I was recently contacted by a potential client regarding an issue that they were having with their dog and during our initial communications it came to light they were having a baby later in the year, too.
Following my congratulations to them, I asked if they had thought about the future with a dog and baby and preparing in advance for their new arrival.
The baby was due in four months and they had not really thought about it and initially did not think it was worth starting anything yet, but on reflection, they reconsidered and thought it was probably a good idea to start sooner rather than later.
I then had another request for help to safely introduce a multi-dog household to a new baby and it prompted me into thinking it may be useful to provide some general information that may help other people in similar situations.
First, it’s never too late to start preparing your dog or dogs for your impending new arrival, but the sooner you start, the better.
If you have a dog that you know to be fearful of children or strangers, I would encourage you to seek help immediately – you are going to be getting a lot of visitors and you need to know what to do with your dog.
There are a number of things you can do to help prepare your dog for the new arrival and increase the chances of a successful integration; this is not a complete list, but hopefully it will provide enough to get you thinking. One thing I can pretty much guarantee is that you are going to have to make some life-changes and adjustments.
Up until now you have probably been able to spend quite a lot of time with your dogs, but being a parent myself, I know this is going to suddenly change when baby comes along; you will have other competing priorities for your time, baby is going to want feeding, changing and cuddling etc, so start preparing your dogs for this reduction in time, now.
Whether you have help to exercise your dog or not, it is worthwhile gradually reducing your dog’s physical exercise, why not instead spend time with your dog training and developing ways to exercise and stimulate them within the confines of your home and garden, along with just chilling-out together doing nothing much.
For me, training is my number one enrichment option and is the ultimate work to eat puzzle and as a bonus, you will be training your dog in preparation for the new arrival.
As you reduce the amount of exercise, why not use the time to train some exercises that you may find useful instead.
For example, ‘go to your bed’ to move your dog to a crate or station on a predetermined position, a really good ‘settle’ to just relax, ‘leave’, so that your dog does not steal things. ‘Stay’ to know where they are while you are changing nappies, ‘four on the floor’ for all the visitors that will be dropping by and ‘walk nicely’ to not pull you around while you are out with baby.
This list is far from exhaustive and these are just a few examples, but there are many others you could choose. I would personally be inclined to develop the dog’s impulse control and there are plenty of exercises that will certainly be useful.
When baby comes along you will probably be wanting to walk your dog alongside a buggy or pram, while you carry rucksacks and other baby related equipment. If this is the case, start practicing this too, but it does not end there. There will be all manner of new objects coming into the dog’s environment – changing mats, wipes, bottles, nappies etc, there is so much more that is going to be new and interesting for your dog.
Consider practicing with a toy doll to simulate holding a baby, changing and feeding a baby etc. These activities are likely to all be new pictures for your dog and so they are likely to be very interested in what’s going on, so by practicing early and introducing them to as many of the other sights, sounds and smells associated with baby, you can reduce the interest that your dog is likely to show when you have baby with you.
Just imagine how much interest your dog will have in all this new stuff if you have not done this preparation.
Scent games are a great way to stimulate a dog, providing exercise, enrichment and interaction with your dog and can be done in a limited space and in some cases, you do not even need to be an active participant – on a dry day, why not scatter their food around the garden for them to search out and eat, a great way to feed their meal and keep them busy at the same time.
If you have a super high-drive dog, you could consider burning some of that extra energy with retrieve/ball games or even flirt poles which can be another great way to exercise them in the confines of a garden.
Even with these dogs, I would still look to reduce the amount of time spent with them in high activity games and spend more time in lower activity games and puzzles.
Are you a creature of habit?
Do you get up at the same time, walk the dog at the same time, feed at the same time?
This is great until it changes and then I’m sure plenty of you have dogs that bug you when they have not had their walk at exactly 5.30pm or did not get their food at 7am.
To help your dog adjust better to the impending unpredictable nature of having a young family, it would pay to gradually vary your dog’s routine, but do this gradually so that you do not frustrate your dog.
Get a supply of hollow chew toys that you can stuff with food and if you want to make them a greater challenge, freeze them for your dog/s to work on. These could be used when you are changing or feeding baby and have the added bonus of baby predicting great stuff.
Management is the foundation of safe protocols. Start setting up your management prior to baby’s arrival too, this is so that the dog can get used to the new physical boundaries; consider using stair-gates, crates and strategically placed tethers which can be really useful. You could fit anchor points around the house or make some temporary tether solutions using heavy furniture or doors etc.
NEVER leave baby and dog alone together, even if you think your dog is an angel – it’s not fair on the dog to be put in this position, so when you cannot be around and actively supervise, manage!
If you have multiple dogs then this will give you some further challenges, but with good management and preparation there is no reason why you cannot be just as successful.
