Why do Puppies Bite, and What to Do About It

One of the most common problems I’m approached with as a dog trainer is this one:

“My puppy is so sweet.  I just love him!  But he bites me all the time.  He’s not being mean – he’s just playing.  But he needs to stop!”

I’ve met people who are covered with scratches and wounds all over their arms and legs from their puppies play-biting them.  Usually, my first thought is “OUCH!”

Why Do They Bite?

Puppy | Dog | Playing and biting

There’s a reason why this is such a common problem.  It’s because puppies play using their mouths!  When they’re with their litter, before they move in with you, they’re playing together by wrestling, chewing, and nipping at each other.  As they do this, they learn something called “bite inhibition.”

Essentially, bite inhibition is knowing that if they bite, that may cause pain, and cause your playmate to react in a not-so-favorable way.  Brothers and sisters may turn and nip them in return.  The play may stop.  If they bite the wrong dog too hard, they’ll likely get a more harsh correction – a lot of time, their mama will lay them out flat for biting inappropriately during play.  This is why puppies who have left their litters too early, or those who were single puppies, often have MORE biting issues.  It’s because they don’t learn bite inhibition from other dogs.

So, while they’ve learned from the beginning of their journey of having teeth that they need to be careful, they often still aren’t prepared to live with someone who has no fur, only skin.  A bite that may be appropriate for another fluffy puppy or dog is likely going to hurt your bare skin a whole lot more!

So What Do We Do About It?

Puppies | Biting | Nipping

There are a few key things to do when you’re addressing play biting in puppies.

  1. Firstly, recognize that it’s a normal behavior, and they’re not doing it because they’re mad at you, they hate you, or that you’re not a good mommy or daddy to them.  Dogs are dogs, and biting is a normal thing for puppies to do.  It’s simply something they haven’t learned to control with people just yet.
  2. Give them an outlet.  We don’t want your dog to be afraid to use his mouth indefinitely.  That’s not healthy, and it can really limit the kind of training and rewards you’ll be able to use in the future.  Giving plenty of opportunities for chewing, chasing, and tugging is essential!  Let them use their mouths in an APPROPRIATE way, and let them know that this is good with lots of praise and play.
  3. Correct them when they bite.  This is usually where I see things breaking down.  Owners don’t want to be mean to their puppies.  They don’t want to hurt them.  They only want to be positive.  Unfortunately, that’s not how dogs think, most of the time.  As I said above, if a puppy bites an older dog too hard, they’ll get put in their place pretty quickly.

The easiest way I’ve found to give a puppy a bite correction is to take the skin on their cheek firmly in your hand and say “No,” or “Off,” or whatever your word is.  Say it like you mean it.  Your puppy may turn and try to bite you again immediately, like a toddler who’s just been told not to hit his brother.  Repeat your correction each time he does it, and then try to redirect him to an appropriate way to play.

Correct, and Redirect. If you don’t redirect it to another play activity, your puppy may become stuck on the idea of “getting away with” biting you.  He’ll start to see if he can bite you fast enough and get away before you can catch him, so you do need to correct it, and then say “Let’s go find a toy!

Puppy biting is a pain, but it is pretty normal.  With consistency, opportunity for play, and maturity, your puppy will quit and become a joy to play with!

What is SATS?

SATS (Syn Alia Training Systems) has been around for quite awhile, but it has not been brought to use with dog popularly until the last 5-10 years or so.  I have found it to be extremely effective in teaching new behaviors, in helping the dog understand concepts, and in teaching the dog how to be in control of himself!  Here are a few key things about how we train with SATS.

Learning Theory Applied

When we use SATS, we mostly focus on two pieces of learning theory: Positive Reinforcement, and Negative Punishment.  That means that we give rewards for behavior that we want, and we take away desired things as a punishment for things we do not want.  Treats and time outs, essentially.

Depending on your dog, the rewards may be as simple as a treat, or it may be as complicated as access to an activity that we previously thought the dog didn’t like (but really does!).  The punishments can be as simple as backing away from a desired item, or as complicated as having to retire past his threshold to relax before being allowed to go back in and try again.  It all depends on the dog!

