Is It Too Late?
Morgan: Mike, the question for today: “I didn’t prepare my dog for my baby. My baby’s now crawling, and my dog is growling – am I in trouble? Is it too late?”
Mike: Well, that’s a tough question, man. The answer is: “Kind of, yes.” [Laughter].
This is one of the most frustrating calls that I get, when people call me with that question. And of course, I have these a lot more than I would like to see.
When somebody’s taken no time and hasn’t bothered with any of it – despite the fact that they had 16 months to prepare – and not given this even a smidgeon of thought. They haven’t done it.
And if the dog starts growling at the baby when it starts crawling, that’s just enough to trigger. These are pretty obvious problems all along, generally. It’s something they should have picked up on, right?
Are You Prepared For Five Years of ‘Mini-Crisis’?
So at this point the problem, really, is that the mom – I’m presuming, in the model where the mom’s doing most of the caretaking while the dad’s out at work – her responsibility (or his responsibility, whatever the case may be) is to make sure the kid is safe.
And there’s nobody that can at that point come along and say: “Let’s do this, that and the other training exercise, and I can guarantee you that your child will be safe with your dog no matter what.”
The thing is, you can never really guarantee that, anyway – but in a situation where the dog is snappy, snarly and growling, every day is a kind of mini-crisis, right? Because you’ve got to manage this thing where the dog’s upset, and is obviously showing warning signs.
There’s still things you can try: create a safe place for the dog, and do exercises.
But you really have to make sure there’s no supervised interaction, or maybe that there’s minimal interaction, anyway – which starts to create a kind of divided camp situation, where the dog’s over here, and the baby’s over there.
And bear in mind, the way I see this is: after 8 months, the child is not going to get less mobile – they’re going to get more mobile, more active, more wild, more out of control, for years, you know?
Mike: It’s really not until they’re about 5 or 6 years old that they can really start to cognize more about appropriate behavior with the dog. That is a long period of time to cover, where any second something could go wrong if you’re not managing it perfectly, right?
So, this is the point there – and I say this in a lot of my promotional material, it’s just trying to scare people into paying attention a little bit – this is the point where people end up rehoming the dog. Mom’s attention is now obviously, first and foremost, on the safety of her child, and the wellbeing of her child, right?
Morgan: Yes, yes.
Once That Line Is Crossed, There’s No Going Back
Mike: And I’ve not met a lot of moms who are willing to kind of roll the dice, and say: “Hey, yes – I know he’s growly and snappy, but he’ll be OK. Let’s take 3-4 months and really rehab.”
I’ve done that with people, but once the dog starts to be threatening towards the child, the parents never have that same sense of safety that they did before anything like that happened, you know? And it makes it very difficult.
Once you’ve crossed that threshold – again, I’m not saying there’s nothing you can do, and I have worked on cases where we’ve managed to basically pull back from the brink, I’ve worked a lot in situations like that – but I think by that point, it’s probably 30%.
70% end up being faced with a choice to rehome, or just try living with a kind of divided territories. It’s really rough.
But I mean, I get angry. Because in the context of all the things one thinks about when one knows they’re pregnant – there’s babyproofing the house, buying this, buying that, getting the nannies (I mean, there’s a million and one things, it consumes your life) – you didn’t have a few minutes to spare for your dog? Really?
A few bucks to spend on a trainer? You know, you spend 1000 bucks, I don’t know how much, on redoing the baby room – and you can’t spare a few hundred bucks, maybe, hiring a trainer, and taking a little time to prepare this other family member for what’s coming?
It’s just completely mind-boggling to me.
Again, people are busy, and they have all kinds of concerns – but this is my particular arena, and I get angry about that. And then, I’m the one that has to deliver the bad news, right?
Because they call me up, you know, and I’m not cheap, and I come over there. I explain this stuff on the phone to them – and then they’re looking for me to pull some rabbit out of my hat, to make up for what they haven’t done.
And then, I’m the one that has to have these tear-jerking, horrible sessions with people, where I explain to them that there’s nothing I can do at this point to “guarantee” a perfectly safe context.
