Posted by: Madeline Gabriel | May 17, 2011

Dogs Like Kids They Feel Safe With (Ask the Dog, Part 2)

Heads Up!…I’ve moved this blog to my new website:  DogsandBabiesLearning.com.  You can find this post and comments through mid-November here.  If you are subscribing, commenting, linking or sharing, please do so from the new website.

In honor of this year’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week, I’ve got a post for each day!  Dog bites are almost entirely preventable – especially bites to children.  What will YOU do this week to prevent a dog bite?

Continuing the theme of kids and dogs meeting in public, I have a short film to share.  I started it last summer at the same time I worked with Lili Chin on the informational cards described in the previous post.  I guess there was only so much complaining I could do before I had to become part of the solution.  It was the impetus of the Canis Film Festival that got me going under a deadline and gave some structure to the film: it had to be under seven minutes and showcase an innovative, useful application of reinforcement training with a marker signal – i.e., clicker training. (a)

My plan was to show how both the dogs AND the kids can learn behaviors that will make each other feel more comfortable and, thus, safer.  After all, we’re not going to get too far if it’s just the dog people saying,”Kids shouldn’t do that!”and the parents saying, “Dogs shouldn’t do that!”  It’s a two way street and we can all do better.

The film is essentially the story of two young puppies and some real life kids — some who are scared of dogs (b), some who are middle-of-the road and one in particular who loves dogs so much she can’t stay away from them.  You’ll see how we worked with the puppies and the kids to teach them similar skills before putting them together.

The part that is most applicable here for Dog Bite Prevention Week is a fleshing out of “Asking the Dog.”  Children should be taught to ask 3 times:

  1. Ask Your Parents (if you can ask the owner if you can ask the dog)
  2. Ask the Owner (if you can ask the dog if he or she would like to be petted)
  3. Ask the Dog (with inviting body language)

(Thank you to Kay Thompson for the catchy Ask 3 Times verbiage – it reminds me of the song — “knock three times on the ceiling…”  I love it because it’s simple and easy for parents to teach as a catchphrase and for kids to remember.  Plus, the very first step involves the parents so you don’t get kids running off on their own to visit dogs.)

Take a look:

Did you catch the wording, “Can I ask your dog if he’d like to be petted?”  Yes, it was a little awkward at first because kids are taught only to say, “Can I pet your dog?” but notice how it starts to sound normal after hearing a few kids repeat it.  What’s interesting to me is that it was no problem for the kids, but in real life, they ended up encountering dog owners who didn’t know how to respond – because it never occurred to them to ask their dogs!  Let’s keep working with our children so they can lead us all to a better way by their example.

Next… National “No, You Can’t Pet My Dog” Day

Notes:

(a) The film shows the technology of TAGteaching for the kids in order to give clear, achievable points of success.

(b) There’s a lot more that can be done to help kids who are afraid of dogs.  I’ll write more on it in the future, but a GREAT resource is Doggone Safe.  You’ll find tons of information and ways kids can practice what to do when they’re worried and how to recognize body language so they can better predict a dog’s actions.

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Posted by: Madeline Gabriel | May 16, 2011

Ask the Dog! (Part 1)

Heads Up!…I’ve moved this blog to my new website:  DogsandBabiesLearning.com.  You can find this post and comments through mid-November here.  If you are subscribing, commenting, linking or sharing, please do so from the new website.

In honor of this year’s National Dog Bite Prevention Week, I’ve got a post for each day!  Dog bites are almost entirely preventable – especially bites to children.  What will YOU do this week to prevent a dog bite?

Here’s some artwork I commissioned last summer from Lili Chin (who also has a terrific Dog Bite Prevention Week overview here):

How NOT to Meet Dogs

How many concerns do YOU spot in this picture?

Before the girl even gets to the dog, does this look like a good situation to you?  Here’s a little checklist you can apply to real life encounters, too:

Always look first at the dog.  Is he welcoming the child’s approach?  In this case, no.  He’s leaning away from her, with a paw raised, mouth closed, ears back and head turned away.  He is saying, “I’m worried and uncomfortable and I don’t know what to do.”

Next, look at the person guiding the dog.  In real life, you often see a variation of this illustration.  The owner is stern with the dog, holding the leash tight and commanding the dog, “Sit!”  I’ve even seen people hold the dog in place and invite children to approach.

What about the child?  She’s excited and thinking only about touching that dog, but, bless her heart, she’s doing what she’s been told, isn’t she?

Children all over are taught to present their closed hand for a dog to smell.  Unless that hand has been dipped in liver juice, believe me, it’s probably not welcome in most dog’s faces.  In fact, I can’t think of any species on the planet that welcomes a fist up close to their face while the person looms over them and stares.  So, why would we ever teach our children to assume this weird, somewhat threatening posture when meeting dogs?

Yes, I get it that a closed hand is better than grabby hands and no one wants a nip on a dangling finger, but I know we can do better than this for our children and dogs!