Cognitive Components, and Language

In SATS, we spend a lot of time and energy teaching animals the names for things: their body parts, things in their environment, emotional states.  We also teach concepts to the animals, such as On/Off, Up/Down, In/Out, Loose/Tight, and so on.  This helps the animal to be more of a partner in the training process, rather than having his behavior manipulated ONLY through consequences.

Training Methodology

We believe, in SATS, that we can achieve much more by working in partnership with animals than by being in control of all aspects.  Syn Alia is actually a combination of the words “Synergistic Alliances,” meaning “with others.”  We can get our animals to cooperate and collaborate with us, rather than simply be compliant, but it takes some new ways of thinking much of the time.  In SATS, we have systems in place to support those new ways of thinking!

Bridge and Target

Bridge and Target is the part of SATS that covers the learning of new behaviors.  We use Bridges (a sound associated with a treat or reward) to support the animal’s attention and behavior, and to mark the moment of success.  We use Targets to guide the animal through behaviors so that we can mark and name them!  It is a very fluid, conversational technique we use to work with the animals.

Here is a video of Kayce Cover working with Sara, her horse, using Bridge and Target.

Perception Modification

Perception Modification is the part of SATS that we use to address reactivity and aggression in animals.  We first teach the animal what the state of calm feels like, using the technique called Conditioned Relaxation.  Many of them have never felt it before! Then, we begin to introduce triggering stimuli to the animals in small, manageable increments, called Cycles.  We want the animal to be successful in staying relaxed, and to cognitively recognize their own stress levels and manage them.  It has outstanding, sometimes unbelievable, results!

Check out this video of Ebony, his journey from being reactive and aggressive to a calm, enjoyable observer.

In short, I train with SATS because I enjoy working with animals as partners.  It’s an amazing feeling, and I hope that you investigate more about this great technique by checking out Kayce Cover’s website: www.synalia.com.  You may find that it completely transforms your relationships with your animals!

3 Things that Dog Training Is, and 3 Things that Dog Training Is Not

A long title, I guess, but I want to be pretty clear and to the point.  Sometimes when someone contacts a trainer about help with their dog, it’s because they are really looking for a way to save their relationship with their dog.  But sometimes, they are tired, worn down, and hoping that training will be a quick-fix miracle for them.

Let’s start with the things that Training is Not:

Training is not a quick fix.

Having the type of relationship you are dreaming of with your dog takes time, and it takes effort.  While we get your dog started for you in our Residency Programs, and we teach them structure and commands, we’ve still got some work to do when he goes home.  To achieve my ideal relationship with my own dogs, it takes a couple of months to get us on the same page and level, and it takes a couple of years (yes, YEARS) for us to be living in absolute harmony.  It’s a process.

Training will not give you a new dog.

When you bring your dog for training, expect to get back a dog that knows how to behave, knows how to perform his behaviors, and wants to please you.  However, do not expect to get back a new personality or only the good things about having a dog.  Learning at school will not change who he is at heart.  If your dog is an 8 month old puppy, he will still be a puppy upon returning home.  You will still have an energetic, often pushy, young dog, not a mature, calm dog.

Training is not One Size Fits All.

Every dog learns a little bit differently.  If you’ve had a dog before who loved to work for his ball, do not be surprised if your new dog prefers treats, or may need a different style training collar.  Some dogs respond great to prong collars, and love them!  Some dogs are overwhelmed by corrections from even a regular flat collar.  Some dogs get stressed and will not take treats while in a new place.  Some dogs will only work well for 1/4 of a piece of a biscuit.  It takes some trial and error to figure out exactly what it is that will make your dog work his hardest.

Now let’s talk about what training IS:

Training is essential.

If you want a dog that can live peacefully and happily with you, you’ve got to do some training.  Dogs are not human, and so they do not automatically do the things that make them acceptable in human society.  Dogs need to be taught to potty outside.  They need to be taught how to walk on a leash, and how to politely accept pets from people.  These aren’t things that they are born knowing.  If you want your dog to fit in with your human life, training is the way to do it.

Training is about relationship, not just behavior.

It’s essential that your dog knows the skills to have manners and live happily in his human home.  However, those skills are just not enough!  You’ve also got to work to create a relationship that is based on respect and trust.  It won’t matter if your dog knows how to walk on a loose leash if he still wants to jump up and nip you every time you start to walk!  It won’t help you that he knows how to stay if he won’t let you examine his paws for injuries after a long trek through the woods.  Working with a trainer does not just mean your dog will learn behaviors.  You will learn what YOU need to do to help the relationship be a success as well.

