If you subscribe to The Whole Dog Journal, you will see this month’s March 2018 edition with the article: “Kidding Around, Combining kids and dogs in your family can be magical and heartwarming, or cause a devastating tragedy…”
If you don’t subscribe to WDJ, I highly recommend you do, and not just for this article, there is so much more. At least a half a dozen times a month I recommend WDJ to new dog families and even established dog families for the journal’s ongoing commitment to information on training, behavior, health, various products from harnesses to toys, and the annual food guides are invaluable.
Excerpt from “Please Don’t Bite the Baby and Please Don’t Chase the Dogs,” by Lisa J Edwards – resource guarding dog with new baby.
Chapter 3 – Colic, Earaches, and Dogs—Oh My . . .
Pinball was the most put out by the new baby. He had been the baby before Indy arrived and at eighteen months, Pinball was in a critical behavioral/fear period. Wherever I was, Pinball wanted to be there, too, which often left him lying on the other side of a baby gate, watching us with a kind of hopefulness. Even though he was a fairly aggressive resource guarder, we had made great strides in counter-conditioning that behavior.
But when faced with the abundance of baby toys, he just couldn’t resist stealing them. We were left with the seemingly constant task of buying back stolen toys with a treat or different toy while carrying an infant on one hip. At the time, I wondered if his increased stealing was a grab for attention (good or bad, he didn’t care), but in hindsight I realized it was his way of dealing with increased anxiety that he was having a hard time processing.
Chapter 4 – Balancing— Pack and Sleep
Sometimes leave it and drop it are enough, but in the case of a dog like Pinball it can require another couple of levels of training and management. Although his first bite at four months drew no blood, it still qualified as a level two bite on the Dunbar bite scale and identified Pinball as an extreme resource guarder.
Maintaining an attitude of “I don’t care; it’s all a game” is essential to overcoming this level of resource guarding.
If your voice gets tense or you say, “What do you have?” or “Oh, no, not my expensive such-and-such” with stress or anger in your voice, extreme resource guarders dig in and either run with the object, swallow it, or hold their ground with full display of teeth, growling, and preemptive snapping. Maintaining an attitude of “I don’t care; it’s all a game” is essential to overcoming this level of resource guarding. One day, I saw Pinball with the pair of scissors in his mouth. “Oh, I hope you’re not planning to run like that,” I said in a happy tone, and then moved away from him to get my phone to take a picture. I then asked him to drop it, returning to him with the treats once he had dropped it. The picture taking is not necessary, but it was a great picture. If I had panicked, he might have bitten me, not dropped the scissors, or tried to swallow them. The “I don’t care” rule saved us both that day.
When originally teaching Pinball to drop items, I was using the technique of tossing treats on the floor as I said drop it and then picking up the item once he went to get the treats. This has to be done with a happy tone and calm demeanor. Never race the dog to get to the object you want to recover; that could incite the dog to double back.
For moderate guarders, I recommend building an easy tug game with well-defined boundaries and rules so your dog can learn that letting go of something can be a fun game.
Here are simple rules for the tug game:
Start the game with a word like “tug” or “take it.”
Keep even pressure on the tug toy so the dog can’t move up the toy with her mouth.
If the dog uses you for leverage with her paws braced against you or her teeth hit you at any point, end the game by dropping the toy and walking away. Use only one or two toys to play this game—never use the leash or clothing.
If you have a resource-guarding dog, please seek out advice from a professional who has dealt with your dog’s level of guarding through positive reinforcement and who has an understanding of the emotions involved.
Your dog has growled. Now what? Too often parents say, “But I want my toddler to be able to do anything to the dog.”
In the moment…
The first thing is to use a preconditioned escape route to get the dog out, or employ one of the increase distance commands like go sniff, touch, or come to put space between your dog and your child.
Secure the dog in another room, behind a gate, or in a crate.
Take a breath and console your child if need be.
Assess. Your dog growling at your child is a wake-up call that lets let you know your dog has a problem with some- thing. It is time to figure out what that is and ask if it can be safely fixed.
Here are a few questions to help determine what made your dog growl.
» Is your baby new to the home and a totally new experience for your dog? » Was your child reaching for your dog when the dog was asleep? » Could your dog be in pain because of a long hike, a misstep when jumping, age, or other factors?
