New Dog Plus New Baby Equals Double Trouble!
Morgan: So, Mike, the question for today: “My dog is very young, and full of energy, and she has very little impulse-control – what should I do?”
Mike: Well, it’s similar to what we discussed a couple of podcasts ago about a dog that generally has a lot of energy and is out of control.
You’re really asking for it, if you’ve got a young child – a baby, an infant, or a toddler – and you decide to get puppies…
Morgan: I feel what’s coming, here. It’s not good!
Mike: Well, it’s not as if you’re asking for it – you’re just biting off a lot.
I guess because, then, the child and the dog will grow up together, and dogs have a life-span of 13, 14, 15 years – so that dog will be with that child during its whole major developmental period of 15 years. That’s cool. I get that.
But, in the beginning, it’s kind of like having twins, or something. You’re asking for a lot more work.
So then, with the puppy, obviously, you’ve got to do a lot of the same things I’ve advised previously, making sure the dog gets plenty of exercise and stimulation independent of the child.
The nice thing with a puppy is that you’re not going to have any of those issues that come with preparing a dog for the arrival of a baby means.
The dog is brand new – it doesn’t have an established relationship with the owner that is now being interrupted by the arrival of a baby. They’re both coming on the scene at the same time, and so that’s good.
But you do have to go through all the puppy management – if you’ve got a 15-, 12-, whatever, 16-week-old puppy, you have to go to puppy classes, you have to get training.
It’s just a lot of extra work – you have to manage the puppy in the way that anybody would.
And then, also, manage the interactions between puppy and baby in the way that I was suggesting before: you have to make sure that the dog is exercised, a little bit exhausted.
Not exhausted, but not in the full craziness of waking up in the morning, and then jumping and nipping the baby.
So, you have to find outlets for their energy. And then when they’re calm, find constructive, creative ways to interact, to play games together, to be together.
It’s just more challenging. If somebody was thinking about it, was planning on it, I would probably suggest that they wait a while, at least until they’ve got a handle on the child-rearing a little bit. But some people just dive in head-first and do that.
What Type Of Dog To Choose
Morgan: Yes, it’s a lot for people to jump into this, but God bless them. And there are other things they don’t have to deal with.
Mike: Yes, exactly – there’s not some existing relationship that’s being interrupted.
I guess the one thing I would say, since we’re taking it in this direction: if you’re somebody who’s thinking about doing this, then you want to make sure that you get a puppy who’s robust.
In other words, when you’re out picking whatever dog, whatever puppy to bring into your home, avoid any dog, any puppy, that shows signs of shyness, or a great deal of sensitivity.
Ideally you always want a middle-of-the-road puppy who’s not too shy, not too overbearing. But better to go with a high-energy dog than a very sensitive dog – because, as the child becomes a toddler, and the dog is now a year old, if it’s very sensitive it might not be able to handle the insanity of a toddler.
Mike: So, you want to get a dog that has a fairly robust disposition. And don’t get a teeny, tiny breed – don’t get a Chihuahua.
If you’re leaning towards a smaller breed, get something that’s going to have at least 15, 20 pounds on it,. And when it comes to larger breeds, the sky’s the limit.
But as long as somebody is mentally prepared for the extra work, then there’s some good upsides.
Morgan: Nice. So, in addition to Chihuahuas, what other breeds might you caution against getting?
Mike: Things like Italian greyhounds, they’re very delicate, they have skinny little legs. Just anything that looks like it could be frail or delicate – either physically or psychologically.
You just want to get something that, like I said, can handle a little bit of what kids dish out.
Morgan: Yes, yes. Got it.
Mike: I think that’s really it on that subject. I can’t think of anything much more to add to it. Only that, depending on the age of the child, there could be a lot of fun in doing puppy training exercises.
Because there’s a lot of treat-based, fun ways to learn sits and downs, and things like that – and if the child is a little bit beyond the infant stage, even a year, a year and a half, two years, there’s little ways that they can participate in those things already, which is a lot of fun.
The Trickier Issue Of Older Dogs
Morgan: Nice. Alright, we’re also going to jump into a corollary question, and hit the other side of the spectrum. “My dog is very old, and has physical ailments – how should I handle her in relationship to my baby?”
Mike: Yes, that’s actually a much more common issue, and a tricky one. It’s a tricky one.
I think the first thing is that we have to create a safe place for the dog in the house – one that doesn’t feel like a place of isolation or punishment, or anything like that.
So for example, I was with somebody yesterday around this particular issue, and I said: “Put up a baby gate by the bedroom, and teach your dog that in there you have a doggy bed. And then, when you get put in there, you get a juicy, raw, frozen beef bone, or a bully stick, or some super high-value, awesome thing that you only see when you’re in there.”
And then teach the dog that that’s a safe space. The dog needs to have a safe space where it can get away, where the child cannot get to him – regardless of the dog’s age.
I think that’s the most important thing.
In most cases, you have to teach the dog to be more gentle with the baby – in this case, you have to start to teach the baby to be gentle with the dog. And that can be difficult.
Tips For Teaching Kids To Be Gentle
Again, a lot there depends on the age of the child, and how much they’re able to internalize what you teach them about: “Touch them gently.”
