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I recently took a Babies & Dogs class from a local dog trainer. He's been in the business for quite a while and comes highly recommended by anyone who's ever worked with him. I thought I would type up my notes from the class in case anyone finds them useful.

Before I start: If your dog(s) show any warning signs (growl, snap, lunge) with your babe, please seek professional help immediately. If you wait until the warning signs progress to an actual bite, it's a harder problem to solve.

And a couple caveats:
  • These are pretty brief notes, considering that a lot of this is something that could be new to you. We've taken classes with this trainer before, so we most of it was a refresher for us. But if anything doesn't make sense to you, please follow up with a professional trainer. It's better to be safe and understand what you're doing than to confuse your dog! I also have some handouts from the class that I can send you for more information. Just PM me with an email address I can send them to.
  • These notes are very matter-of-fact about what can go wrong. The trainer said he was doing that on purpose to put some fear into us because he's tired of seeing perfectly fine animals having to be put down or dropped off at a kill shelter because they were set up for failure when the new baby came into the house. He hoped that sharing this frank information with us would motivate us to put in some effort before the baby arrives and we have less time for dog training.
Background
  • Dogs can tell you're pregnant in the first trimester. They just don't know how many puppies you're having!
  • For dogs (and humans!), there are four ways to change behavior: drugs, training, aversions (shock collars, etc), or the concept of "build a higher wall" (such as don't take an alcoholic to a bar, in dog training this would be keeping the dog separate from whatever environment/situation causes the behavior problem). fyi, this trainer does not use aversions like shock collars but will do more humane aversions in specific cases.
  • Know the breed. Genetics load the gun, the environment fires it. So understand your dog's breed and what they're predisposed to. Contrary to popular belief, Pits aren't at the top of the list for bites in the U.S.--Golden Retrievers are. It's because of how they were inbred. They developed a trait that if you wake them from a sleep, they will snap, then go back to happy-go-lucky. So do some research. (And for the record, Pits generally make great family dogs because they're very loyal. It's also why they're used in dog fighting, unfortunately.)
  • Has your dog ever killed a mammal? That's normal dog behavior. But did they then eat the animal? If so, that shows a predatory drive, and that's a serious issue. If that's the case, you'd be better off working with a professional trainer for your specific situation.
  • All aggressive dogs this trainer has seen have two things in common. They're not good on a leash, and they have a bad recall (come). So if your dog isn't great in those two areas, those would be good general things to work on as well. Recall's easy to work on because you just call your dog (Spot, come!), wait til they come and sit at your feet (it works best to sit and open your legs slightly so they can sit between them), and have a treat ready for the moment their butt hits the ground.
Stages of Child Aggression
  • The first stage of child aggression is 0-9 months. The baby screams and the dog becomes aggressive because the baby sounds like a dying rabbit. This is rare.
  • The second stage is 10 months-3 years. The baby, much like a drunken sailor!, stumbles into the sleeping/eating area of the dog. The dog will correct to the child's face. If you've ever seen a dog correct another dog, that's exactly how they do it--over the muzzle. This is the hardest stage.
  • The third stage is 4-12 years. This happens with visiting children. On the 3rd visit when the same child hasn't brought any resources of their own (food) and consumes the resources of the household, the dog gets in resource protection mode. Most common in this stage is a nip at the child as they're leaving. This is a progression from the 2nd visit, when the dog probably barked at the child as it was leaving.
  • The fourth stage is 13-18 years. This happens with visiting boyfriends/girlfriends. The dog has connected to the child deeply, and sees the visitor as taking that resource away. Similar to the 3rd stage, the visitor will get bit on the 3rd visit.
Bite Categories
There's always a progression to aggression.
  1. flesh wound, abrasion, scrape, cut, contusion
  2. one puncture wound on top of bite area, contusion, looks like got hit by a bat
  3. multiple puncture wounds on top and bottom of bite area, contusion, can go into muscle
  4. tearing and ripping muscle
  5. bone and muscle removal, possible death
Controlling Resources
