This is one of the most serious issues you need to address when bringing a new baby into the home with your dog. Will your dog be jealous? Will she feel replaced now that she’s no longer number one?
In this episode, Mike dives deep into one of the biggest and most important questions around preparing your dog for your baby.
Morgan: My dog is used to being my favorite child, but I’m afraid that she’s not going to like not being the only little baby any more. What do I do?
Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Jealousy
Mike: Well, first of all, pat yourself on the back for recognizing that it’s an issue – a lot of people completely overlook this, and maybe think dogs don’t experience jealousy like that.
So, I think the first thing is: good for you, for even thinking of it. Because, in fact, dogs can and do get jealous.
As I’ve always said in the last few podcasts, when you find out you’re pregnant, think about how that’s going to impact your dog’s life – changes like less time spent with the dog, or not being in the bed any more, things like that.
And start implementing those changes as far ahead as possible. And when the dog gets jealous, you can ease that out.
So, the more time you have to ease them out of the central position the better. The less time you have, the more abrupt the adjustment is going to be.
And don’t underestimate the power of jealousy. I just went to see a lady, last week – when she and her husband even hug each other, or when she hugs the kids, the dog starts barking at them, and pushes his head in between them, and tries to get in the middle of them, or separate them, or climb up on them. He’s very, very jealous.
Mike: And so we have to deal with that. They’ve already got kids, and the dog is the new arrival. So it’s a slightly different situation – but it just goes to show you how emotional they are, and how emotionally co-dependent they can get with us.
Mike: You know, not just with each other. It’s definitely an issue – and in many ways you could say it’s a central issue, when bringing a baby into the picture.
Morgan: That’s interesting.
Make The Impression: Baby Means Good Things
Mike: So that’s why one of the things I do – both in my program and in my private training, and also in the video course – is to create situations that show the dog that the presence of the child means good things for him.
I’ll give you an example: most moms, after they’ve had their baby, are obviously very focused on the baby.
And the mistake – I don’t know if it’s a mistake, but I think in this context it’s a little bit of a mistake – is that, when they put the baby down for a nap, if there’s a dog around, that’s when they’ll spend more time with the dog. Because now the baby’s down, their bandwidth is cleared up a little bit.
And then they’ll spend time with the dog. But then, when the baby wakes up and cries, and needs to be dealt with, the dog gets shunted off to the side, or kicked to the kerb again for a couple of hours. And believe me, your dog notices.
So, I actually encourage moms to do precisely the opposite: when baby goes down for a nap, put doggy away for a couple of hours – in a crate, or in the backyard, or wherever you stash your dog when you need them out of your hair.
And that makes sense – because mom could probably use a break herself. Lie down for a quick nap before the next round of caretaking starts, right?
So, what I encourage moms to do is: when the baby goes down for a nap, put the dog away.
When the baby comes back up, usually it’s going to be a case of nursing – changing the diapers and nursing. And then create a situation – let’s say there’s a chair or a sofa, or someplace where the mom does the nursing.
I encourage them to put a dog bed right next to it. And then, prior to the baby’s arrival, you teach the dog that on that particular bed, all you do is lie down there and you stay there.
So now, mom brings baby out to nurse, and brings the dog out of the crate. Now, the dog’s been isolated for a couple of hours – and the dog learns to go to the bed next to the place where mom nurses.
And suddenly the appearance of the baby means family time for all three of us.
Positive Associations & Creating Together Time
We’re all together, instead of the arrival of the baby meaning you’re in the doghouse, literally. And when the baby goes away, then mommy’s going to spend time with you, which can’t help but set up this kind of zero-sum game.
So, this is just one way that I try to encourage parents to override the jealous dynamic, by creating one situation after another where the dog can’t help but associate the presence of the child with the big ‘we’ vibe. “We’re together, we’re a family unit – we’re all together, now.”
Morgan: This is the pack.
Mike: Yes – and that all the warm fuzzies come when the baby’s around. Maybe not all of them, but a lot of them.
You can definitely create a distinctive positive association between the baby and attention for the dog. And that’s very effective.
It takes a little bit of prep work on the front end, but not much. And it has a very powerful emotional impact.
Morgan: So, you’ve seen that work?
Mike: Definitely – I see it work all the time, yes.
Morgan: That’s awesome. That’s a great approach.
Mike: It’s just a clever little turnaround. Everybody gets a break – mom can get a break, the dog’s just calm, in the crate.
And then, when baby wakes up, we’re all together as a family again. Not like: I put the little guy away, and now you and I are going to go and have fun, like having an affair or something.
Morgan: Right! And that’s why it’s clever – it’s because it’s counter-intuitive. You would think: “OK, baby’s down – now I have to make up for the attention deprivation by showering my dog with attention.”
But you never think that you’re setting up this kind of tension, in the process, that is reinforcing the jealousy. It doesn’t really occur – well, it wouldn’t occur to me.
Mike: It doesn’t occur to a lot of people. Because it’s a simple thing, but whenever I mention it to people, their eyes go wide with this kind of look, like: “Oh! Yes, that’s so obvious – I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before.”
A lot of things are obvious when somebody says it once.
Mike: And on that note, there’s other things in the book, just little exercises I teach – but I’m always looking for ways to create a positive association for the dog with the presence of the child, in a structured way.
So that the dog feels more and more integrated, and part of the family, not less so because the baby’s there.
