Your dog is afraid of everything and you recognize that’s going to be a problem for your little one. What should you do?
In this episode, Mike gives you the key tips and tricks you need to ensure that your dog isn’t scared of your baby and all the new paraphernalia that comes with a child.
Mike: Well, that’s a good question, and it’s a broad question – and unfortunately, there are dogs that just have a generally brittle nervous system. They’re basically just born slightly nervous, about anything to do with novelties.
So, with a dog like that, obviously everything I’ve said in previous podcasts about how to deal with anxiety applies doubly.
I think, probably, the place that I would start is: I would make a list of all the new things that are going to show up with a baby around. Baby noises, crying, baby toys and stuff being dropped on the floor, crawling. I would just start to make a list of things.
Morgan: Screaming, crying…
Mike: Yes – for the screaming and crying, as we’ve said in another podcast, there are MP3s that you can download with a bunch of baby sounds on them.
And you want to start getting your dog ready by just playing those in the background, at a low volume, while you’re doing something fun that the dog enjoys: maybe a game of fetch, or some treat-based obedience exercises, or whatever it is that the dog likes.
And start playing the baby sounds in the background, first at a low volume, and then at a higher volume, and so forth and so on.
And there’s a fun blog post from a few months ago where there’s a whole thing on how I used the Sonos sound system with a client to teach the dog that whenever it heard baby sounds coming from any room, it was to come to mom for a treat.
How Will Your Dog Like The Décor Changes?
Morgan: Yes, but things like banging – just banging – banging stuff on tables, and things like that, like my baby does.
Mike: Well, also, there’s all kinds of weird little baby toys. What are those little things, that you put the little baby on its back, and it looks up and there’s spinning little things? Like a little mobile, with little bells and colorful things spinning around that keeps their attention.
Things like that, anything like that, anything that might be just weird for the dog – I’d start bringing that stuff into the house soon. I’d just want to check the dog’s reaction to it, see how it goes.
Baby carriages, even any of the new equipment – just bring it in soon, and get the dog used to it, start having it be around.
A Refuge From The Chaos
The other thing is: you need to create a safe place for your dog, where the dog knows that it can just get away from all the chaos when it just gets too much. Or where you can put the dog when it all gets too much.
And it’s important that that safe place not feel like a prison, but rather a safe place, a refuge. Like a man cave, or something.
Morgan: Yes! That might be a commentary on masculinity, there, but OK.
Mike: Perhaps. You know, just some place where the doggy can just get away from it all, or that we can feel good about putting the dog when it’s all just too much.
I would take a look, if your dog is afraid of sudden handling: what is it that makes your dog freaked out? If it’s sudden handling, then here’s a shameless plug – check out the video course that I did on how to prepare a dog for childlike handling.
Because in a sensitive dog, that applies doubly – everything applies doubly with a dog who’s just chronically anxious about this, that and the other thing.
Mike: If your dog’s afraid of kids: same thing. There’s Module 2 of my e-course that’s about how to prepare a dog just for the presence of children, if they’re not used to it.
Again, we’re repeating stuff from other podcasts, but in this case, they apply doubly, like I said.
So, I would just throw everything that I could at the situation. And then, the other side of it is all the little add-ons that one can do – things like ThunderShirts. A ThunderShirt is just a little, tight-fitting shirt that can help dogs with anxiety and, believe it or not, they actually work.
And there are CBD treats, now, that help with anxiety, there are products like Rescue Remedy, which is a homeopathic tincture that can help with anxiety, there are the Adaptil diffusers, which diffuse a synthetic hormone that mimics a lactating mother’s milk that has a calming effect on dogs.
I would bring all that stuff in – and even, possibly, talk to my vet about anti-anxiety meds, if necessary. So, I would really throw the whole kettle of fish at the problem, to the point of overdoing it.
Mike: Just to prepare. And then, also, let’s not forget things like confidence-building exercises. Again, it just depends: how old is the dog? What kind of dog is it?
But if you’ve got, say, a 3- or 4-year-old dog who’s athletic, but who’s skittish, then maybe some agility classes. Just anything that can generally increase confidence levels, you know?
Why Is This Stuff Important?
Morgan: Yes. I have a question: in this context, when my dog is afraid of everything, what are the risks that we’re mitigating?
Mike: Oh, biting. Fear is the number one driver of aggression.
Morgan: Got it.
Mike: This is off the top of my head, I don’t have stats to back this up, but I’d say 75% of aggressive behavior is driven by fear. So, if a dog is afraid, and startled, and sees the baby as the source of all that anxiety, then if they feel cornered, or trapped, or mishandled, or startled, it can lead to a bite.
That’s the main concern. And, obviously, we want to do everything we can to create positive associations between the dog and the child. So, having a dog that’s super anxious is a hindrance to that – so we need to address it strongly.
Go Big Or Rehome
Morgan: Got it, that makes sense. So, you were saying: throw the whole kettle of fish at the problem, employ every tactic you can.
