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My dog and a newborn…
Even before a new family member appears, we should start preparing our dog for the big event. We have a few months to teach our dog new rules and to familiarize him with children. First, we must teach the dog patience, calm behaviour, and coping with the fact that we can no longer devote so much time to him. A good way to develop patience is teaching our dog to remain in the “sit” or “lie down” position. With time, we extend the duration up to 30 sec. In this way we help the dog to control his emotions.  Rewarding calm behaviour in everyday situations, (eg. while preparing to go for a walk) will also help to teach the dog composure, which we will minimize the danger of any unintentional harm to our baby. If the dog is very excited when we pick up the leash before a walk, we wait until the dog calms down and then go out. At the beginning, the dog may not understand our intentions and it may happen that we will not reach our aim for a prolonged time. In that case, we go back to other occupations and after 10 minutes approach the front door again. If the dog calms down, we reward him by going out for a walk. After several attempts, our dog should learn a calm reaction to a leash in hand. Before the baby appears, most dog owners devote a lot of time to their pets when at home. To avoid the dog feeling rejected when the baby comes, we need to start special training earlier. More and more often we do not pay attention to the dog, do not react to his invitations to play. We must remember though, that if we take away something, our attention in this case, we should give the dog something in return. An additional walk is a good idea; it will lower our dog’s stress level. When the dog has learnt to control his emotions,  it is time to introduce him to children and the sounds they make. During our daily walks we visit places near a kindergarten or a playground, from time to time doing simple exercises such as “sit” or “lie down.” Children will quickly become interested in our dog and may want to participate in our training. It will show the dog that it is possible to communicate, play, and pleasantly spend time with children. Remember that meetings with children should be short and agreeable; we cannot let the children overtire our dog. Each meeting should be preceded with a long walk, during which the dog will have the chance to calm down and use up his energy. The next step is to introduce children into our house. We invite friends with kids aged 0-4, beginning with older ones. That is how we let our dog get used to the presence of children and the commotion they make at home. It is very important to play the recording of a crying infant to our dog, keeping calm ourselves. Before we bring the baby home, we bring its clothes or blanket from hospital and for a couple of days put them in different places in the house, so that the dog can smell them easily. The aim is to acquaint our dog with the new scent and to decrease his need to smell the baby. It also lets the dog know that this scent means no threat. Children and babies especially have many infantile features such as big eyes or a big head, thanks to which the dog understands that it is dealing with a child and that it should be handled with care. The day the baby arrives home is of great importance. After entering the house, the woman should greet the dog, wait until he calms down and let him smell the baby, without saying anything. The first six months go smoothly, the baby spends time in its cot or playpen, and the dog is under the calming influence of the woman’s hormones. It may happen that, when we are holding a crying baby in our arms, the dog will try to separate us by pushing his way between us. This behaviour is often interpreted as jealousy. In fact, the dog is trying to calm us by separating us from the baby. The best way to calm the baby, the dog and ourselves is humming. Soothing sounds calm animals as well, and humming itself relaxes all muscles, signaling lack of danger to the dog. About six months after giving birth the level of hormones in a woman’s body goes down, and the baby becomes more mobile. Most conflict situations may be avoided by teaching the dog to let go of a toy (see: My dog defends toys), not to defend food (see: My dog growls over food) and not to sleep in various places (see: My dog bit when woken up). Unfortunately, proper training still does not guarantee safety; a bond needs to be formed between the child and the dog. Among dogs this is achieved through playing, eating and resting together. We may not wish to let the dog sleep in the baby’s cot, but we can show them how to play together. We take a new toy, sit with the child on the floor and play with the dog to fetch the toy. Remember to hide the toy when we are finished; this way it will be more attractive to the dog during the next exercise. We may also use dry dog food. We sit with the child on the floor, tell the dog to lie down and reward him, allowing the child to hand us bits of food from a container. It is also vital to teach our child how to properly treat the dog. It happens that small kids pull a dog by its ears, its tail, or put their fingers into a dog’s eye or nose. This kind of behaviour must be rigorously avoided. We should also teach the child how to pet the dog safely which is done slowly, on the side of its head or neck. It is only a matter of time when our child and dog become inseparable. Remember that a dog is not a toy which may be played with at will. If we notice that our dog is tired with the child’s presence and avoids it, we find another attraction for the child and then take the dog for a relaxing walk. Just like people, stressed dogs lose their temper faster.