It is easy for us not to be aware when our dogs are in pain.
Typically, we become aware of their pain only when it is so bad that it inhibits their movement, like limping, or they begin to vocalize, like whining. At that point, they are in a great deal of pain.
» Was your toddler chasing the dog into a corner where he felt trapped? » Was the child simply petting the dog and then the petting turned into fur grabbing, ear tugging, pinching, or eye poking? » Was your child trying to hug or hugging your dog?
Dogs are not comfortable with most people hugging them.
The act of putting front legs around another dog and holding on is not a polite or safe thing to do in the dog’s world, so when a human does it, it is pretty scary for them. Many dogs get used to it from their favorite person but not the “outsiders” in their lives, and until your child has earned your dog’s trust, he or she will be one of the outsiders.
» Did your dog have a bone or another resource and thought the child was too close?
Once we know what caused the dog to growl, we can begin to manage future situations.
In some cases, that means teaching the child what is appropriate to do around and to the dog. In other cases, it will mean managing the dog so he is in another room when your child is in a more rambunctious play mood or when your dog has a resource that is important to him. And sometimes, it will be desensitizing and counter-conditioning the dog to the child because your dog is afraid of or doesn’t like kids.
“But I want my toddler to be able to do anything to the dog,” is like saying, “I want my toddler to play safely in the street without my having to worry about cars.”
A study by the Institute of Transportation Engineers has shown us that children develop adult skills slowly and not all at once. A young child who seems mature and tells you that he or she understands to look both ways will still not be able to safely judge the gaps between cars or the actual distance of a vehicle. I am waiting and hoping for similar research into a young child’s ability to read dog body language and accurately judge the dog’s safety. But for now, I suggest we take the same precautions we do to protect small children in traffic and apply them to children and dogs.
There are times and places when playing in the street is fun and safe. There are ages that are better suited to judge that. Until then, as we are waiting for the perfect combination of a safe street and good judgment, we need to manage and guide our children. We need to view the growl from a dog as we would the honk of a horn from a driver letting us know our child is in harm’s way.
Preparing your dog ensures that your dog does not have a bad reaction to your child because of some of the unusual gizmos that come with babies.
Excerpt chapter one – ‘The Ruff Wait for Baby’
Some dogs will get used to these things on their own and some will fear them and associate that fear with the baby who uses and engages with them. The first option is not great because we want our dogs to love our children, not get used to them. The second is bad because we don’t want our dogs to fear our children.
If you wait to expose your dog to the new gizmos when they are in use with the new baby, you won’t know if your dog is reacting to the gizmo or the baby in it, or both. If, however, you begin exposing your dog to the new gizmos as they come into the house, you will be able to begin the desensitization process. And if you see your dog is scared or leery of an item, you can begin the counter-conditioning process.
Baby gizmos include the following and more:
Those lovely automatic swings that play music and might even have a mobile dangling above it. This can be scary to your dog, or a great toy.
Portable car seats that will be carried right at many dog’s eye level often have interesting smells in them that can draw a dog in to investigate
All the vibrating, dancing, quacking, and you-name-it toys could frighten your dog or have your dog thinking these are new toys for him or her
The Pack-n-Play is often dismissed as just a piece of furniture, but it vibrates, plays music, and often has lights. This too can be scary for your dog or very tempting.
The baby monitor is also often overlooked. If you use the type that sends the image to your electronic devices, it probably won’t be an issue, but if you use the standard monitor that has the portable unit to transmit sound, don’t forget that to your dog, this can be a box with a baby stuffed into it.
Strollers can be scary, something to chase, or something to pull.
Desensitization and counter-conditioning (DS/CC)
Desensitization is making the dog less sensitive around a trigger. Counterconditioning change your dog’s associations and emotions to be more positive about the trigger.
The trigger can be anything a dog is unfamiliar with, afraid of, or really excited by.
It is not enough for your dog to just see a trigger or be around a trigger to desensitize her. You have to be careful to expose her to the trigger only at the point at which she can tolerate it without reacting—this is called sub-threshold. This type of exposure will desensitize her over time. But that may not be enough either if she is already afraid of the trigger—then we have to change her emotions, too, by pairing the sub-threshold exposure with a primary reinforcer that is of high enough value that she and her brain are totally wowed.
