Sunday, January 22, 2012

Introducing Dogs and Babies, Part One

My wonderful friend, Kathy Nolasco, is getting ready to welcome her first child into the world.  Well, her first human child that is.  Kathy is also the proud parent of a beautiful German Shepherd Dog named Linda.  Which is what prompted Kathy to send me a message the other day, the gist of which was "How do we introduce our dog to the baby?"

It's a question I get a lot, at least from those who are expecting, or know someone who is.  So I thought I'd share my answer with everyone.

A little background first.  Kathy and her husband Gerson have a one-year-old female German Shepherd, Linda, from the Dominican Republic (a Dominican Shepherd I tease her).  They are also expecting a baby boy in about 20 days, should he cooperate with his due date.  Kathy has made arrangements for Linda to stay with her parents while she is in the hospital after the baby is born, and they are already planning on bringing baby blankets to Linda so she can smell the baby before she meets him. 

But Linda's already nervous, and the baby hasn't even been born yet.  According to Kathy, Linda is scared of the new baby things in the house, especially the stroller and the swing.  So this is where the training needs to start.  I'll tackle part one - fear of the stroller and swing - in this post, and part two - introducing Linda to the baby - in a later post.

The first rule of training Linda to accept the new baby should be "100% positive."  Because we want the relationship between dog and baby to be a positive one, the training should always be positive too.  We don't want Linda to make any associations between bad things and the new baby.

To teach Linda to accept the baby stroller and swing, get some really yummy treats (PureBites, Natural Balance Rolled Dog Food, Charlee Bears, or Wellness Wellbites).  If she is clicker trained, grab the clicker, but if not, Kathy can tell her "yes" every time she would get a click (for more on clicker training basics see Karen Pryor's website, Start out with either the stroller or the baby swing (tackle one before the other - the second time around will be easier). 

Let's say Kathy picks the baby swing.  Have the swing set up, but not activated.  Bring Linda into the room where the swing is, and the instant she looks at (or near) the swing, click (or say "yes!") and give her a treat.  Stand in such a way that Linda needs to look back to get her treat, away from the swing.  When she looks at the swing again, click and treat.  Repeat the exercise a couple more times, then take a big step towards the swing.  Kathy should click and treat for Linda looking at the swing, again, the instant they move towards it.  Do another 3 or 4 rounds, then move closer and closer.  Eventually they should be able to stand right next to the swing.

When Kathy is beside the swing, she should reward Linda for looking at the swing once or twice, but then hold off and see if she'll voluntarily lean towards it, sniff at it or even touch her nose to it.  If she does, definitely click and treat!  Work on getting as much interaction as possible, without resorting to bribing or luring (an example of that would be putting the treat on the swing).  Be patient - it will pay off in many ways!

The first time Kathy moves Linda towards the swing the swing should be turned off, not moving at all.  Once Linda masters the exercise with the swing off, start over with the swing turned on low - bring Linda into the room and click and treat the instant she looks at the swing.  Continue progressing until there are no issues with the swing.  Then it's time to move onto the stroller.

If Linda gets nervous at any point, things have gone a little too fast.  Keep things light and fun.  There don't need to be any commands, and don't force her at any point. This exercise is so effective because Linda is in control - something that goes a long way towards building confidence and eliminating fear.  By rewarding her every time she looks at the baby swing she'll start to have a positive association with the swing.

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