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Life is Changing – Did Your Dog Get the Memo?
“Whoa, your dog’s in for a big surprise when that baby arrives…”
“Your dog’s going to have to get with the program…”
Really? Are you just going to hope your dog figures it out on his own? And if he doesn’t, what then? The way people talk, it makes you think there’s nothing you can do but hope for the best.
At the very least, you owe it to your dog to honestly evaluate your expectations and see where you can fill in the gaps. I’ve found that it helps to look at it in a familiar, human way — like a job description.
Your dog’s “job” is to be your companion. I ask in my classes, “Does anyone think it’s a HARD job to be your dog?” My husband likes to say if only he could be the dog in our family, he’d have it made! (Interestingly, the only person who ever said it wasn’t easy to be her dog made that comment because she also has a seven year old daughter who pesters the dog — kind of making my point for me.)
Imagine your boss wants to promote you to a new job. You take a good look at what’s required and say, “Whoa, that looks pretty hard. The hours are around the clock and the working conditions! Just look at what I’ll have to deal with — there’s yelling, crying, screaming, things being thrown…I’m not sure I can do this job.”
Wouldn’t you feel better if your boss took the approach of being a true leader? “You are the one I want in this job. I will help you be successful. I will provide the training you need. I will watch over you and keep you safe. You can come to me when you need help. I will make accommodations as needed to make this work. You can count on me. We will be in this together.”
Too often, what dogs get is sink or swim.
What’s on YOUR Dog’s Job Description?
It might help to actually write out a job description for what you expect from your dog. What does your dog have to do to be successful as your companion now? What will you expect differently after baby? How can you help your dog be successful in his or her changing role?
Here’s an example, written from the (hopefully exaggerated) perspective of how things sometimes turn out, often to the surprise of people’s good intentions. That’s why you should write it out ahead of time — so you have reasonable expectations and save yourself from being angry over the same old things that were perfectly fine for your dog to do all along:
|My Job as YOUR Companion…||
|Essential Job Duties/Responsibilities:||Be cute! Run to the door and jump and lick when I get home so I can enjoy your nice welcome and feel loved. Keep me company in all that I do.||Stay out of the way. Be able to amuse yourself in a non-annoying way.|
|Other Job Duties||Bark and growl at the door so I feel safe. Always be up for walks and outings. Sit in my lap when I watch TV. Snuggle in bed with me.||Allow the baby to do X number of uncomfortable things to you. Indulge their friends, too. Be calm with deliveries and visitors — even the ones that get you all riled up. Understand that I don’t want you with me all the time.|
|Minimum Qualifications/Skills:||Wagging tail. Cute face.||Stay out of the way. Do not object to anything my baby might do.|
|Preferred Qualifications/Skills:||I guess I’d like a little more focus but I don’t mind repeating myself or yelling until you get it right.||Walk nicely with the stroller (even if you’ve spent your whole life pulling on the leash even without the stroller). Be with me when I want you to. Protect the baby from danger (but not Uncle Joe when he throws the baby in the air…).|
|Education Requirements:||Flexible. I’m willing to live with a fairly unskilled dog. Maybe a couple of tricks and a 50/50 response to the things I ask is enough to get you by.||I need a dog that responds right away, every time. How do you not know how to do this? There is no time for continuing education. Either you coming into this job knowing it or it’s not going to work.|
|Experience Requirements:||All you have to know is me! You don’t need experience with anything out of the usual routine. I’ll work around you.||You should understand that babies mean no harm when they pull on your fur and be relaxed when toddlers run and scream. This should all be old hat for you.|
|Working Conditions:||Pretty casual. You get the run of the house, space on the bed, etc. It’s pretty quiet around here.||We are up at all hours. No one has time for you so you have to work on your own. There’s a lot of crying and frustration (and not just from the baby!). Food and toys are all around but you may not touch them. There is no space where you can rest undisturbed. I will be annoyed and yell at you for behaviors I used to indulge. You may need to move outside.|
|Salary and Benefits:||Lavish attention and praise for any little thing you do! Frequent walks and trips to the park for enrichment. A share in the food I eat plus lots of food of your own! And, did I mention the toys? Pretty much anything interesting on the ground you can assume is yours to chew on. You also have full access to my lap for snuggling.||You will get fed. It may not be at the same times, but we’ll feed you still. You might get a walk now and then, but there’s no time for the park. I’m busy with the baby so don’t expect me to spend all day talking to you and petting you. And the lap time? Don’t even ask!|
It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way!
Lots of people successfully integrate their babies into a happy life with the dogs they love. The secret is to identify the gaps between what your dog can do now and what you’d like him or her to do to remain a valued companion as you move into becoming a parent. Then, make a plan:
Don’t leave it to your dog to somehow figure out what you need. Even “good dogs” need your support and guidance. Be objective in evaluating your dog’s current skills, have your future expectations clear in your own mind and look to modern, reinforcement-based training to build a path from what your dog can do NOW to what you want him to be able to do LATER in order for you to still love him and enjoy his companionship.
Reinforcement training finds each dog’s current point of success and builds from there. This means that ALL DOGS can learn new behaviors. It’s never too late to expand your dog’s repertoire!