For some dogs a super-high-value primary reinforcer could be cheese, for others a tennis ball. But it can be anything and everything in between as well. Your dog has to tell you what her most valuable primary reinforcer is—and generally your praise will not be enough, though it should definitely be in the mix.
If you are matching the presentation of the primary reinforcer effectively with the trigger, soon your dog will be consciously looking forward to the trigger. Then later, through neuroplasticity, her brain will physically change the signals it sends along her neural pathways when the trigger appears. Instead of her “That scares me,” signal, her neurons will be sending the “I love that thing” signal. Later, we can change her behavior when she is near the trigger by asking for a sit or a settle.
Socializing and classical conditioning prevent having to do a lot of desensitizing and counterconditioning.
These are done to help the dog avoid developing a negative association with things she is meeting for the first time, as opposed to undoing a negative emotional response already in place. For example, if we take the myriad baby gizmos that your dog may not have seen previously, and introduce her to these things by placing a string of treats on the floor around and leading up to the gizmo, she will likely look at these things and say,
“Hum, that’s strange and it seems to come with treats—yeah!” or something to that effect.
If your dog is already fearful, we have to go slowly in terms of taking her closer to the object or extending the length of time she is exposed to it. It is important to allow your dog to move toward and away from the new object, at her discretion. Like all of us, she will feel more comfortable around the scary object when she can control how close she is to it. Patience is essential for this.
Often people recommend flooding—exposing the dog to triggers up close and without regard for the dog’s state of mind, saying, “Just force him and he will see it’s not scary.” Although this may work on rare occasions, the majority of the time the dog will walk away more fearful.
As always, if things are not going well between your dog and your baby, toddler, or even older child, contact a certified trainer, behavior consultant, or behaviorist,:
It’s National Bite Prevention Week and that makes me reflect on why I wrote Please Don’t Bite the Baby, and Please Don’t Chase the Dogs.
I wrote Please Don’t Bite the Baby in the hopes that if every parent with kids and dogs read it, we would see a reduction in the annual 4.5 million dog bites in this country—about half of them to kids and almost 800,000 of them requiring medical attention.
Too often, the response from doctors, family, friends and even trainers is to advise the family to get rid of a biting dog.
Too many dogs who have made a bad choice around a child lose their lives every year or become relinquished to a shelter who then has the daunting task of rehoming a dog with a bite history.
Too much pain and sadness comes from assuming our dogs will react like humans and not understanding that no matter how much we love them, our dogs are dogs with all the ups and downs that goes with that.
We as their caretakers need to accept that any dog can bite.
If we understand our dog’s body language (even a little bit), we will be able see the dog signaling that the situation is building to his break point and then be able to prevent the eventual bite.
If we have trained decent basic skills, we can redirect our dog before a bite occurs.
If we have good management strategies in place, we can keep our dog out of a situation that may be just too much for her.
If we guide both our dogs and our kids as to how best to interact with one another, we can eliminate many of the reasons kids and dogs get into trouble with each other.
I would never recommend that any family keep a dog whom they have become afraid of, or is a danger to them or their guests. However, with a little training, management and guidance we can usually keep our dogs and our kids safe around each other and keep the family we hoped for together and happy.
Many of us have elements in our lives that may be considered dangerous for our children, like heating our home with a fireplace, or having a backyard swimming pool, or, as in our case, having a dog with a bite history living with a young boy (we also have the fireplace). In Please Don’t Bite the Baby, I broach this subject:
People will often scratch their heads in amazement over what dog folk will go through for their dogs, asking, “Is that normal?”
But in everything, including dog ownership, there is no normal.
I thought about other professionals whose work might generate lifestyles that others don’t consider normal or safe. No one balks at police officers who keep their service weapons at home with small children. The officers are taught how to manage their guns by locking the guns and ammunition up separately. It is becoming more and more common for contractors and other tradespeople to sometimes bring their children onto a job site with all the dangers lurking there. Management and training keep these kids safe. As professionals, we accept these risks and realize we, as the parents, have to take steps to keep our children safe around these dangers. The police officer doesn’t quit her job when she has children—she gets a gun safe. The contractor doesn’t get rid of her business when she has to take care of children—she gets a hard hat for her child.