Morgan: So, what would be another example?
Mike: Well, another example would be: at a certain age, and it’s usually very young, most moms have laid out some little play-mat.
Morgan: Yes, we had one.
Mike: Where the little colored blocks and toys are, and you just lie around with the baby.
Morgan: Yes – the activity gym, basically.
Mike: There you go. And so I teach the dog the same kind of thing.
Using Baby’s Activity Gym To Integrate Rover
Especially for this kind of thing, you want to make sure the dog has been exercised – which is why I said in the last podcast that getting the dog walker, and getting the dog exercised, is important.
But then, what I teach him is: when we’re playing on that mat, you do a down-stay right next to us. And I teach the dog that boundary: you can’t be on the mat, but you can be just right there, on the edge.
And then mom can sit near the edge, on the inside of the mat, with the dog on the outside of the mat – she can have a hand on the dog, petting it, while she’s also playing with the baby. It’s just another way to bring the dog in.
And you could have some treats there, you could reward him for down-stays. If the dog has learned some down-stays, it’s easy to transfer that exercise to that particular context.
And it’s just another way for the dog to be part of things – and to use some of the skills that he has learned.
Mike: Thank you!
Morgan: That’s very good.
Mike: And there’s other stuff like that – on my blog, if you scroll down 7, 8, 9 entries, there’s a couple of videos. It’s one with an older child.
I’m always looking for exercises to create positive contexts, positive associations between dogs and children. And, as children get older, what you can do changes.
So, there’s a cool little video on the blog, of a 4-year-old kid and her dad walking with a big Dobermann – starting to teach the dog how to do obedience commands with the dog, teaching the dog to respond to the little girl – in a way that’s really cool.
I’d encourage people to pop over to the blog, scroll down, and watch it – it’s a video with a Dobermann. It’s hard to miss.
But it’s just another example of how to do constructive work, at different developmental periods, with the dog and the baby. Although, at that point, the kid’s not a baby any more, it’s a toddler or older.
Morgan: Yes, exactly. Great. Well, I think that’s fantastic – anything else you want to add, before we wrap it up, Mike?
Mike: I just think you should be creative. Allow yourself to be creative, and constantly look for opportunities to create togetherness.
Using Alone Time As A Tool
And, again, you can use aloneness as a tool – strategically have the dog be alone at certain periods, so that you can bring them together with your baby in other periods.
And also, the connection with the baby could be a high period between two dull periods.
I’ll say a little more about that. In high-level training – say, for police work, and things like that – one of the tricks is that you’ll crate the dog for a couple of hours, then have, say, a 30-minute training period, and then crate him for another couple of hours.
And so, basically, the training period is a high point between two dull periods, and something he really looks forward to. And you can use that same principle, which we’ve just talked about, in relation to this.
When baby goes down, just put the dog down for a while. When baby comes back up, look for as many opportunities to create “together” situations as possible. And when that situation’s over, maybe crate the dog again.
So, that togetherness with the child is the high point between other, relatively duller, periods.
Morgan: Interesting. And I know, Mike, there’s some controversy around this, and it may be a bigger topic than we can really get into right now – but, in terms of the power of the togetherness context, we tend to think of dogs as pack animals. Does that apply, in this context?
Mike: Well, it always applies – because, another way to say it is that humans are pack animals.
Dog ARE Pack Animals And Need Social Integration
We’re social creatures; we don’t do well on our own. We are wired to function in groups – and so are dogs.
I think the whole question of pack theory and how it relates to dogs has been a controversial one – it is a bit of a side subject.
But I’m in the middle of writing a book, right now – a lot of people like to poo-poo the pack mentality of dogs, saying: “Oh, that doesn’t exist, the latest science has shown it.”
Well, the truth is, the latest science hasn’t shown that dogs are not pack animals – the latest science has actually reaffirmed that dogs are, in fact, pack animals.
And if you want to talk about social hierarchies and being boss – the degree of social hierarchy is largely determined by the intensity of the survival needs in the context.
So, for example, if dogs are hunting large game, or if wolves are hunting large game, and there are serious survival issues at stake, they’ll form very steep dominance hierarchies.
If food is readily available, and there aren’t really survival threats – like with feral dogs – then you’ll get more loose associations that aren’t so hierarchical. But there’s still always status issues involved.
So, dogs are pack animals. It’s like us: if we’re in a military situation, we’re going to form tight hierarchies because it’s important for survival.
And if we’re in some other association, like a college classroom, there’s going to be more loose affiliations – and if people get together for projects, certain hierarchies are going to emerge, but they might not be as steep as they would be in, say, a military context.
So, dogs are much the same way. Of course, dogs learn a lot by association. But social dynamics always inform a dog’s relationship with its environment.
And it’s just true – and, like I said, in this book that I’m working on, I make a very strong case for that, based on the latest science.
Morgan: Got it. Alright, well, everybody – thank you for joining us. If you’re interested in learning a little bit more about any of this, or any of what we’ve talked about, head on over to gooddoghappybaby.com.
I encourage you to check out Mike’s book – and you can get that right off the website, just click over to Amazon from there.
And then you can also get Mike’s e-course, over at gooddoghappybaby.com. And when you sign up for our newsletter, you will – for at least one week – get a pretty sweet discount.
So, take advantage of that. Thank you so much for joining us, Mike, this was great. And we’ll see you next time.