Mike: Yes – and then see what sticks. Some things will work, some things won’t work – but I would put it at the top of my shortlist of priorities.
Because I’ve seen this – and I hate to even bring it up, because my whole website, book, and everything is designed to help people make smooth integrations – but there are situations, for example, with elderly dogs…
I had this last year, with a little Jack Russell – he’s like 11 years old, he’s frail, he’s a dog like the ones that we’re talking about. And you can just tell: he’s never going to get used to it.
And if you really feel like this is just going to make your dog miserable, and make everybody tense, then maybe it’s time to look around and see if somebody in your network of friends or family might be interested in having that dog.
It stinks, but that’s something that sometimes needs to be on the table as part of the conversation. I mean, I’m certainly not recommending that as a first line of response, but sometimes that has to be on the table. “Is this going to work?”
Last year, I think I had 3 or 4 situations like that. One was a greyhound, a retired racing greyhound that was like 11 years old – and those dogs can be very sensitive to start with.
And, predictably, that’s what happened: the dog was afraid of everything. The people thought they could do it – and again, by the time the 8-month threshold came around, they realized: “This isn’t going to work.”
And, thankfully, they had a neighbor who always helped them take care of the dog, and the neighbor took the dog. So, they were still able to go and see the dog and all that. So I encourage people: check with your friends and family, because sometimes it’s the better out.
Where Will Your Dog Be Happiest?
Mike: Well, if the dog’s going to be miserable, chronically miserable – even if you can separate them and all that stuff – because of this baby, who’s just continuing to get more and more and more active, and take more and more and more of the owner’s time and attention, then just to keep the dog for your own emotional welfare seems a little unfair, right?
If the dog could be happier, quieter and more comfortable in a different home.
Morgan: Yes, totally.
Mike: So, I always tell people: “The only one here that’s going to pay an emotional price is you – the dog is going to be fine. The baby’s not going to know the difference.”
So in some situations, for the benefit of the dog, you have to suck it up and just do the right thing. Obviously, it’s the last resort and it’s not something that anybody wants to hear – but sometimes it has to be on the table.
Sudden Onset Skittishness?
Morgan: Yes. Well, another question I had that came up as you were talking about this, in the context of “My dog is afraid of everything.” Are there times when dogs that previously don’t have a history of high anxiety or fear suddenly, out of the blue, become afraid of everything?
Or is this something that, usually, you’re going to be able to always see from the beginning?
Mike: Usually, you’re going to be able to see it from the beginning. There are cases that I’ve seen where during the adolescence period, say around 8 or 9 or 10 months old, dogs that have seemed pretty normal suddenly, for some reason, get completely phobic.
Now, I’ve never been able to figure out why that’s the case. There’s obviously something neurological happening that has to do with development and hormones in moving through adolescence.
So, sometimes that can happen – but generally, if people have been with their dogs for a few years, they’re going to have a sense as to whether the dog is “phobic” or not. And if so, then around what? Is it just general, or is it some specific things?
Mike: It wouldn’t just suddenly pop up in a 3- or 4-year-old dog that you’ve had its whole life.
The Sooner The Better, The More The Better
Morgan: Yes, got it. Alright, well, that seems pretty clear. You covered a couple of things – number one: in the beginning, you want to really start making the changes.
Anything you can anticipate, in terms of all the new equipment you’re going to be bringing in and the routines – anything that’s likely to trigger the dog. The sooner you do it, the better, so you start to get them used to it.
You also mention creating a safe space for the dog, where they can go and be out of the fray, so to speak.
And then, you also spoke about all the supplements, and the new things that we’ve mentioned in a couple of podcasts, like Rescue Remedy, and the CBDs – and there’s obviously a whole pharmacopoeia tailored to this, now.
And then, is there anything else that you want to highlight before we wrap up?
Mike: Well, no, I think that’s pretty much it. I would encourage people, if they’re dealing with this, to scroll back through some of the older posts, and take a peek at the ones that are specifically related to various issues of fear, because they’ll find more supplemental information in there.
And also in my book, Good Dog Happy Baby, in the middle section, there’s some good information in there on how to prepare dogs for children, babies, and dealing with various phobias. So, I would look to all that, and see what you can glean.
And get very proactive about it – because fear is just difficult. It’s deeply entrenched, it’s in the deeper part of the brain. It’s in the reptilian brain, so it’s buried in the deep structures of the brain.
That’s why it takes longer to use cognitive or desensitizing type processes to override such deep anxiety. So, again, the point being: sooner is better, and more is better.
Morgan: Got it. And, everybody, I encourage you to follow up on Mike’s two recommendations. One, his book – it’s a bestseller on Amazon; it’s been on the bestseller list for a long time because it works in these situations.
And if this is an issue for you, Mike’s video course will walk you, step by step, through a process of systematic desensitizing. It’s going to really help you prepare your dog for your baby – so please check that out.