There is no such thing as normal across the board. There is only the individual normal that each of us creates, just as we create our families. In our home normal is a dog who 98 percent of the time is smart, funny, and affectionate but who, during the 2 percent, has to be managed and watched to prevent him from doing harm.
Because I live with a biting dog and a child, I know what levels of management, training and guidance it takes to maintain safety. I also know that although Pinball loves my son and visa versa, my husband and I will always be vigilant no matter how good Pinball is with my son, because all dogs can bite…
No matter who they are
No matter how long it’s been since their last bite, or that they’ve never bitten before
No matter how much we trust them and how much they love us. Because…
They are dogs who interact differently with the world around them and who are very often not listened to when they need help and are warning us in a fearful or stressful situation.
To prevent bites we all need to…
Listen to our dog’s boy language.
Teach both dogs and kids simple things to do around each other like: teaching kids to be a tree and call for help, and teaching our dogs a simple lock-down sit or out-you-go command, and more.
And, never be afraid of managing your dog when having guests or events in your home. Your dog dose not need to be with your guests 100% of the time and will probably be more than happy to go into a separate room with a stuffed puzzle toy and relax when there is a lot of commotion in the home.
We human adults must be the responsible ones. We made the choice to bring a dog into our home. Rarely does a dog come knocking on our door saying, “I did a lot of research online, and yours is the home I want to live in.” We made a commitment to care for the animal we brought into our home and a large part of caring for anyone is making sure that we set them up for success.
Please do yourself, your dog, and any kids in your home a favor and Train your dog, Manage the time and interactions between your dog and younger kids, and Guide them all to the best interactions you can.
Basic skills build a foundation for communicating with and verbally managing your dog around your baby.
In Please Don’t Bite the Baby,I write about how basic dog training commands are like standard staple ingredients that go into complicated recipes and meals.
Individually they are nice, but when put together they make something marvelous.
Basic skills build a foundation for communicating with and verbally managing your dog around your baby.
teaches your dog that the game or activity is over and there will be rewards for the first several weeks when- ever you say “all done.”
should be paid for exceedingly well for the first six months. Jackpot your dog when he gets to you, and when fading rewards, only reduced to intermittent rewards. Your dog should get a reward for come every now and then, forever.
your dog’s whole body is lying down; butt, hips, and elbows are touching floor.
Drop-it (some use give) –
your dog should drop items from their mouth on command. This should be one of the greatest games you ever play with your dog so she loves to give up things.
your dog will move forward to greet a person without jumping.
you can direct your dog away from anything, or anyone including your baby with a simple hand gesture.
your dog should not go toward, sniff, pick up, or bark at an object that you indicate. In short “don’t even think about it.”
your dog should get off of the counter, couch, you, your guests, or anything he is on. Do not use down. While human language works having one word mean different things in different contexts, dogs need each command to have one meaning.
your dog should relax on cue in a spot where you indicate. See details above.
your dog’s butt is on the floor. Don’t repeat your command. Sit is the most often repeated command. This repetition teaches your dog to sit on three or four commands, to ignore the command, or just cranks their energy up.
your dog is standing still on all four feet. This command allows us to wipe paws, do tick checks, and make sure our dog doesn’t think sit is just the beginning of down by allowing us to use stand between a sit and a down.
your dog is essentially frozen in place—like they are at military attention until you release them with the all-done command.
is the equivalent of “hang on a second.” Your dog should literally pause for two to thirty seconds—it is a short break in your dog’s activity.
By using placement skills that essentially mean: come here, go there, don’t move, chill for awhile, greet politely, and others, we can control our dog’s behavior and help our dog understand what is expected in different situations.
By slowly integrating thei dog into this family, he didn’t make any mistakes with the grandkids and eventually was wonderful around them.
The dog, baby, and grandparent relationship can be complicated.
A dog lives with grandparents who babysit for their new granddaughter. But the dog is not sure about the new interloper, and barks at the baby. What do the grandparents and the parents do?
Or, a different dog lives with grandparents who babysit for their new grandson and this dog loves the grandson and always wants to be where the baby is. However, the boy’s parents don’t want the dog around their son.