There’s a couple of tricks I do with that – I don’t know if I can explain them and create a visual.
So, when a child goes to grab a dog, like they do – little one-year-olds, one-and-a-half-year-olds, they grab and pull – so, as the child is about to put its hand on the dog and close its fist and grab the dog, I stick a little finger in the kid’s palm, and just lift up.
Just to create a little space between the kid’s hand and the dog’s skin. And then I lift up just a little bit, to create a little space, and then I say to the child: “Gentle, easy. Gentle, easy.” Every time they go to grab.
Most parents know this, but children at very young ages can comprehend a lot more than they can communicate. So even with a one-year-old, if you start doing that on a regular basis, it’s very helpful.
The other thing that’s related is that most kids at that age like to lean on the dog and grab with both hands, and then pull really hard with both hands.
So, I teach them that you can only touch the dog with one hand at a time.
So then, you do one hand at a time, and you do the gentle thing. And it’s a way to just introduce the concept of proper handling of a dog to a really young child.
And it’s also a way to, with an older dog, spare the dog some of that really crazy intensity.
But I think those are the things: it’s teaching the child, as much as possible, to be careful and cautious, and then giving the dog plenty of safe spaces that aren’t going to feel like banishment from the household.
Creating Positive Associations
And I guess, as a counterpoint to that: in the Seamless Transition section of my book Good Dog, Happy Baby, there’s a section on how to create positive associations between the dog and the child.
So, for example, let’s say baby’s been down for a nap, or it’s time to nurse the child.
Mom’s going to sit down and nurse the baby – and if the dog’s been in its safe space, that’s a great time to bring the dog out.
You can maybe have the dog next to the spot where mom is nursing, so that the dog can lie next to you. Mom is nursing, but maybe she can reach a hand down and scratch the dog’s head a little bit.
It’s a way for the three of them to get together that isn’t full of all that crazy kid activity. It’s bonding.
Managing Safe Spaces And Bonding Opportunities
So, if the dog has been in its own safe space – which is a good place to be, but it’s also been alone – it’s now that the dog comes out and the child comes out, and it’s a peaceful togetherness.
It’s a way to help the dog to bond, and create positive associations with the presence of the child – because the presence of the child also means loving attention from the owner.
Mike: So, you always want to go back and forth between providing a safe space, but also plenty of opportunity for bonding.
Often, when I go into a home where there’s a kid, there’s a play mat laid out on the floor full of toys and all kinds of stuff, where mom or dad will sit and play with the kid.
And often, I’ll have people put their dog on a down stay right at the edge of that play zone, and maybe give them a little chewy or whatever.
But it’s the same kind of thing – they have to learn to stay off the play mat, but they can be right nearby near mom, or dad, or whoever, and also be in it.
But the child is busy playing with the parent, with whatever little toys are in there, not directly all over the dog. And it’s another way for the dog to be part of things, without being overwhelmed.
Mike: So, you want to think about, on the one hand, creating safe spaces, and on the other hand, creating harmless opportunities for bonding and connection.
Morgan: Right, that makes sense. And with an old dog that’s got physical ailments, obviously the thing that we’re guarding against – it’s implicit in everything that you’re saying, but just to make it explicit – is that you don’t want the kid pushing, poking, prodding, pulling the wrong spot, which could initiate a bite, or a nip, or whatever.
Mike: Well, yes – older dogs are often arthritic. Just like older people, they have this, that and the other ailment, and they get very self-protective about their bodies, a little bit insecure.
So yes, exactly. Even if the child trips and falls, and the dog is lying there, and the child falls on its hip, it could cause a lot of pain for the dog, and a knee-jerk, reflexive, self-protecting biting action.
Morgan: Yes. Totally makes sense.
Mike: So, that’s the main thing we want to protect against.
Other Resources Out There
Morgan: Good. Alright, well, I think we hit these two questions pretty well. Is there anything you want to say before we wrap it up?
Mike: Well, like I say at the end of each one of these things: I encourage people to look at the video courses I put together.
For example, in relation to this particular topic, that Module 1 that I put together about how to prepare a dog for childlike handling just applies across the board.
Even an older dog that’s geriatric in various ways, there are still things you can do to prepare that older dog for some of the madness of a young child.
And if you’re talking about a puppy, then there’s a whole string of training exercises and handling exercises.
You can go to my book There’s a Puppy in the House. Also if you look on my website, doggonegood.org, there’s a string of training videos that have these “trust and respect exercises” that you want to be sure to do with the puppy, to prepare the puppy for all kinds of handling, and restraint, and all that stuff.
So, these are things that I would add – there’s resources available that I’ve already put out there.
Morgan: Great. So, everybody, the two websites are: doggonegood.org, and you can get those training videos there. And then gooddoghappybaby.com, and there you can get Mike’s book, with a Doggy 12-Step Program, and then you can also get the Good Dog, Happy Baby online video course.
I highly recommend that – and when you sign up for Mike’s newsletter, you get a nice discount on the course that’s good for one week. So, please check that out.
>> Listen to the previous episode: Your Dog Is A Spoiled Alpha Dog. What Should You Do?