One of the ways dogs come into TAGS is as surrenders. When I originally began volunteering, I would look down on the surrendering families with disdain. However, I have come to really appreciate the people who surrender their dog to be rehomed.
After a few years of volunteering, my attitude toward surrendering families has become “At least they love the dog enough to surrender it to a rescue group.” It takes a lot of courage to realize that the dog you own no longer fits into your lifestyle. It takes even more courage do to something about it.
One lifestyle change that leads some families to this decision is the addition of two-legged family members. Babies. Many people are taken off guard by how their family dog, who they have owned together as a couple for years, suddenly changes when the baby arrives.
To further investigate what is really going on, I have asked TAGS founder and certified dog trainer Kathy Asling a few questions regarding the topic.
We often hear from surrendering families that the dog has “changed” and has been acting aggressively. Has the dog in fact changed?
|OK, this will be the last photo of Casper,
Dogs are often adopted prior to couples having children, which is why it is of the utmost importance to socialize your dog with children of all ages.
These dogs need to become familiar and comfortable with the sounds and the movements of children from newborn to teenager.
If the expectant family has not done their homework preparing the dog for the new arrival, then, yes, you may see behaviour changes. Is this really aggression? In my mind, no. It is more often related to fear and uncertainty. What is this new thing that makes noises and gets my owners to run and give it attention?
Another common mistake is owners who only give attention to their dog when the baby is asleep. It is important to teach the dog to bond with the child. Giving the dog treats and attention while the baby is awake will help the dog to learn that good things happen when the baby is awake. Walk the dog when you walk the baby, and include the dog in activities with the new baby that are safe.
What advice would you give to a pregnant woman about her dog(s) from here on out?
Socialize, socialize, socialize! Ask friends and family, neighbours who have young children to work with you and your dog. Prepare the dog with baby sounds—these can be purchased or downloaded—and play them over and over so the dog becomes familiar with them. Reward the dog with attention and treats as these sounds play.
Help your dog not to feel anxiety when they hear baby crying noises or laughter or screaming. Teach your dog boundaries—are they allowed in the baby’s room? Let them smell the baby’s clothes, blankets…. We all know that smell is a high form of communication in dogs, so help them to get used to these new smells.
And role play. Yep! Grab a doll, wrap it up in a receiving blanket and go through the same motions you will be doing with the new baby.
Help the dog to get used to the routine.
I also strongly suggest that if you have a dog that is very dependent on you for entertainment, start finding toys that will provide the mental stimulation your dog needs without you. There are many great products on the market today.
And of course teach your dog basic commands: sit/stay, down/stay.This will become very important when the baby starts to crawl and walk. Because they stumble and fall, a lot of dogs become very nervous, so teach your dog a boundary of 4-5 feet away from the baby unless you invite the dog in closer.
Never, never, never, leave a dog and child unattended. That should go without saying.
What is the best way to introduce a dog to the new family member?
When the big day comes and you are coming home with the new baby, be prepared that Fido will be very excited. Any of us who own dogs know that when we leave and return, our dogs are always happy to greet us.
Trusting that you have done all your prep work already, the dog should be fairly calm. As long as the dog is behaving calmly, you can hold the baby in your arms and allow the dog to gently smell the baby. Ask the dog to sit and offer a very yummy reward, something your dog doesn’t normally get but that is very high in reward, like pieces of chicken.
As long as the dog behaves calmly, keep giving this wonderful reward. What does Fido learn? Yum! I like this “new thing”—I get great treats when it’s around!
It’s always a good idea to ask someone to bring home a blanket that has been around the baby at the hospital so the dog has a chance to get the scent of the baby before you arrive home.
Does the age of the dog matter? (Can an old dog learn new tricks?)
Absolutely they can. Over the years, I have had many older dogs come to classes. Most have never been taught formally before. Regardless of the age of your dog, dogs love to learn. They need mental stimulation just as much as physical. Teaching an older dog can give them purpose and add some spice in their lives.
Today we hear of people in their 80s and 90s getting degrees, so whether it’s humans or animals, never underestimate them because of their age.