  • What is behind any behavior issue is fear and frustration. For dogs, it's all about another pack member to feed.
  • Even though we like to think that dogs love us, what they really love are RESOURCES. They love that we provide the resources they want (food, attention, play, etc).
  • In domesticated dogs, there is no alpha dog. What you have instead is situational dominance. In certain situations, one dog is dominant but in other situations, another dog is the dominant one.
  • Space is the biggest way to control resources in the home. This is BIG for preventing the 2nd stage of child aggression because it will teach the dog to move out of the child's way as it approaches.
  • Do you step around or over your dog at home? Stop doing that. You're letting the dog control the space. Start playing the "bumping game". Stay on your path, don't make eye contact with the dog, nudge the dog with your foot to get the dog to move out of your way, then continue on your way. You may feel bad at first, but it is essential that you establish that you control the space and not your dog. It's the main way to prevent the 2nd stage of aggression. Don't kick the dog as you push through--that's not necessary. Just put your foot forward and push through until the dog moves. Also, don't verbally warn the dog that you're about to make them move. Just do it. Dogs don't verbally warn each other when they're about to walk through each other's space. And your toddler won't be able to say "excuse me", so don't waste your breath teaching your dog that they only need to move out of your way when you ask politely! After playing this game consistently, what you should start to see is your dog seeing you coming and getting out of your way. That's the behavior you want for your child.
Diet
  • Diet is extremely important for dogs. For the same reason kids will have behavior problems if you feed them a lot of sugar every day, dogs will react to a bad diet too.
  • Avoid these ingredients in your dog's food at all costs: corn, wheat, eggs, dye, soy, sugar. Everything but sugar is a common allergen for dogs, and sugar is bad for behavior in general.
  • Some great brands are California Natural, Wellness, and a new brand named Organix seems to be good too. You might have to look around for a good brand and maybe buy at a pet store instead of the grocery store, but diet makes all the difference in the world for preventing behavior problems. It's worth it.
  • Bananas and figs produce serotonin, which can help with aggression. So if you find a kibble with those as ingredients, great. Otherwise, you can give your dog a little banana or fig everyday, especially if you use the Kong as a puzzle daily. (There's a handout for Kongs that I can send you.)
  • Nervous/insecure dogs tend to have digestive problems because nerves tear up their guts. Yogurt can help these dogs if given daily. Again, it's easy to add yogurt to a Kong every day.
  • Always give your dog its daily kibble after you eat. This establishes your family as the leaders of the pack.
  • Also, don't leave your dog's kibble out all day long. The dog will be stressed when the food is left out all day because they will see it as a resource to guard. When you feed the dog, you should set the food down, they should eat it, then you should pick up the bowl when they're done. If the dog leaves the food bowl, they're done. Pick it up. Don't worry, they'll learn fast!
Too Bad
  • You'll probably want the handout for this one because we already had this in previous training sessions, so I didn't take the most detailed notes.
  • You need to correct undesirable behavior, and you need to start doing it before the baby comes and you don't have as much time to devote to training.
  • Dogs see look, touch, and talk (nice or angry) as a reward--they're getting the attention they want. So just saying "No" or whatever your word of choice is isn't going to teach your dog much. So the "too bad" system is based on what dogs see as rewards. If they see look, touch, and talk as a reward, then to correct, you need to not make eye contact, not touch, and not talk. How do you do that?
  • Get a snap buckle, like what is on the end of a leash, and a lightweight rope or clothesline. Attach a 10-foot section of the line to the snap buckle and snap it to your dog's collar. Don't use the leash you use to walk the dog. Any time you are with your dog in the house, he must wear the line. But don't leave it on while you are not in the house and don't use it outside.
  • When the dog displays undesirable behavior, pick up the end of the line, turn away and walk toward a crate or designated time-out room with your back to your dog. The moment you feel tension in the line, say in a very sweet tone, "Too bad" and put the dog in the time-out area. (Only use the dog's crate if they're already crate-trained.) Note that the "Too bad" phrase here is okay because you are marking the correction, not the behavior. So the dog won't see it as rewarding the behavior. For the 1st week, time-out lasts 20 minutes. Start the clock when the dog is settled down and quiet. If they bark, restart the clock. The 2nd and subsequent weeks, time-out lasts 2 minutes with the same rules.