Don’t Close the Gap

The most important lesson for children with every single dog (especially the ones they “know” and the ones they live with at home) is:

DON’T CLOSE THE GAP

I’m sure there’s a catchier way to say that.  (Ideas?)  But, the key point is that children can be taught to stop and wait a short distance away from dogs and to notice and respect the dog’s personal space.  How often do you hear of a dog that got up, walked over to a child who was just standing there and then jumped up and bit her on the face?  I’d say pretty much never.  Before there’s even a hint of teaching children how to touch dogs, let’s teach them how to stop at an appropriate distance and never be the ones to close the gap on a dog.

Instead…Ask the Dog!

What changed in this scenario to make the dog more comfortable?

With a dog that’s comfortable and willing and kids that can follow directions, I’m not completely against letting children pet dogs.  It’s up to the DOG to say, “Yes,” though.  As you’ll see in coming posts, it’s not just a matter of asking the owner.

Here, the little girl stops before entering the dog’s space (3-5 feet is usually good).  Instead of rushing in, she invites the dog to come to her with welcoming body language — turn to the side, pat your leg or clap your hands gently, speak sweetly to the dog.  In this case, the dog accepts and is happy to come over, especially because his person is engaged and relaxed.  Because there is no pressure on the dog, you can better trust the dog’s answer.

What Can You Do To Make Things Better?

Parents can teach “Don’t Close the Gap” as the #1 child behavior around dogs.  What better week to start than Dog Bite Prevention Week?  Kids absorb all kinds of catchy safety messages and it becomes second nature.  They can repeat, “Stop, Drop and Roll” and even demonstrate it so you know they’re ready if they ever happen to catch on fire.  Kids are taught not to touch matches to the point where I think my younger son believed they would spontaneously combust in his presence.  The other day, he saw a box of matches on the counter from my junk drawer cleaning and said, “Quick, get these away from me!!!”

Dog owners can and should clearly direct the children they choose to allow to interact with their dogs.  Honestly, if the kids can’t pleasantly follow your directions from a few feet away, how can you trust them up close with your dog?  Tell the children exactly how to “Ask the dog” and be sure to support your dog’s choice.  The more people that do this, the more normal it seems to kids and parents.

To make this easier, I printed cards with the artwork and the key steps to meeting a dog in a way that makes the dog feel safe and more likely to like you back.  It’s nice to have something to hand parents.  I’m not doing a whole lot commercially with them at this point, but I do have a stack of boxes here…  The artwork makes a nice t-shirt front, so I may order some more of those, too, if there is interest down the road.

Front of Card

Back of Card

Just for Laughs

Good thing there are talented professionals like Lili Chin or you'd have to look at MY pitiful attempts at drawing!

Next post…my film about real life dogs and kids meeting in ways that make them both feel safe.

Posted by: Madeline Gabriel | May 12, 2011

What Should Baby See You Do With Your Dog?

Heads Up!…I’ve moved this blog to my new website:  DogsandBabiesLearning.com.  You can find this post and comments through mid-November here.  If you are subscribing, commenting, linking or sharing, please do so from the new website.

I’m 6 months pregnant and own two basset hounds, and have been reading your magnetization posts with much interest!

I do have one question – how important do you think it is to only let babies/small kids see their parents interacting with the dogs in “safe” ways? I’ll admit to sometimes cuddling/playing with my dogs in ways that I wouldn’t want my kids repeating with strange dogs (or even my dogs, if they’re in a bad mood) – things that my dogs will tolerate or even enjoy, but a) not all dogs will and b) I’m an adult who understands dog body language and can back off if they don’t like it. (For example, my dogs seem to love having their heads enclosed and cuddled – freak dogs, I know. Many dogs would absolutely hate that!)

Is it enough to make sure the kids are not magnetized, but not limit what they see of our interactions with the dog? Or do I need to cut out anything I wouldn’t want my child mimicking if they’re within sight?

These are great questions — you’re really thinking things through!

The short answer is, yes, you should demonstrate to your children only safe, appropriate ways of interacting with a dog.  If you don’t want to see it pop up in your child’s repertoire, don’t suggest it by your own behavior.  “Do as I say, not as I do” is rarely an effective strategy.

The longer (and more practical for real life) answer is, I think, much more interesting and need not preclude enjoying your dog or finding age-appropriate participation for your child.

Just like everything else in parenting, you decide where to draw your lines.  There are lots of things your children will see you do that they are not yet allowed to do:

  • Drive a car
  • Use the stove
  • Put makeup on
  • Paint the walls
  • Use power tools

Then, there are those behaviors adults may choose to engage in that we can mostly agree are reasonable to avoid in the presence of young children:

  • Smoking
  • Getting drunk
  • Using profanity
  • Even eating snacks that the kids can’t have
  • (I don’t need to keep this list going, do I?  Use your imagination!)

We do not feel bad about “depriving” our children of adult experiences in one way or another.  There are many things that adults do that children do not get to do.  This should not be a new concept for children or parents.

What’s different with a dog is that we think we want that “relationship” between the dog and young child and forget that we don’t get to make that happen.  With young children under five years old, particularly as new parents, we don’t even know what we’ve got to work with.  They are not themselves yet, if that makes sense.

So, In Which Category Do YOUR Dog Interactions Fall?

Be thoughtful about what you do with your dog in the presence of young children. You have to look at what you want to do, knowing children’s tendency to mimic, and decide if your desired activity with your dog is more like smoking marijuana (i.e., do it in the garage, out of sight of your baby) or cooking dinner (restrict/supervise access until child can be safe, find safe ways to include child):

How might my child be hurt if he/she did this with my dog or anyone else’s dog?