And then I have to spend an hour sitting through the weeping and wailing of the family – but inside, I’m just angry.
‘Clear And Present Danger’ – A Dramatic Example
Morgan: Are you exaggerating? Does that really happen?
Mike: Yes! [Laughter]. OK, I’ll tell you a story…
Morgan: I heard [inaudible 00:05:53] groan in the background in an affirmative tone.
Mike: Yes, he’s in a perpetual war with the squirrels in my backyard, which are on the rampage this morning – because it’s morning time, and that’s when they come out with this chitter-chatter, and run around and drive the dogs crazy. [Laughter].
Morgan: Yes, I believe it.
Mike: I’ll tell you a story – this is the most dramatic version of this. This goes back many, many years. So, I got a call: these two people have an 11-year-old Akita, and they have a baby who’s at that stage where you hang him in those little swinging chairs.
Mike: Those little swinging chairs that you can hang in the doorway, and then they kind of bounce around in there, and it’s kind of fun, right?
Morgan: A bouncer, we had one of those, too.
Mike: So, the kid’s 6, 7, 8 months, 9 months, something like that. So they call me up, I go over.
They have this 11-year-old Akita who is routinely walking up to the baby while it’s in that little bouncer, and just [fierce growling]. Snarling, and curling its lip at it, and barking at it – in a scary way. OK?
Morgan: Yes, yes.
Mike: So then, after some interviewing, I find out that this dog has been dog-aggressive for years. They can’t take it for walks, and they have to muzzle it when guests come over.
It’s just a nasty, ill-tempered, scary dog. When I get a call from somebody who’s got behavioral issues with an Akita, I know I have to be on my toes, because Akitas are tough, stubborn – can be tough, stubborn, difficult dogs – that are willing to be aggressive to make their points if necessary.
So, that’s not a breed to be trifled with – these are serious dogs.
Morgan: Got it.
Mike: You know, this dog is 110 pounds – it’s 11 years old, it’s got at least 6 years of being so aggressive that you can’t have him near other dogs or people.
Invest Now – Or Pay For Bad News Later
Mike: So, this didn’t occur to them until the dog is walking up to the baby in its little bouncer, and viciously lip-curling and snarling at this intruder. And that’s when it occurs to them to call somebody?
Morgan: So, what happened?
Mike: Well, what I just said. I said: “There’s no way – this dog is a clear and present danger to your child. He’s 11 years old, he’s vicious and nasty, nobody’s going to want him – you have to put him down.”
In that case, there was a clear and present danger to the baby. It wasn’t like a little growl, you know?
Morgan: Yes, yes.
Mike: And then the whole thing that I just described ensued: lots of crying, and I’m just sitting there. And at the end, I’m going to have to ask them for a check for the session [laughter].
Morgan: Yes, sorry, I just gave you this really crappy news – and now you need to pay me.
Mike: Yes, and that’ll be 150 bucks or whatever – it wasn’t that much, at that time. And inside, I was just boiling.
You know, outside, I have to put on a compassionate face, right? And just restate my point over and over: “No, this dog is not rehabilitatable. No, he’s a clear and present danger to your child.
“No, it’s too late – it doesn’t matter what you do, unless you muzzle him permanently around the house and keep him under wraps 24/7. Are you that together that you’re never going to have a gap in that system? No – nobody is.”
So that’s why, over and over again, on these various podcasts that we’ve had together and in everything else, I keep bringing up that 8-month threshold when the baby starts crawling.
If you have not done your homework by then, and then you start having major problems, your options are severely limited. You’ve painted yourself into a corner [laughter].
Morgan: Yes, totally. I do like that you use Tom Clancy language around this, like “clear and present danger” [laughter].
Mike: Well it is. There’s no other way to talk about it. “Clear and Present Danger,” I don’t remember, I think it was a movie [laughter].
Morgan: That’s right, it’s a movie. I keep flashing on Harrison Ford, but I think that was like “The Hunt for Red October,” or something.
Mike: That wasn’t Harrison Ford, by the way – that was Alec Baldwin [laughter].
Morgan: Which one, “The Hunt”?