Training is ever-changing.

If you start your dog’s training when he first comes home as a puppy, that training will look very different in two months.  And then two months after that, it will change again.  We often get stuck thinking that once the dog has learned the skills, that’s all there is to it, but as your dog matures and grows, your relationship will be growing and changing as well.  You’ll go from nurturing and supporting a little baby to guiding and enforcing with an adolescent dog, and then to maintaining and exploring new things with a mature dog.  It’s an adventure, a journey, and completely worth it for the joy and companionship that results.

Threshold: What it is, and how to train with it.

Generally considered, a threshold is a point where one place becomes another: the point where one steps through a door and is considered in a different room or location.  We can use thresholds to describe emotional states as well: “I was on the threshold of an unholy rage.”

Your dog experiences thresholds as well.  The point at which your dog is intent on a stimulus, but is not reacting to it, is considered to be their threshold.  This is important to note, because when we are working with dogs on maintaining their emotional state of cool and calm, our goal is for that dog to never get ABOVE their threshold.  They should always stay below.

Usually, for that to happen, it’s important to stay a farther distance from the exciting stimulus, until you have helped the dog to relax and prepare themselves to move closer. This is why SATS can be so outstanding and helpful! We teach the dogs to remain calm as we push their threshold experience, but we always bring them back out again to a point where they will not react.  When you do that, it gives the dog a chance to experience some emotional tension, but have an opportunity to relax once more.

An example from this week is helping my friend Franklin to stay calm and focused around other dogs.  He does well at 50 feet, completely ignoring the other dog.  He does alright at 20 feet, showing calm interest in the other dog.  At 15 feet, his interest is intense, and is difficult to break through.  At 10 feet, he is shivering with anticipation and will lunge and bark at the slightest provocation (or just because he’s too massively excited).  20 feet is a good threshold for Franklin.

As you consider your own dog, and where to begin working with them on distraction training, consider the use of the threshold principal and how it may help you shoot to always help your dog be successful before intensifying their training experience!

Tips and Tricks: Crate Training

Whether you have just brought home a new puppy for the holidays (a well thought out family decision, I hope!), you have decided to adopt a pup in need, or you have a dog who has been with you for awhile, crate training can be an invaluable asset to keep the sanity for both you and your dog in your home.

Though some people may claim that crate training is inhumane, when done properly, dogs enjoy their crates just as we enjoy spending time in our own beds.  They give dogs a safe space to be alone and decompress.  They offer dogs a spot to call their own, to eat in peace, and to have a spot to go when they cannot be under their person’s feet.  Here are three simple steps to get you started on the right path to crate training!

 1. Get the right size crate!

This is an extremely important point.  If you have a large dog, it is unfair to ask them to spend several hours in a cramped, tight space.  Similarly, if you have a small dog, giving them too large a space does not encourage the relaxed, cave-like atmosphere that a crate can create.

As a rule of thumb, your dog should be able to stand in his crate without ducking his head, should be able to turn around comfortably, and should be able to lie down without being cramped.  Many pet stores will let you bring your dog to try out crate sizes, but if that’s not possible, measure your dog from nose to the base of his tail, and from the top of his head to the floor.  That way you will know to add several inches in each direction for your dog’s comfort.  Provide plenty of blankets and beds for your dog to snuggle in, but be careful if you have a breed that is prone to ingest things they shouldn’t.

2. Use food!

When I start my puppies out in their crates, that is where they are fed.  I carry their food bowl to the crate, and they have to go in before they get their breakfast and dinner.  If your dog is reluctant to step inside, consider putting their food at the back of their crate so they have to go in to reach it, or toss a treat in for them to follow, and then give them their dish.

When it is not feeding time, send your dog to his crate periodically by showing him a treat, and tossing it to the back with your command.  I use, “Go kennel,” but others will use things like “Go to your room,” “Go to bed,” or “Crate time.”  Choose what works best for you.

3. Use it wisely!

Consider your dog’s crate to be similar to a child’s room.  It is a place they can go when they need to be alone, and a safe space to be undisturbed.  It can also act as an appropriate Time Out space if your dog is being unmanageable or out of control in the house.  However, dogs were not made to spend the majority of their time in their crates.  Try to limit their crate time to times when they would usually be sleeping anyways.