Will my dog, or anyone else’s dog, LIKE it if my child did this with them?

Does seeing me do this with my dog make it more likely that my child will be “magnetized” to my/other dogs?

Am I able to keep my child from mimicking this behavior through preventive supervision and/or use of Safety Zones and gates?  At all times?  Even if I have a second baby and there’s a big poop explosion to tend to in the other room?

Is it practical to change what I’m doing or do it apart from the child?

For me, the key is to avoid getting caught up in the fantasy that “my” child is going to be more advanced or I’m just going to be a “better” parent and be able to raise a child that does exactly what I say all the time.   With babies and toddlers, you just don’t know what crazy variations will make sense to them as they are growing into their judgment.

Regardless, no one gets to escape developmental stages, and you can’t make a child be ready before she’s ready.  Assuming appropriate parental guidance and support, she’s going to walk when she’s ready to walk, talk when she’s ready to talk and have self-control and empathy when she’s developmentally able to recognize and choose another’s welfare over her own.

Effective parenting requires more than just saying, "No" to a young child!

In the meantime, parents choose what they will make available to their children to interact with and what behaviors are more or less likely to crop up in their children based on how appealing those behaviors appear.  Since we want our dogs and children to live in close proximity, but a bite can happen in a split second, we as parents have a responsibility to pay attention to what we’re teaching our children through our own actions.

(Does anyone need to be reminded why this is all so important?  If your child makes a mistake and prompts a reaction from your dog, you may or may not feel safe keeping them together.  Rehoming a dog that has snapped at a child is heartbreaking at best and, at worst, can be a death sentence for your dog.   Your dog needs you to pay attention to this!)

What Makes a Parent’s Behavior Appealing and Thus Likely to be Mimicked?

This is based on my opinion and my distilled experience so take it as things to ponder for yourself more than something set in stone from an “expert.”  It really all gets back to thoughtful parenting and observing the results of what you do vs. what you hoped to get across.

  1. Making it “Off-Limits.”  If it’s always, “No-No,” there are going to be some kids, at some stage of development, who gravitate towards that exact behavior because they are not allowed to do it or because they are angry with you.
  2. Making it Look Really Fun.  Obviously, if you are having a great time, kids want to do it, too.  It’s a double whammy if it looks fun AND you say they can’t do it.
  3. Reinforcing/Magnetizing Child’s Behavior.  It’s very sweet when your young child tries to do what you do with your dog out of concern and love.  How you respond to that expression will determine the direction it takes.  You may intend to praise the impulse to kindness and end up with more behavior your dog may not like.
  4. Expression of Love.  If you are showing lovey-doveyness with your dog with hugs and kisses, your child is going to notice and learn to display feelings of love in the same way – which, as we’ve discussed, will not always be received as intended.
  5. Expression of Anger.  This probably can do with a post of its own, but I especially caution parents to pay attention to how they display frustration with their dog. Children should never see parents “disciplining” the dog.

What About When the Dog Loves/Needs Our Interaction?

I get these situations a lot in my classes – where pet owners naturally worry that their dogs will miss being in their laps or their snuggle time or wrestle time.

Absolutely, you need to meet your dog’s needs and your dog needs to know he or she can connect with you.  That doesn’t change now that there are babies and toddlers in your life.  However, the form this takes can change, as can the timing or location, without changing the substance.

Here are some things to consider:

  • In my experience, “needy” dogs don’t need whatever it is they want you to do in that moment as much as they need to build coping skills and expand their options for other things that can help them feel happy and safe.  For example, a dog that HAS to be in your lap would really benefit from learning a “Relax on a Mat” behavior or confidence-building tricks or other skills so she is happy to be in your lap when it’s available but able to be OK when it’s not.
  • Dogs often like other activities just as well as the one that seems unsafe for a baby to mimic.  We just get into habits with our dogs and don’t get around to trying other things.  Experiment!  For example, I discovered that our dog loves a one-handed scratch down her spine and she will sometimes present herself for it.  That’s an easy, casual way to connect with my dog.
  • If you call little attention to what you do with your dog, there is a greater probability that your child will take little notice.  After all, when you are cooking, do you jump around and say in a happy voice, “I’m turning the burner on!  Yay!”  There is nothing about your demeanor that says cooking is so very exciting, but it can be very different in the way we often interact with our dogs, isn’t it?  Be more sly and your kids may not even notice!
  • Really, most activities can be managed to be done out of sight of young children at one time or another during the day so you don’t have to completely give up a prized activity.  I’d say, “Isn’t that what parking the kids in front of the TV is for?” but I don’t want to open THAT particular can of parenting worms!  (Just kidding, but experienced parents know what I’m talking about.)

Here's me setting a bad example nine years ago. (How many dogs really want to be used as a pillow?) I think it went unnoticed because it was not exciting to my son.

I Want It All!

Well, guess what?  You can almost get your wish with some forethought and attention.

When I talked about some of this in class, one Dad said (slightly scornfully at first), “What do you mean?  Are you saying I have to hide my baby whenever I want to throw the ball for my dog?”