Mike: Oh no, Harrison Ford was, it might have been the…
Morgan: Exactly, that was “The Hunt for Red October.”
Mike: Yes, yes, yes – that was a great movie.
Morgan Thank you very much [laughter].
You Are Screwed…Probably
Mike: Yes, because that’s the language that’s appropriate to this – you are screwed. Probably.
If you’ve got a fluffy, cute little dog, he’s 12 pounds, and he’s basically pretty malleable, there might still be things you can do. But like I said earlier, 70% of the time, it’s the end of the line.
Because again, if you’re the parent, you’re saying to yourself: “I can’t guarantee a safe environment, now. And I don’t have time to do this – and every day is a bit of a danger zone.”
And like I said, then I get angry, because I have to sit there and listen to the crying. And that happened to me 3 or 4 times last year.
Morgan: Alright, so basically, you said this was a hard question to answer, because a very high proportion of the time, you’re going to have to deliver bad news to people.
Because you’re saying, at that point, if you’ve gotten to the point where the dog’s actually growling at your child, and your child’s crawling or beyond – and is crossing that threshold that we emphasize on this podcast – you’re saying: “Really, basically, you blew your chance.”
Unless it’s an exception, and you see an opportunity to really train the dog – maybe it was an extraordinary circumstance where the dog growled, or whatever. But otherwise…
Mike: You’ve got it right. While you were speaking, I was flashing on a case, so as not to be completely hopeless.
I got a call a couple of years ago from a woman whose English Bulldog had bit her kid in the face. And the kid was, maybe, a year or something like that.
And we managed to rehab that situation – in fact on my blog, if you go way down to the early beginning, there’s a little set of videos that I did about systematic desensitizing with this dog. It wasn’t an English Bulldog, it was a Cocker Spaniel. Well anyway, it was that dog.
Morgan: The cocker spaniel, yes.
Mike: So, I went and did a bunch of systematic desensitizing, rank management, etcetera, etcetera – and it worked. And as far as I know, that dog’s still in that home, and the kid’s growing up, and the dog and the kid get along great.
The owner really took responsibility. So, that can happen too – but it’s not the more likely story.
The Great Resources Out There
Morgan: Yes, got it. Well, that’s clear. So, are there any final points you want to hit, on this, before we wrap it up, Mike?
Mike: Yes – the final point is always the same point, which is: you have 8 months from the time you find out you’re pregnant to the time you have your baby. That’s 8 months.
Then, you’ve got another 8 months until the kid becomes 8 months old. That’s 16 months – for God’s sakes, give it some thought! [Laughter].
My website, my book, the podcast, the blog – all that stuff, that’s all about having little resources. I’m always shocked and stunned that, in general, there aren’t more resources available around this particular topic, to help people.
Mike: If you look at all the bestseller baby books, like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” everything in that genre – there’s an 800-page book, and there might be one page in there about your dog. Maybe some bland, generic, completely unhelpful advice [laughter].
Mike: Considering the statistics that I always give, from the CDC, about the dog bites on children – and the fact that it’s the leading threat to child welfare after substance abuse – and you get one, one-and-a-half pages about it in an 800-page book? It’s unbelievable.
So that’s my point. It’s like: “No – in the million things that you think about when you’re having a baby, put this in there at the top of the list, if you want to be sure you can keep your dog.”
And again, even if it turns out that you look at your dog and say: “This isn’t going to work,” like with that Akita, for instance – and many other dogs that I’ve had to tell people to rehome – at least you have 16 months to find a place.
You don’t have to think every day: “Oh my God, every day is a clear and present danger to my child.” You have 16 months to go through your networks of friends, and all that stuff, to find your dog a decent home, right?
Mike: But to wait until the last minute, and to literally give it no thought? It blows my mind, because this is my work every day, and I know it doesn’t occur to some people until they have a problem – but for God’s sake, think about it. Spend 5 minutes thinking about your dog in all this.
Mike: Spend a few hours, spend a few bucks if you have to. Buy my course – buy somebody’s something [laughter].
Morgan: Yes, yes. Alright so, everybody, we pressed Mike’s buttons today, and we got some good answers [laughter]. That was really good.