Monday, April 27, 2009

Dogs and Babies

Got another blog question I thought was pretty interesting:

It seems like Srubs has transitioned really well to two babies in the house. We have two Goldens and I was wondering (if Lord willing we are able to bring a child into our household) if you had any tips for families with pets. Just curious!

So, here is my two cents ... take it for what it is worth. Scrubs is my very first dog so I don't profess to be a dog professional in any sense of the word. In addition, Scrubs is far from perfection. He does amazing with the kids, but even just this morning we caught him chewing one of Isaac's toys to shreds ...

We brought Scrubs home in July of 2007. At the time, he was just two months old. When he became a part of our family, we thought that we were years away from bringing kids into the home. We'd have plenty of time to raise a dog before little ones joined our lives. Let's get a high mainenance and energetic Dalmatian why don't we?!

In October of 2007, when Scrubs was about five months old, we found out about Isaac. Scratch that last paragraph. Suddenly we were going to have a baby and a young dog at the same time.

The thought of that terrified me. Scrubs put everything he could in his mouth. When he was a pup he swallowed socks whole -- proved when he later would upchuck them from his stomach whole. He was rambunctious and uncoordinated and only listened when the stars were perfectly aligned. How could I merge a tiny baby with a pup like Scrubs?

I honestly have no idea how it all came together the way it did. Everyone told me that dogs just "get it." They know who is in their pack and accept them and protect them. Scrubs is great with all kids, but he is especially good with Isaac and we are already seeing signs that he is going to be the same thing with Elijah. He is, honestly, better with children than he is with adults.

I don't know if any of the following had anything to do with it but here are some of the things we did in order to prepare our home for baby and dog:
  • Took Scrubs to training classes. We did puppy kindergarten, basic obedience, and an agility class before Isaac's arrival in May of 2008.

  • Exposed Scrubs to as many children as possible. I encouraged all my friends to bring their kids over and for those that felt comfortable with it, had Scrubs out and (attempting to be) gentle with the kids.
  • Went on tons of walks and allowed anyone who wanted to a pet session. We would walk by the bus stops so all the kids could maul him and smother him with love. Even today, I get stopped everytime I go on a walk by kids wanting to pet Scrubs. They've been stopping me on my runs too, and I just don't have the heart to say no even though stopping a run isn't easy to do.
  • Tugged on Scrubs' ears and tail often. Poked him in uncomfortable places. Got him used to the onslaught that would ultimately result with a toddler in the house.
  • Fed Scrubs' out of our hands. We actually did not use a dog bowl with him until he was about eight months old. We fed him out of our hands and out of kongs. Even today, I try to give him his dinner straight from me every week or so -- feeding him each piece of kibble one a time while he takes it from me gently. When kids come over, I give them a tupperware container filled with kibble that they can feed him one piece at a time. I think a soft mouth is a HUGE part of having kids in the house with a dog. You need to know that the dog will be gentle at all times. Isaac will actually put his whole arm into Scrubs' mouth, and while I don't like it, I know that there is no chance he would hurt Isaac in the process. It's a great comfort.
  • Tried to teach him "no lick" so he did not smother kids in slobber. This is still a daily battle.
  • Taught him "off". This may be easier for calmer dogs, but for Scrubs, if someone was on the floor, he instantly thought they were there to wrestle with him. We taught him that he can approach us when we are sitting on the floor if he lies down and crawls to us. But he cannot approach us by standing or jumping on us. Now, when he wants to approach Isaac, he often gets in a lying down position.
  • "Leave it" became a very important command. We taught Scrubs that he could not pick up anything off the floor unless we gave him permission. For instance, if we were to drop a steak on the floor in the kitchen, he doesn't move toward it until we tell him it is okay. This assures me (for the most part) that dropped child snacks will not be snagged by the dog unless permission is grants.
  • Scrubs was a huge thief. In fact I have been told that this is a traditional Dalmatian trait. Bitter yuck became our best friend. We sprayed it in his mouth every single time that he put something in his mouth that wasn't his. Clothes, stuffed animals, toys . . . if they weren't his, he got sprayed. It was the best thing we ever did. He very rarely messed with the boys' toys. (Although keeping Isaac away from Scrubs' toys is a whole 'nother story.)
  • We also curbed any possesion issues. When he was eating, we took his food from him or took his bones and toys from him while he was playing. He must wait for permission to eat and Isaac and I hang out by him when he eats sometimes and make him stop eating when we say. We taught him that he doesn't own anything. We own it and choose when he can play with it or eat it. To this day, Scrubs waits for the okay from us before he goes to eat his breakfast or dinner. I don't worry at all about him getting possessive over his food if one of the boys was to wander up on him. We noticed that he could get a little protective over bones with other people in the house. (He doesn't do this with us or the boys.) We have really limited rawhides because of this.

Well folks, I think that is all the secrets I have to success. I hope this helps a bit! Thanks again for the blog questions. They are very interesting. If anyone else has anyone kid/pet tips, bring 'em on!


Anonymous said...

Our dog has been very protective of our children since day one. If anyone comes near them she will bark fiercly to them, even relatives. She loves kids, but has nothing to do with adults.

Rene said...

Awesome Wendi- thank you so much for all your insight! I appreciate you taking the time to address this and will definitely start implementing some of these tips. I've noticed one of our dogs has gotten slightly possessive about food and I'm going to try the hand feeding idea. Thank you for all the advice.

Just Believing said...

Hi! I'm new to your blog and new to adoption! I am so hapy to find blogs of hope like yours!

Anonymous said...

Hi Wendi,
If you are stationed overseas will you be able to bring Scrubs with you? Just wondering.


Wendi Kitsteiner said...

Yep! We sure will bring him with us. It's a lot od extra steps but we plan to do them all!!!

constance said...

Your post on children and dogs was terrific! there are a number of dog psychology books out there (some very good!) and you seem to have picked up all the best points. We had dogs before children but have always put the children first and the dogs all knew it.Currently we have four dogs (not exactly planned) and when little ones are here (grands/friends) there is a no tolerance rule for dog misbehavior. Thank you for some terrific training tips for mixing dogs and children: I've had dogs all my life, but none of us know so much that we can't learn more.