Of course not!  What I’m saying is that Daddy’s activity with the dog should not be presented as the most fun thing that could ever happen or, conversely, as the “forbidden fruit” the child can’t have.

If you choose to do something with your dog while your child is present, you connect with your child as much as you connect with your dog.  You are with your child while you are with your dog.  Make the child’s role clear and reinforcing so your child does not yearn for your role.

Cowboy enjoys some safe ball time

I told the ball-throwing Dad:

If you are going to play with your dog around your baby, make it fun for the baby to be YOUR partner.  Set the baby up in a safe spot — in a high chair or in a playpen or behind a gate.  Engage your child with you: “When Buddy picks up the ball, we say, ‘Yay, Buddy!’ and high-five each other.  Are you ready?  Do you think he’s going to get it?  He did it!  GREAT cheering, son – High Five!” 

The immediate connection is between the parent and the child, not between the child and the dog.  To the child, the fun comes from the parent.

That Dad in class really got it and was smiling as he pictured the fun he’s going to have with both his dog AND his baby.

As always, that is my wish for you:  that you live happily ever after with your dog and your baby.

Posted by: Madeline Gabriel | March 11, 2011

Don’t Let Your Baby Be the Creepy Guy on the Train!

Heads Up!…I’ve moved this blog to my new website:  DogsandBabiesLearning.com.  You can find this post and comments through mid-November here.  If you are subscribing, commenting, linking or sharing, please do so from the new website.

Picture yourself riding the same commuter train to work every day.  There’s the usual assortment of regulars.  You grow accustomed to who sits where, who reads the paper, who grooves to their iPods, etc.  Through your experience with their behavior over time, you feel safe…or perhaps NOT safe in the case of the creepy guy.

Maybe the creepy guy stands too close or he stares at you or he runs into people or he grabs them unexpectedly.  He’s unpredictable and you don’t feel safe.  You’re worried about what he might do if he comes close to you.  This is the train you need to take so you try to just keep your distance, but you remain on guard, don’t you?

Now, picture the train coming to a sudden stop and someone falling on you.

If it’s your best friend, you might have a good laugh about it.  If it’s the polite guy that reads the paper, you’d both be courteous and go back to what you’re doing.

Ah, but what if it’s the creepy guy that falls on you?  You’re already on guard around him and apprehensive.  Don’t you think you’d react with much greater intensity? Perhaps shove him off? Shout at him?

The same interaction can provoke markedly different responses depending on how you are primed to react.

A few months pass and you see you there’s a new neighbor moving in.  As you look out your window, you see it’s the polite guy from the train –you know, the one who reads the paper?  How do you feel about perhaps becoming friends?

“Hey, welcome to the neighborhood!  We ride the same train…Yeah, I do remember that day you fell on me.  Small world!”  If you have enough in common going forward, there’s no reason you couldn’t be friends or at least remain friendly towards each other.

Ah, but what if it was the creepy guy from the train in that truck?  Even if he looks normal today don’t you think you’d be more inclined to keep your distance?  You’re not rushing to bake him a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” cake, are you?

There are a lot of implications here for how dogs might interpret the actions of your baby or young child.  Remember, they don’t see intent or understand developmental limitations.  All dogs can do is boil it down to safe or not safe.

Experiencing your child as simply a friendly acquaintance through the baby/toddler years is actually a nice foundation for building a longer term friendship.  There’s no reason NOT to be friends once the child is developmentally able to be a good friend.  It’s a lot harder to overcome the uneasiness well-earned from too much unwanted contact.

Moral of the story:  Don’t let your baby be like the creepy guy on the train to your dog. Protect the dog’s personal space and let your dog acclimate to the antics of children without having to be on guard all the time.

After all, even if someone wants to dress like Spiderman on your train but is unfailingly polite and helpful and responds appropriately to other people, don’t you think you’d come to accept him?  Even if you thought he was kind of weird at first?

Posted by: Madeline Gabriel | March 8, 2011

Forsake Magnetization, Gain Harmony (Part 4)

Heads Up!…I’ve moved this blog to my new website:  DogsandBabiesLearning.com.  You can find this post and comments through mid-November here.  If you are subscribing, commenting, linking or sharing, please do so from the new website.

Here’s what I want for you and your babies and your dogs – a life lived in harmony.  I want you to enjoy your dog’s companionship and delight at moments of kindness and accommodation shown by your dog and child as they build a foundation for a future friendship of their own.

My series on magnetization cautions new parents to think long and hard before encouraging babies and toddlers to “need” to touch dogs in order to enjoy their company.  I hope you’re coming away with some things to think about as you choose the habits you will instill in your developing baby.

I want to leave you with a little photo essay of my kids and dog feeling companionable together without being magnetized.  This isn’t to say that we are perfect or it’s always easy!  There is always a level of stress that comes with being attentive, but I think it’s a fair price to pay for my choice to enjoy children and dogs in my life.

However, giving up on magnetizing does not mean giving up your hopes of friendship between your dog and child.  Far from it!  In fact, the less magnetized your baby is, the more likely your dog will feel safe enough to want to be with your child as he or she grows.  This post is by request to illustrate that “unmagnetized” children can, indeed, enjoy their dogs.  And, even better, the feeling is more likely to be mutual.