  • Very important notes about "too bad": Don't display any emotion before, during, or after the correction. You will confuse the dog and inhibit them from learning. The command should mean removal of reward and separation from the pack. Also, be consistent in your corrections because the dog can't learn if you don't consistently set the rules.
  • Behaviors that should result in time-out: jumping on the furniture (when you haven't given a command to do so), barking at passersby (usually accompanied with rushing to the window, which is a bad behavior if a child is in the dog's path), counter-surfing, instigation against cats like lunging (even if it's in play), eating litter/cat food, wrestling with other dogs in the house (only correct the one who instigates it), stealing something out of a set area (but only if you catch them in the act).
  • If you're having trouble getting the dog to quiet down in time-out, you can wait on the other side of the door. Make sure they can't see you under the door. The second they bark, bang the door hard at what would be eye/ear level for the dog. The dog should see this as a "message from the heavens", so it's important they don't see you're there.
Before Baby Comes
  • Get a baby doll that matches your skin color. Get blankets, baby powder, toys, diapers, anything you know you'll be using with the baby.
  • Starting when you're 7 months along, play house for 1 hour every night. Nurse the baby doll, play with it, do anything you can think of. All the while, make sure you're playing the bumping game. And do time-outs for any and ALL behavior infractions.
  • The reason you're doing this is to set the rules now for how to act around the baby because when the baby comes, you'll be too busy to worry about this.
  • Get 12 gallon-sized ziploc bags and put them in the bag that will go to the hospital/birthing center. (I didn't ask about homebirth here, sorry.) Give the bags to the nurse or whomever will be in charge of baby care when you're away from home. Instruct the person that everything that gets changed off the baby like booties, hats, onesies, etc, goes into a bag, which gets sealed right away and not opened again til you use it. One item per bag. (But don't put dirty diapers in the bags!) See next section for what to do with the bags.
After Baby Comes
  • Send your partner home to check on the dogs before the baby comes home. Before you walk in the door, open a bag and attach an item to you somehow, like tie a piece to your belt loop. You want to get the smell of the baby on your body so when the dog has the happy emotion of seeing you, they'll associate the smell of the baby with that. Also rub an item on a ball, then play fetch. The trainer promised you're not teaching the dog to fetch the baby
    but the dog will associate the smell on the ball with the happy emotion of playing fetch. Or put an item at the bottom of the dog's food bowl and put the food on top. Again, he promised you're not teaching the dog to eat the baby's clothes.
    But smell is the most powerful sense for dogs, so you're using that to your advantage to associate the baby's smell with happy times for the dog.
  • When you bring another human home, the dog will think there will be fewer resources for him, so your job is to show the dog that's not the case.
  • Feed the dog 10 times a day, with at least 2 minutes between each feeding. Do this for 2 weeks. Feed the same amount of kibble you usually do, but just split it up into 10 parts. The dog won't understand that they're getting the same amount of food, they'll just think they hit the jackpot! This will be a good association for them to have with the arrival of the baby. After 2 weeks, start tapering. Do 8 times for 2-3 days, 6 times for 2-3 days, etc.
  • When the baby is about 4 months of age, sit her on your lap. Call the dog over and get him to sit at your feet. Pet the dog with long, soft strokes and say "easy". Never pat the head of the dog. This is how you teach a child to pet a dog and not hit. Don't allow the baby/toddler to see you turning the dog's ears to check them. You don't want to teach the child that it's okay for her to do that to the dog.
 

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Excellent information....I'm not pregnant yet but when I am....this will be one of the first things I start working on....
 

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Thanks for that! I also wanted to say how GREAT it is to finally read that ppl actually do keep their animals and not ditch them as soon as they are expecting a baby! I wish more ppl would seek classes/help before bringing baby home. It could help solve alot of what may seem like "hopeless" problems in the future. Thanks for sharing!
 
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