding behaviors such as:  goblbing food quickly, freezing as you approach, displaying whites of the eyes as they look up at you, growling, body blocking their food or toys from you then you need to seek the help of a professional. 
If your dog does not show these behaviors then you want to be SURE to reward them for it.  Doing the above exercise is a great way to keep your dog from guarding their food, toys and special spots.  We often forget to reward behaviors we like and this is one example of how to do that.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

PARENTvision vs. supervision

Anytime we have someone else babysit for us we have our dogs in a comfy spot to be away from the kid activities.  Although babysitters, nannies and even wonderful relatives may love dogs and feel comfortable, I do not recommend that they are responsible for supervising both kids and dogs.  Remember when the substitute teacher or bus driver was in for the day?  Kids acted up and problems happened.  Same is true here.

As a parent you have PARENTvision which is far more consistent than that of someone who occasionally watches your child.  You are able to predict your child's responses, behaviors far better than another.
Here are some reasons why I believe that it is best to allow your dog a calm spot while your child is being watched by another.
1.  The person may not be confident or comfortable with dogs.
2.  Often people handle dogs differently.  Different expectations, methods and responses could put your child at risk.
3.  Your sitter does not know your dog's comfort level or your child's behavior like you do.  Again...PARENTvision
4.  Your dog is not as trusting of another as they may be with you.  They may lack a comfort level with a caregiver and that can increase risk for your child.  Dogs depend on their trusted adults and rely on predictability along with deferring to you for guidance.
5.  Bottom line...when a CHILD care provider is in your home they are there for your CHILD not your dog.

A room to chill together in
This may seem challenging but believe me you never want to get a call from your babysitter who unknowingly put your dog or child in a bad situation.  Dogs and children miscommunicate often but when the familiar trusted adult is not there the dynamics are off balance and this is the time accidents happen.

So, what can you do?  Here are some suggestions.
A comfy spot to chill out

A yummy frozen treat is great
1.  If your have a full time caretaker then you will want to be sure that you ALL get educated about body language and dog and baby interaction ( or lack of) We will be offering a webinar you can have you and your childcare provider can take together.
2.  Have a long discussion ahead of time of rules and boundaries with your caretaker.
3.  Observe your caretaker as they run through and regularly practice familiar cues with your dog.  This will build the trust and bond with them too.
4.  I recommend video taping or a nanny cam to observe (with their awareness) so that you can use that for educational opportunities and come together to change anything that makes you uncomfortable.
5.  Be sure that there are multiple management options for your caretaker to use and rotate the dog during the day.

My dogs in with me  while we have a sitter
Short term sitters...teens, family etc.
1.  Secure dog in a closed off area.
2.  Let dog go to doggie day care
3. Gate dog in a dog zone
4.  Allow the dog the option of multiple locations but not in the area with the child.
Always prepare and plan ahead with a yummy long lasting treat for your dog to enjoy!

Dogs and kids succeed when there is parent guided education to support growing bonds.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Visiting toddlers at a doggie home.

Summer is here and the time is perfect for a visit to relatives.  I know our family is preparing for visits and with that comes thinking ahead as we are traveling with a toddler.  Packing plenty of activities along with patience will be key!  We will be visiting some family homes where there will be dogs.  Although all the dogs we will visit are well behaved and indoor family dogs, our toddler is unfamiliar to them so extra caution and care must be taken. 

It will be our job to supervise and be sure that our daughter is not left unattended or allowed access to any of the dogs without our guided supervision. These dogs are all wonderful but...our toddler is unfamiliar and they have every reason to be weary. 

Here are some things parents should consider when visiting homes with dogs.

1. Discuss any concerns about the dog with the owners ahead of time if possible.  In families this can be a touchy subject but important if you are able to talk about any discomforts.  Discuss with your spouse or partner any concerns.  Have a plan.

2.  Plan where your child will nap or rest if spending the night.  Be sure there is no way the dog will have access to your child when you are not awake and supervising.  Be sure no other child might open a door allowing access etc.  Baby monitors are great helps here!

3.  Understand that not all dogs appreciate all kids.  Even if this dog has been around other children it does not mean that they will want to be around your toddler on that day.  Older dogs especially may not be interested in young children and their unpredictable behaviors.  Even if the owner says their dog is fine...respect the dog and know that opting to not engage is sometimes the best choice.

4.  BE EXTRA careful around food!  Dogs that normally do not "guard" food items from their owners may guard from guests....especially young children!  This can be very dangerous at picnics and family gatherings where there are many distractions.  Be aware of the dog and where your children are at all times if food is about.

5.  High energy activities and loud kid play can be very arousing for dogs.  If there are many kids running around and acting silly, be extra diligent about supervision. (if possible ask for the dog to have their own down time away from the "kid fun." or that the dog be leashed.

6.  Follow your gut and do what is safest for your child.  If you feel unsure then take precautions.  Parents must be alert and proactive when visiting homes with their babies, and young children whenever there are dogs involved.

Dogs are great additions to our families but they have special considerations when it comes to guests and large gatherings.  

What can you do if you have visiting kids coming to your home with your dogs?

1.  Allow several guided activities that the kids can do with you and your dog that will be structured, safe and fun for both.  Ex.  Catch, fetch, hide and seek, high five etc.
2.  Stock up on some yummy treats that you freeze in food dispensing toys for guest visits.
3.  Only allow short sessions for your dog to be around all the guests when you are able to give your full attention. This way the dog stays interested and it is not overdone or overstimulating.
4.  Allow your dog a safe place to be away from everyone to enjoy their treat while food is out for the guests.  
5.  Keep your dog on leash and reward them for calm and relaxed behavior when guests are over.
6.  Be aware of any guests or parents of children who are fearful of dogs.  This can make for a stressful time for them and your dog.  You want to be sure to set your dog up for success.  
7.  Remember that your dog may like people but too much and too long can be just too much for even the best of dogs.

Be safe, have fun!