Daniel is almost 3 years old. Betty would often find a place to relax near him - because he asked nothing of her but her companionship. I have dozens of pictures just like this.

Andrew is one and a half. Betty went up to the top of our hill to lie next to him. She was willing to stay with him because he does not grab for her.

Our dog is usually an arms-length kind of dog who does not seek out a lot of physical contact. Given that Andrew is the "karate chop boy" in the video on the About page, it baffles me that she chose him to rest her head on. She feels safe with him.

Another day, Andrew was too tired to make it to his bed. He gets to experience sleeping "with" his dog because she is unconcerned. He does not use her as a pillow or treat her as a stuffed animal.

Daniel is 9 years old. Betty is comfortable walking with him.

Andrew wrote this at 5 years old. He rarely touches our dog, but he sure loves her!

Ages 9 and 6 on our regular afternoon walk, just a couple of months ago.

What’s it All Mean?

I’m not saying my path is the only way things will ever work out well with your dog and baby.  And, I’m sure lots of people have happy pictures of their dogs and kids.  The only thing I’m intending to demonstrate with these pictures is that refusing to magnetize your children does not preclude them growing up loving dogs or feeling loved by dogs.  It’s not a one or the other choice.

In closing, here is a sweet story from about a year ago.  My friend had three children under the age of four and one of her dogs was approaching the end of his life.  The family paid attention to not allowing the children to become magnetized and provided for the dog’s need for space right from the start.  In return, they were gifted with this beautiful memory of their dog and three-year-old daughter, shortly before their dog passed away:

“It was such a sweet quiet moment in time and such a nice memory for me.  Fabiola was coloring on the floor of the family room — I was cleaning up in the kitchen and the two younger kids were napping.  And yes, Winston went out of his way to curl up on the floor right next to Fabiola.  (Normally, he would’ve chosen a spot closer to me or somewhere soft.)  And as nice as it was to see him choose to be near her, she really responded in kind – by not touching him or reaching out.  She just looked up at me to say, ‘Look, Winston wants to be with me!,’ smiled wide and went back to her coloring.”

So please don’t feel sad or worried that you are depriving your child by not letting him or her be magnetized at a very young age.  There will be plenty of time to build true friendship as your child gets a little older.  I promise.

Posted by: Madeline Gabriel | February 24, 2011

Helping Toddlers Not Be Magnetized to Dogs (Part 3)

Heads Up!…I’ve moved this blog to my new website:  DogsandBabiesLearning.com.  You can find this post and comments through mid-November here.  If you are subscribing, commenting, linking or sharing, please do so from the new website.

Yes, Toddlers and Dogs CAN live in peace!

Let’s Recap – Why Is It Important NOT to Magnetize Babies and Toddlers to Dogs?

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page (see previous posts on Magnetizing here and here)…

My concerns with “magnetizing” babies and young children to dogs are:

  1. The Curse of a Good Dog — even if your dog is perfectly tolerant of anything your children may do, what happens when the good dog has a bad day?  What happens when your children do the same things to someone else’s dog who may not be as tolerant?
  2. Young children are not learning respect for others if they are encouraged to do what they want just because they want to do it, even if they mean well.
  3. Young children are not developmentally prepared to be successful and safe interacting with dogs. Neither you nor your dogs are likely to agree with what a two-year-old thinks is a good idea.

Previous posts about infants stressed the importance of not prompting your baby to become magnetized to the dog.  Early magnetizing is almost always due to parental prompting and encouragement, in my opinion.  Yes, babies will naturally be interested in the dog but you don’t have to feed that interest to the point where your child becomes fixated on the dog.  That’s where it crosses the line and makes it harder to manage dog and baby once the baby starts crawling and toddling.  Because, where do you think that magnetized baby is going to make a beeline for?

Baby Gates Are Your Friends!  (And Your Dog’s Friends, Too!)

When you are not able to be actively engaged with your toddler, gates prevent her from finding her own entertainment with your dog (or any other item she cannot yet handle appropriately).

Barbara Shumannfang’s terrific book, “Happy Kids, Happy Dogs” includes a nice section on how to establish and use a Safety Zone for when it’s more appropriate for your dog to be separated in a quiet, enjoyable area.  Barbara has graciously shared a summary on her website here.

Kids, too, will often need to be corralled at times throughout the crawling and toddling years.  A safe play area for the kids can allow your dog to move freely through the house and for you to casually be on one side or another without fuss.  Experienced parents come up with all kinds of creative gating options!  We went through a variety of different gating arrangements to suit our children’s different stages.  Here are some examples:

A dining area temporarily becomes a playroom, allowing me to keep an eye on the kids while cooking. They are not tempted to mess with the dog and the dog does not mess with their things. (Superyard XT gates, mounted to the wall)

Daniel is safely in the shade while Cowboy gets some exercise chasing the ball.

Walk-through gates in the kitchen allow me to keep the dogs with me when another adult is playing with the kids while I'm making dinner. After all, what dog wouldn't want to be in the kitchen? And, really, the kitchen is no place for a baby so you'll probably gate it off anyway.

Now That My Baby is On the Move, How Do I Make Sure She Doesn’t Magnetize Herself to Dogs?