This is how I do it at my house:

My dogs are crated when I am not at home.  This prevents any house-training accidents, counter surfing, and other behaviors that need to be corrected.

When I am at home, my dogs have plenty of outside play time.  When it is time to come inside, they are welcome to spend time loose in the house with me.  If they are acting wild (my young dog especially likes to try to wrestle in the living room), I will either send them back outside, or I will put them in the crate until they are calm again.

Before bed, I feed my dogs in their crates.  My young dogs who need supervision stay in their crates until morning.  My older dogs I let loose to spend the night loafing on dog beds around the house.

The Working Walk

Today, I want to touch on one of the quickest, most useful training tools I use with dogs.  I’ve decided to call it the Working Walk, because I’ve done it since I was about 10 and never had a name for it.

The short version is this: there are two kinds of walking with your dog.  The first kind is a regular walk.  Your dog stays on a loose leash as you both leisurely stroll down the road, both of you exploring the world together in peaceful harmony.  This is a great walk, but it can take awhile to get there because your success hinges on your dog keeping part of his attention on you as he is sniffing along, being aware of where you are walking so that he can keep his leash loose.  This is what we all hope for when we go for walks, and it is the Working Walk that will get you there.

The second type of walking is, you guessed it, the Working Walk.  This type of walking is done with the goal of having your dog keep his attention on you 100% of the time.  So your pace is quicker (it doesn’t have to be faster, but take smaller steps to help boost your energy), your energy is higher, you’re doing a lot more talking, and you’re throwing in a bunch of exercises to keep your dog guessing.  You’re using a lot of reinforcement, a lot of praise and talking, and you and your dog are working together with focus on each other.  If you are easily embarrassed by people watching you goof off with your dog, you may want to find a more private place to do this than your neighborhood park.  Just a thought.

Tristan and Susan working on their RN.
Tristan and Susan working on their RN.

When you are doing the Working Walk, your goal is for your dog to respond quickly, immediately, and joyfully to all of your mini-exercises that you throw at him.  This should be a fun game that the two of you play together, and it really is fun.  It’s like an unchoreographed dance routine that the two of you improvise with. Here are some exercises that you can use with your dog:

  1. Quick Abouts

Quick abouts are just what they sound like.  A quick about turn (or a 180 degree turn).  When you see that your dog is not paying appropriate attention, say his name, and quickly turn and go the other way!  Give him praise and reinforcement when he comes back to heel position on your left side.  You can do this one as many times as you want to, and your dog will probably never get bored.  I’ve had dogs who love it so much, they hit the end of the leash and immediately do a Quick About all on their own.  Keys to remember with this:

  • Don’t wait for your dog! If you do a quick about, and then stand there and wait for him to come with you, you’re missing the point of the exercise.
  • Be exciting when you turn.  I’ll often say “Whoops!” and turn.  When they hear that high pitched word, they flip around to come with me after only one or two repetitions.

2. Back Aways (Or Call Fronts, or Comefore.  They’re all the same thing.)

Back Aways are again, just what they sound like.  While you are walking with your dog, say “Dog, Come!” and take a few steps backwards.  Don’t turn around, just back up.  Have the dog come and sit in front of you.  Think Quick! while you do this.  The whole exercise should take just a few seconds.  If you’re having trouble getting your dog to sit right in front of you, use a treat to lure them right up close to your legs (or ankles, or belly.  Any size dog can do this!), bring the treat upwards, and their little bottoms should hit the ground as their noses go up to follow the treat.  Keys to remember with this:

  • Be quick! The faster and more exciting you make this exercise, the better it’s going to go for you.
  • This is another great one to use when your dog’s attention is wandering.  Call his name, tell him to come, have him sit in front, and reward!