And we might have a dog who lives with mother, father and baby, but the grandparents never liked this dog, and now they have to deal with the dog whenever they are visiting and babysitting.
The permutations are endless.
Regardless of the makeup of your grandparent-dog-baby relationship, keeping the baby and dog safe around each other is as important as if it were the parent-dog-baby relationship.
Bandit was the rescue dog who flew into the kid-crowded swimming pool his first day in his forever home. He was a wild child who did nothing in half measure. He loved tug, scratching his nail board, and his favorite trick – sitting on the step stool begging for eggs.
In spite of his larger-than-life ways, he learned to gently love his grandkids.
Two of my favorite clients brought home a rambunctious and mouthy ten-month-old rescued Shepherd mix. They (and their kids) were worried for their grandchildren, who visit often. After I met the dog, I was worried for everyone.
Bandit was an exuberant strong, hard playing dog with a hard mouth. I was bruised more than a few times when working with him. They had great management in place for him—an exercise pen that contained him completely in a gated kitchen, a gate across the stairs, and a fully fenced in backyard. He was slowly given more and more access to the house as his behaviors improved and he settled into the home.
At first when the kids were visiting he was in maximum containment—in the pen in the gated kitchen.
Months after we started working, it was time to introduce him to the grandchildren without physical management. However, the grandmother was always with the Bandit when he was interacting with the kids. By slowly integrating him into this family, he didn’t make any mistakes with the kids and eventually was wonderful around them. In fact, he lights up for the kids as he does for no one else. They tell me he does the same thing when he sees me, but I bought his love with treats, unlike the kids, whom he just loves.
They have made such wonderful progress with this dog that the grandkids and the dog all enjoy swimming and playing fetch with the pool toys together.
Even so, when the kids are there for extended stays, the grandmother limits their time with the dog to give him a break and is always present whenever the grandkids and dog interact.
All children who live with or interact regularly with dogs need to learn this skill; the earlier you start, the better.
We need to mark and reinforce the behaviors that we like, so these behaviors are reproduced over and over. This applies to dog training and life in general. I marked and rewarded Pinball’s behaviors around my son, and my son’s behavior around Pinball for months as I built their relationship.
In Please Don’t Bite the Baby, I talk about Pinball being sensitive and affectionate, but also being the real accident waiting to happen because of his willingness to bite when guarding a resource.
I was determined to make his relationship with my son safe and happy.
Because I was at the shelter the day Pinball was born, and then nursed him through parvovirus, I felt a deep responsibility for him. I wanted to help him be the happy-go-lucky safe dog that he was when he was a puppy.
When Indy was younger, he and Pinball spend a lot of time managed or separated because of Pinball’s mercurial nature and the propensity of small children to not always follow directions around dogs.
I spent much time working on Pinball’s (and my other dog’s, too)
All children who live with or interact regularly with dogs need to learn this skill; the earlier you start, the better.
Because showing your baby how to pet the dog gently is as important as teaching your dog to be happy and safe about your baby. Younger children will not have enough motor control to pet your dog gently. Consequently, many dogs get hit, pulled, poked, or a combination of all of these instead of the snuggly petting they are used to from adults.
When a young child is petting a dog, an adult needs to be next to and almost between the dog and child.
I usually keep my hand at or hovering just under Indy’s hand so I can guide him or slip my hand between him and Boo instantly if things go wrong.
Petting a dog is a great motor skill exercise for toddlers, but it is something that takes time for them to master and develop into.
Be prepared to be attentive to this petting for a couple of years until you see your child has the appropriate motor control and skills…”
It was a happy day when I could take Indy and Pinball outside and watch them run around the yard, joyful and safe, and an even happier day when Indy reached out to pet Pinball gently and politely.
The day that our kids can happily pet our family dog is another developmental milestone for those of us with complicated dogs.
A client of mine has kept me up-to-date with her dog and son’s progress. Her dog, Brody, had a history of not being great with kids.
She worked tirelessly to make Brody happy and safe around her son Logan.
And here they are romping together happily and safely.
I know Indy loves Pinball because he says so, and I know Pinball loves Indy because he follows him everywhere. And, even with this great affection they have for each other, their time together will still be managed with me nearby. There will be more hurdles to come, but for today, they are both happy around each other.