First thing, of course, is that you are pretty much always going to be right there with your crawler and new walker anyway.  Even if you didn’t have a dog, you’re not going to let crawler/toddlers roam throughout the house unattended.

Since you’re right there anyway, use this opportunity to continue to instill “internal prompts” — what do you want your child to think about and rehearse in each encounter with a dog?

For example, when your child crawls in the general direction of your dog, stop and point out the dog.  “Look, our dog is resting.  When our dog is lying down, we move around.  Let’s move around the dog.”  Show your child by example what you mean by “around.”  Aim for at least a three foot buffer to allow room if the child were to fall or the dog stretch out a leg or roll over.

Tell your child, “You did it!  You walked around our dog.  She feels safe when you walk around.  You are a good friend to dogs!”

Direct and coach your crawler/toddler well BEFORE he is inside your dog's personal space. Waiting until he's up close and personal makes magnetization stronger and makes dogs wary. This is TOO close for comfort.

It's not much different than how you'd manage a crawler/toddler around a fireplace. You don't wait until he's this close, do you?

If there’s not enough space to get by with a good buffer, teach your children what to do instead.  Tell them, “Look, there’s not enough space to make Buster feel safe.  Let’s go the other way,” or “When there’s not enough space, I will always help you.  Say, ‘Mommy, I need more space to get by Buster,’ and I will call him over to me.”

When you are sitting on the couch and your dog hops up, remark to your child, “Look, Buster feels safe and wants to be with us!  Let’s sit quietly and keep our hands down and see if we can get him to stay.  You are the kind of kid dogs feel safe with!”

When you establish not touching as normal, everything is easier throughout the toddler/preschool years.

“Training,” by definition, should always be focused on influencing future choices.  The effectiveness of your training can easily be tested by noticing the choices the child makes for herself — and it can be maintained by reinforcing those good choices.  If you wait for children to do what you DON’T want and then tell them to stop, this is neither responsible parenting nor effective training.

It’s a matter of proactive parenting to build your child’s powers of observation and good judgment.  Show her the right things to do ahead of time.  If it’s all just, “No, no, Honey, leave the dog alone,” after the child already chooses to mess with the dog, your child will not come away with as strong of a foundation of what TO DO next time – especially if you are not right there.

And, let’s face it, you are not always going to be right there.  We are all are quick to blame “lack of supervision” when there is an incident but, while true that dogs and toddlers should not be left to their own devices, real life brings gaps to even the most vigilant parents.  In my opinion, the irresponsibility lies not in the moment of distraction but in the neglect to equip our children with skills and habits that will serve them well.  (And, of course, “irresponsibility” is too strong of a word when parents don’t know this.  But YOU know it now and you can teach your friends until we ALL know what to do.)

What if You Have a Toddler Who is ALREADY Too Magnetized to the Dog?

This is the typical situation when I do a bite/incident consultation.  No amount of behavior modification work with the dog is going to be enough if the children continue to pester the dog.  Modifying the child’s behavior is always an essential part of success — and it’s not as difficult as it initially appears.

The concept is that the dog is no longer available to the child for interaction.

It seems really hard when you have a kid who is strongly magnetized to your own dog or to other people’s dogs, but, trust me, kids can definitely learn new habits.  Especially when we are talking about toddlers, the thing is that they are always onto something new as they go through different stages of development.  What seems impossible today can turn around within a month.

In my experience, it takes about two weeks of a dog being present but unavailable in order to begin to break the magnetization.  It’s not that dissimilar to kids watching TV.  When you cut them off the TV it’s hard at first because they don’t know what else to do, but, soon enough, they take out a game or other activity and are just as happy.

Here are some basic concepts:

  1. Decide the dog is no longer available.  Pretend he has something contagious or imagine your dog with a painful ear condition or a broken leg if that helps focus your attention.  The point is to commit to a change in perspective from this day forward.
  2. Meet your dog’s needs so he can be a good partner.  Set yourself up for success by making sure your dog is calm and relaxed.  Stock up on Kong or other “food carrier” toys and make sure you have at least three of them stuffed and ready to go each day so you know you can keep your dog occupied as you work with your child.  Schedule regular walks and outings, even if you have to get someone to help with this.  Remember — a two week intensive effort is much more effective than a little here and there when you get to it.
  3. Stock up on novel things for your child to do.  Fresh crayons, paper, new activities, etc.  There are lots of books in the library with fun things to do with children of all ages or research online, like this site.  The idea is to have replacement activities to grow your child’s interest in doing other things.  Stock up on supplies and ideas so you don’t spend the whole two weeks nagging your child to get away from the dog.  That’s not the idea at all!
  4. Cultivate an internal radar system so you always know where your child is and where your dog is.  Whenever they are likely to be within six feet of each other, calmly put yourself in the middle and intercept your child with little or no fanfare.  Do not reprimand your baby or make it your baby’s responsibility to “know better.”  Be calm and matter-of-fact to avoid drawing attention to this being a “hot button” issue.  The dog is just not available, but you are still calm, friendly and kind.
  5. If the child is persistent about getting to the dog, let the dog relax in peace in his Safety Zone or do something else with your child behind a gate.  Or, go for a walk or out for errands – something that changes the picture for a fresh start next time.  Never get into a struggle with your child about the dog.
  6. Instill internal prompts and reinforce efforts at the new behaviors.  Remark to your child specifically about what they did, “You slowed down when you saw our dog in the way.  You are a good friend to dogs!” or “You are staying in your spot as our dogs lays close to us.  You are a kid dogs feel safe with!”
  7. In my experience, changing the behavior of a toddler seems hard because new parents are, by definition, new at this!  There is a lot of conflicting parenting advice out there, too.  The best parenting book I’ve come across is called Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey, PhD.  She includes lots of real life scenarios, with calm phrasing for how you might turn conflict into cooperation.  You can easily extrapolate to your own situations with your dog and toddler.  (It will also help you with managing other people’s children!)