Dallas Fort Worth obedience training

3.  Circles Left and Right

While you’re walking, change it up by walking in a small circle to the left or two the right.  These circles serve a few functions.  The first is to, yet again, get your dog’s attention.  The second is to teach your dog to move with you, or out of your way.  If your dog is walking on your left side, when you do a Circle Left, he will need to get back out of your way, otherwise you will step on him.  When I do this, I say, “Get Back.”  When you do a Circle Right, your dog will need to hurry to catch up with you.  I say, “Get it, get it, get it!” (I’m not sure why, but it’s very exciting, so it serves its purpose).  The third function is to teach your dog change of pace.  To go to the left, on the inside, the dog must slow down.  To go to the right, on the outside, the dog must speed up.  Keys to remember:

  • Talk to your dog! Help him understand with your voice and words what he needs to be doing.  Does he need to slow down and back up?  Or does he need to speed up and hurry around?
  • Use treats.  I will lure a dog around me when he’s on the outside, to help him hurry.  I also use food to push him back to the inside so he doesn’t get stepped on.

There are dozens more exercises that you can throw into your Working Walk.  It’s like the Turkey Soup of dog training: Just throw in whatever you have in the fridge.  If your dog knows sit, down, stay, throw those in as well!  Anything that your dog knows is fair game when you’re doing a Working Walk.

Do remember, though, that this is hard work, and it requires a lot of brain power.  A Working Walk should only last 5-10 minutes before taking a rest or doing a different activity.

Happy training, friends!

All About Puppies

Well, I suppose that is a misleading title.  All About Puppies could be an entire book.  An entire series of books.  There’s a lot to be said about puppies.  However, since I’m having the absolute joy of being able to help people with their new baby dogs, I thought I would put in a few words about puppies.

  1. Puppies are babies!

Sure, an 8 week old puppy is very different from an 8 week old human, but they are still babies, learning about the world, exploring, playing.  A puppy, even up to ages 6-8 months, cannot perform all of the tasks that an older dog can!  Not yet, anyway.  They are busy chasing leaves and playing tag.  It’s important to remember, while you are training your puppy, that they do not have a very long attention span at all (the attention span of a fruit fly on PCP, as a good friend likes to describe them).  Keep your training sessions short, sweet, and fun!  As soon as you see puppy’s attention begin to wander, set aside your training games and let him relax awhile.

2.  Puppies have energy!

It seems obvious, but nearly every puppy I’ve met wants to run, jump, romp and play!  If there is more than one dog in the house, more than likely your puppy will benefit greatly from having some playtime with the older dogs.  Not only will he exercise, he will also learn some valuable social skills (more on this in a minute).  If you don’t have another dog to help you exercise your baby with, be sure to have many play sessions throughout the day with fun, stimulating toys!  A cube that the puppy can roll around which spits out pieces of kibble is a fun way to tire them out.  A kong filled with hot dogs and then frozen for awhile is a great little busy toy.  Even a soda bottle with their kibble inside can be a fun puzzle for them.  You’re looking for games that will tire them out physically and mentally at once!  You need both pieces in order to have a content puppy.

3. Puppies need manners!

When I’m training puppies, my older dogs are my greatest allies in this.  Many of the play behaviors that we find so obnoxious (biting our hands, body slamming, pawing at us, jumping around like a fool, etc.) my older dogs will put a complete stop to in a matter of seconds.  A well timed lip curl and a stiff body posture almost always sends a puppy into a frenzy of “I’m so sorry!”  However, if you wait too long to let an older dog discipline your puppy, you’re going to see some back talk. The older a dog gets, the more time it has to practice these ad behaviors.  The more practice he has, the more entrenched he is in his ways.  Better to find a friendly older dog to help your puppy learn appropriate dog manners even before you start working on human manners.

4. It’s okay to tell your puppy “No!”

It’s not just okay.  It’s often necessary.  I am sure to teach my dogs that “No” is more than just a word.  It carries with it a whole bag full of disapproval and and undernote of “step out of line again, and we’ll be fighting.”  My No is serious, and my dogs understand that from puppies.  Positive training methods do not dictate that you are always upbeat and happy, even when your dog is tearing your home apart.

There you go, a few words about puppies.  I’m sure I’ll have many more words in the coming weeks as I continue to work with them!

Living with Your Dog

Today, the thought that I can’t let go of is the importance of living with your dog.  Not just having your dog, and not just training your dog, but actually living with him.  Dogs love to be with us, do things with us, and do things for us.  Sure, they love to do dog things too that we don’t enjoy, such as roll in dead turtles and wade in swamp water, but they also love spending time with us.