If you have any concerns about your dog’s behaviour or you need help with training or practical household management, then contact a reputable trainer to help you, it will be money and time well spent.
I know the season for fireworks is way off and this is traditionally when we write about all the things you can do to help your dog, but often we are just providing a sticking plaster to get your dog through the scary ordeal as we have left any proactive work until too late. Ideally, if you really want the best chance of helping your dog, you should start now.
When we talk about dogs that are noise sensitive or have phobias, we generally think about the big two – fireworks and thunder, but there are plenty of dogs that are just as terrified of other sounds such as bird scarers, gunshots, exhaust pipes and video games sounds etc.
This month I thought I would break with tradition and write about noise phobias, which may prompt you to start working with your dog that is terrified of fireworks, now. I will use the term phobia which is an intense fear of something that in reality poses little or no actual danger.
Noise sensitivity and phobia can have a sudden onset caused by a single scary event or it can appear gradually over time where, for example, in year one they did not seem to notice the fireworks, in year two they were a little more anxious and by year three they are terrified at the first bang.
Like many behaviours that have their roots in fear, noise phobias can be incredibly challenging to work with, not least because it can be so difficult to control the environment and predict when the sound will happen. The loud noises always seem to happen when you least expect them and suddenly after weeks of work gradually desensitising your dog, you get caught out and you find yourself back at square one.
In some cases, it can be so bad that the welfare of the dog must be a big consideration and it may be better to find a new home for the dog as far away from the problem sounds as possible.
A few months ago, I started working with a dog that got anxious about going outside.
I thought I would give you a brief outline of what we have done so far. A little background; this dog is a male, neutered, Staffie cross, believed to be 12 years old and had been living with the new owner for two years, following a rehome from a local charity. The reason given for relinquishment was that the previous owner had been unwell and could no longer cope.
The presenting behaviour problem that the owner wanted help with in their own words “he won’t go out into the garden”.
Before starting on the plan, a veterinary health check was requested to rule out any potential medical reasons that may cause or contribute to the problem behaviour but our dog was given a clean bill of health.
When we met, I went through several questions and it transpired that the dog was actually scared of gunshots and sounds similar to gunshots and they had been out walking when the shots started and the dog turned tail and ran home. The owner was a little surprised by his dog’s behaviour, as before this he stated “he had never done this before and had been fine and just ignoring them”.
This apparent sudden change from appearing fine, to not fine, was not as surprising to me as they lived near a military base where there was a rifle range and an area where recreational shooting takes place. The dog had probably never been fine, but gradually became more sensitive to the sounds of gunshots and now it had got to the point where the dog would only dash out for the toilet and would not go out to the garden even when there was no shooting, and certainly would not go for a walk.
The dog had started to build a picture in its mind where these scary sounds may happen and this picture involved the owner, the time of day, the direction of the walk and where the walk would take place. It was possible to walk the dog by other family members and when this happened, he appeared much more relaxed and would go out on his own free will. This did not mean the fear had gone, but instead having new people walk the dog probably just masked the behaviour.
During our initial meeting, we spent some time discussing the behaviour and why the dog may well have become fearful of the gunshots, even though it had appeared to be okay for the last two years.
We set our goals and discussed what was realistic and what were the range of possible outcomes we could expect to see – more often than not an owner’s expectations are significantly higher than what is probably achievable, but in this case, the client’s expectations were realistic – he wanted to be able to take his dog for walks again and be able to go out in the garden.
They were asked to discuss with their vet how they could help support the plan with appropriate medication and complementary products that they felt would help.
It is important for desensitisation that the dog is not continually exposed to scary sounds beyond the current step of the plan and certainly not when in the garden, as you can imagine, this can be a real problem and although it appeared unpredictable, it was actually more predictable than first thought. The military range and the shoot both had regular times of the week and year for their shooting activities and the land in close proximity did not allow others to shoot, so it was unlikely that they would hear gunshots in close proximity.
For walks, the initial solution was simple enough, they were going to take the dog in the car to ‘quiet’ areas on days when there was going to be shooting and on the other days they were going to take a new walk from the house that did not start from the rear garden.
Unless in a safe area, walks needed to be on a long line or lead just in case of a sudden and unexpected event that panicked the dog into fleeing.
Although the dog appeared to feel safe enough in the house, we have started creating a safe space in the house for him to retreat to if he becomes worried by the sound of gunshots from outside.
We discussed the use of a radio and pre-recorded music to make the noise less obvious when in the house.
We have set about making the garden a fun place and less predicative of scary stuff, we have been introducing scent games and been able to get the dog into the garden and playing games, which have also added a number of alternate exercising options.
Finally, we have started a desensitisation programme to gunshots sounds.
In all honesty, we have only just started, but the owner is happy again, they have been able to walk together again and their dog has started voluntarily going into the garden – baby steps, but baby steps in the right direction.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Dog World