NOTE:  If you are concerned about your dog’s behavior to your children or think that your dog is likely to bite, in-person help is from a qualified trainer or behavior consultant is more appropriate than a list of quick tips.  Same thing if your child’s behavior is not easily redirected (except, of course, that you would be consulting CHILD behavior experts, not DOG behavior experts!).

What About Kids Magnetized to Other People’s Dogs?

When my older son was a toddler, he became obsessed with basketballs, especially other people’s basketballs.  We’d go to the park and he’d say, “Ball!  Ball! Ball!” and take off running to the basketball court.  Sure enough, many guys would let him play with the ball for a few minutes, and, before I knew it, he was magnetized.

I literally had to carry him out of parks a few times, crying and screaming because he couldn’t have someone else’s basketball.  We had to work on being in the presence of basketball-playing guys without pestering them.  Is this really that different than kids who are magnetized to dogs?  Why do we encourage dog magnetization and feel helpless in the face of, “She just loves dogs!” when we are perfectly capable of setting boundaries in other areas of our children’s lives?

After all, we don’t do that with knives do we?  How many parents go to restaurants with their babies and say, “Oooh, look at the shiny knives,  Honey!” or take them around and ask if they could touch the the other patron’s knives, “She just loves knives!”  Of course not!  The first thing parents do is move the knives out of reach without comment and engage their babies in something else to do.

You CAN refuse to “magnetize” your baby to dogs, just like all the other things you expect your baby to coexist with without feeling the urge to reach out and grab.  This is especially important with other people’s dogs.  Meeting other people’s dogs is a whole series in itself but I am telling you now that people may say, “Yes, you may pet my dog” while they holding their breath, hoping the dog doesn’t bite.  Other people are not good at telling your child, “No.”

Up Next

I’d like to end this series on Magnetization with some encouraging photos and examples of how young children can love dogs and feel a terrific connection with them without being magnetized.  It’s not an all or nothing proposition!  In fact, the paradox is that you can end up with more and better friendship for the rest of their lives if you do not magnetize your children as babies and toddlers.

Posted by: Madeline Gabriel | February 12, 2011

Liam J Perk Foundation So YOUR Child Will Have a Tomorrow

Heads Up!…I’ve moved this blog to my new website:  DogsandBabiesLearning.com.  You can find this post and comments through mid-November here.  If you are subscribing, commenting, linking or sharing, please do so from the new website.

I started this blog last year with an early post about Liam Perk.  See it here.  Liam’s family have put together a beautiful and educational website to honor their boy’s memory while protecting other people’s children — you know, yours and mine.

It’s tempting to want to think that something like this couldn’t happen to us.  Somehow, we think that good intentions are enough or we get lulled into a false sense of security when our dogs seem “fine” with the things our children do.

When tragedy strikes, it’s human nature to protect ourselves by thinking, “It couldn’t happen to us” or “It was  freak accident that no one could have predicted” and just go on as before.  Liam Perk’s family is doing their best not to let that happen through their foundation’s educational efforts to reach other families with the information they discovered too late.

Excerpt from “A Note From Liam’s Mom:”

“After returning home from the hospital without Liam and no dogs in the house, I said to my sister, ‘We need to let people know.‘”

Liam’s dad says, “I would give everything I have or will ever have just to hold and love Liam only for another moment…”

All he asks now is that you read Liam’s story and learn from it so your family stays safe.  Tell your friends, too.

Liam J. Perk Foundation — http://www.liamjperkfoundation.org

Posted by: Madeline Gabriel | February 7, 2011

How to Not Magnetize Your Baby (Part 2)

Heads Up!…I’ve moved this blog to my new website:  DogsandBabiesLearning.com.  You can find this post and comments through mid-November here.  If you are subscribing, commenting, linking or sharing, please do so from the new website.

In the previous post, we talked about some of the reasons why you would not want to “magnetize” your baby to dogs – primarily because your baby or young child is not going to be developmentally able to be successful interacting with your dog until closer to maybe age five.  There is always time and opportunity to allow your child to do MORE later so don’t be in a rush to prompt your child to touch dogs.

Classic “magnetizing.” Notice how the dad has eyes only for the baby. Even though surprised (“I thought they were just going to look!”), Emily looks out for her dog and makes it OK with a treat while blocking baby fingers.

Just like all the other things you baby-proof and control access to until your child is ready, it makes sense to do the same with the dog.  However, because it’s not appropriate or desirable to keep your dog under lock and key and even the best “supervision” is always going to have gaps, it is essential that parents give their babies another layer of protection by mindfully not “magnetizing” them to dogs.  After all, what are you going to do when your child is 18 months old and makes a beeline for the dog whenever you turn your back and now you have another baby with a giant poop explosion in the other room?