The reason that training is so important to people’s everyday lives is because dogs need to know how to be polite with people.  They are born and raised having dog manners, and so they need to be taught people manners.  However, here’s another thing that I, as a dog trainer, get stuck on sometimes.  Don’t just train your dog.  Live with him!  I know a lot of people who train dogs professionally or as a hobby, whose dogs stay in a crate unless they are working or outside exercising.  Whose dogs do not actually have manners, aside from the drilled competition behaviors.

I know that I get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of my crazy life, taking care of Maggie, keeping the house fairly presentable, caring for my horses, training dogs for other families, driving to Ft. Worth to see my step-children, and on and on and on.  I forget.  I forget to live with my dogs.

I forget that Tammy just wants to take her tired old bones and lie down next to my bed, always right where I will need to put my feet when I get up in the morning.  I forget that Lud wants to sleep on the bed (any bed).  I forget that Herbie just wants to sit and watch the baby in her crib until she is asleep.  I forget that Ti wants to play fetch for as long as I am still breathing.

When Evie, a dog who stayed for 7 days to train, saw her owner yesterday, she was completely beside herself.  She was making little yodeling noises, and rubbing up against her.  She whined terribly when we put her back in the crate so we could schedule the next training session.  Evie just wants to be with her people.

Sometimes I think it’s important to let go of the rigid structure and routine that we put in place for our dogs, and just enjoy them the same way they enjoy us.  Once the basics are out of the way, relax a little and just spend time with your dog as a member of your family.  You won’t regret a single minute of the time you spend together.

Advocacy. That is all.

If you never listen to another thing I have to say, listen to this.  It applies to you directly.  Yes, every single person who reads this, this applies to.  Don’t let things happen to your dog that you KNOW are  bad for them.  Just don’t do it.  Just stand up and say “No.”

Here’s a story for you.  The other day, I took Maggie, the baby, out to the barn to feed the horses.  She was in a super mega fussy mood, and she was crying her little heart out.  There were a few people there who were also taking care of their horses, and one man, Dan, had brought his dog Rascal with him.  Rascal is a little Rat Terrier, about 10 years old.  Great little dog.

So we’re standing around, talking, remarking upon the sadness of Maggie’s life, and Rascal is sitting by my feet, giving me that semi-accusatory stare that I often get from dogs while the baby is crying.  As if they are saying, “If you were any sort of mother, you would be able to HELP that child.”  Dan sees his dog looking at me and the baby, and he scoops Rascal up.

“What’s that baby doing?” he coos to his dog, and proceeds to try to hold Rascal up so that he can sniff and lick my screaming infant’s face.

Advocacy in action.  Listen and learn.

“Nope,” I say, and immediately, before the dog is within a foot of Maggie, turn my back to them.

Rascal’s wide eyes and leaning away from the baby told me that I made the right choice.  Dan huffed quite a bit about how mean Sarah wouldn’t let Rascal see the baby, but I could see the dog visibly relax when I moved her away.  By doing that and putting up with a little huffing, I saved us all from a potentially dangerous and tragic situation.  Things could have been fine.  Or, Rascal could have bitten my child in the face, causing a hospital trip for us and potentially death for him through no fault of his own.

Advocacy is important.  I advocated for Maggie here, as well as a dog who was not mine to advocate for, really.  Your dog is your responsibility, and you know him better than anyone else, even your friendly neighborhood dog trainer.  If someone is trying to do something to or with your dog that you know, or even just feel queasily, that will not go well, tell the person, “No.”

You can make up a story.  Tell the small child trying to pet your dog that he is sick and needs some rest.  Tell the people trying to let their dog sniff yours that he has mange.  Tell the trainer attempting to examine your dog, ignoring all of your dog’s body language, that you’re using an alternative method and you’d prefer not to work on this exercise yet.  It’s okay to tell people NO.

Please tell people NO.

If you never do anything else for your dog, please tell people NO.  Your dog can’t tell them No.  The only thing your dog can do is run away, growl, or bite.  Let’s make it easier on everyone involved.


Dogs and New Babies

Babies are such an amazing blessing to our families.  Cute, sweet, (a lot of work!).  However, a new baby is one of the top reasons for re-homing a dog or sending it to a shelter.  Having brought home my own sweet daughter just seven weeks ago, I can completely empathize with the struggles of integrating a new vulnerable human into my home with my dogs, cats, horses, and parrot!  Here are some of the key steps that I used to help us have a safe and healthy transition to a new family member!

A Solid Foundation.14068156_658707067629188_1644141184632578381_n

Long before Maggie came home, I have been working on a firm and solid obedience foundation for my dogs.  My expectation for them is that no matter what the situation, they will behave in a civilized manner.  That means no jumping up, no climbing on my furniture unless invited, no wild racing from room to room, etc.  I also expect that when I give a command or directive, it will be followed immediately and without question.  Sit means sit, right then, no haggling.

When I brought Maggie home, this really ended up being the most important part of my preparation.  My dogs will not leap onto the couch where the baby is snuggling with my husband.  They will not grab her socks off of her feet and race away with them.  When I tell them to get easy when the baby cries, they lie down or vacate the room, rather than become overly excited.  A solid obedience foundation can stop a great many troubles in the tracks before they even begin, and having a new baby in the home with your pup is no exception.

Don’t Neglect the Basics.Dog Training Dallas Fort Worth

Long nights, exhausting days, nothing ever seeming to get done.  Believe me, I know!  But if you’ve read my article “Three Keys to a Well Trained Dog,” you’re already ahead of the game.

Make sure your dog is still getting enough exercise.  I strap my baby on my front in an awesome carrier and take the dogs for a walk.  I can put her in a stroller and do the same.  While baby naps, I toss the ball for Ti for a few minutes to help her burn off some energy.  I also have the benefit of having my horses at a ranch that allows me to bring my dog, so I bring Ti along on some days and let her just run out there while we do our horse chores.

Self control is everything here!  If you need to go back to Nothing in Life is Free, feel free to do it!  Your dog needs to know that you are not messing around, and their manners need to be on POINT with this baby in the house. 

Communication will be your friend here too.  Letting your dog know, all the time, what is going on and what they need to do about it will help you a lot.  I say things like, “Maggie is crying, you need to get Easy,” or “Maggie is on the couch, Go Lie Down.”  I do this to draw attention to the fact that where Maggie is concerned, they are NEVER going to be jumping, running, racing, stealing, or any other wild games they might think up.  If Maggie is mentioned, they are going to be doing Easy, Go Lie Down, Kennel, or Outside.  Those are their choices when Maggie is mentioned.

Introductions are Not a Step Here.

There’s all sorts of advice about introducing your baby to your dog.  Some I’ve heard are giving the dog a baby blanket so they know her smell, sitting on the floor and letting the dog sniff her, etc.  I ignored all of that advice in favor of this: I didn’t introduce the baby to my dogs.  I didn’t try to sell them on the idea of a baby.  I didn’t try to help them make friends.  I treated them the same way they would treat me if they had a litter of puppies on the ground.  Essentially, leave it alone unless I invite you to have a look.

When my baby came home, my dogs were kept in their crates or outside to play while I figured out new motherhood.  I didn’t want their help (and Aussies have very definite opinions about how babies should be raised, so they REALLY wanted to help), and I didn’t want them to think that they could come up and investigate my baby.  As I began to get the hang of the simple things, like how to feed the baby without crying, getting the baby to sleep, when her nap times seemed to be, and so on, my dogs began to be allowed in the same room with her, but only under this condition: they could not show a deep interest in her.  

If they wanted to run over, sniff, and fuss about her, they were not ready to see her.  If they just wanted a soft spot to lie down, and they fell asleep on the carpet beside her, they were ready to be with her.  Ti, my youngest Aussie, is still not allowed to hang out with us while the baby is in the room, and it’s been 7 weeks.  My three older dogs, all over the age of 11, began to ignore her within the first three weeks or so, and so have been allowed to spend time with us while the baby is in the room.

The rule of thumb here for introductions is this:  Don’t do it! Not until your dog is completely relaxed to the point of ignoring the infant, should they be allowed the opportunity to visit.  This will keep everyone safe from any incidents between dog and baby that are caused by over-excitement.

Sleeping Baby
I just had to. She is just the cutest!

There you have it!  My three steps to safely bringing your new baby home to your dogs.  If you’ve got a new little one, enjoy your sleepless nights and your tiny smiles.  I know I am, and my pups are beginning to as well!