Yikes!  So, let’s talk now about how to prevent the magnetization right from the start so you never have to find out!

(As  you’ll see, this post turned into more of photo essay than an article.  That’s what’s great about a blog – it can be what it wants to be!)

The First “Meeting”

I’ll have a lot more to say about bringing baby home, but, for now, I’d like to remind you that the dog and baby are not actually “meeting” or making any plans for the future.  Your dog doesn’t have to get up close and personal with your newborn child.

If you can’t resist and just need to have your dog sniff your baby, the baby should be tucked in close to you, with no dangling limbs and facing away from the dog.  Sniff, sniff, sniff…All Done… go do something else with the baby.  Neither the dog nor the baby should linger and get fascinated with each other.

Your newborn can’t even hold her head up or focus very far in front of herself.  Do not start off by calling attention to your dog and then hoping you can turn that off at will.  Let your baby be your baby and your dog be your dog.  They are not available to each other for exploration.

When Baby Notices Dog

By eight weeks of age, most infants can focus their eyes to better notice things around them.  By three months, babies are usually tracking motion with their eyes and beginning to reach for things.  What you do in these first three months sets the stage for what your baby will want to explore when she starts reaching and grasping.  The intent is that your dog is not one of these objects.

Oh, no! Cover the baby’s eyes! (Just kidding…)
But, yes, DO engage your baby with YOU, instead!

When your baby notices your dog, acknowledge her interest without making a big deal about it or bringing the baby over to touch the dog.  The dog is simply not available for touching.

“Yes, that’s our dog, Fluffy.  Fluffy is a good dog and watches over the family.” Sing a little song, engage your baby with you as you move on to do other things.  There are a lot of other interesting new things when you’re just born.  Don’t let your dog upstage you — be more interesting than the dog!!

That’s it.  Simply resisting the urge to magnetize your baby by not prompting contact is enough at this stage.

What if Baby Reaches for Dog?

Remember – this is for accidental touches, not something to set up on purpose.

As baby reaches her hand to touch the dog, gently slide your hand under hers so your dog feels your familiar, comfortable touch.  This will keep your baby’s hand from being able to grasp and pull fur.  Reassure your dog, “Good dog, thank you,” and shift your baby’s position so she can no longer reach the dog.

Begin to build an interior monologue for your baby.  I call these “internal prompts.”  Tell your baby what’s going on in ways that inform her what to do:

“Dogs like a little more space.  Let’s move over here so she feels safe.  Look, our dog is staying with us!  You helped her feel safe.  You are a good friend to dogs!” Don’t worry, you’ll come up with your own wording that sounds natural to you.  The point is that you use this pre-crawling time to teach your baby the behaviors you most want to see in her repertoire.  If she spends this time rehearsing reaching for and touching your dog, that’s what you’re going to get more of when she’s on the go in a few short months.

Remember, your infant can’t get anywhere on her own just yet.  This is your best time for a good foundation!  (Maybe this is why babies don’t crawl for so many months — so you can help dog and baby acclimate!)

Really, don’t you want to be able to hold your baby and still enjoy your dog relaxing next to you?  This will never happen if you let your baby experiment with reaching for the dog as an infant.  Well, maybe “never” is too strong, but it’s less likely your dog will feel relaxed and comfortable when he’s busy wondering if the baby is going to pull his fur again today.

The Remote Control

If you magnetize your baby to the remote control…
You might miss that big play when the baby grabs the remote at the wrong time!

Just like if you’re sitting on the couch watching a big game, you don’t want the baby messing with the remote.  At the same time, it’s not like you want to get UP and flip channels manually, either.   So, generally, parents figure out not to call too much attention to the remote control and keep it out of reach of the baby.  No one worries that their baby is going to grow up techologically-challenged.

If you can do it for the remote control, you can do it for your dog.  (And if you didn’t do it for the remote, don’t you wish you did?)

Ahh, that’s better!
This is my goal – that you can enjoy both your dog AND baby!  (My poor beautiful dog never did like having his picture taken, though.)

What Does Your Dog Think About All This?

First of all, no one really knows what dogs think.  Half the time, we probably don’t want to know!  However, we CAN get a hint based on their body language.

Remember this picture? Betty is leaning away from this contact with her right ear pulled back and away.  She is not engaged with anyone in the picture.  Interpretation:  She doesn’t like what we’re doing.
But a non-touching baby (doll) is regarded with apparently calm curiosity (not that you’d ever prop your real baby up near your dog like this – purely an illustration!).

The less your baby reaches out to touch your dog, the more comfortable your dog will feel around your baby.  The more comfortable your dog feels, the safer it is for your baby.  If you want your baby to be safe around your dog, your dog has to feel safe around your baby.  This is just common sense, isn’t it?

Parallels to “Parallel Play”

A normal and preferred play style for toddlers and preschoolers often involves what’s known as parallel play: “a form of play where children play adjacent to each other, but do not try to influence one another’s behavior.”  This comes up all the time in parenting Q&A columns where a new parents worry about toddlers who don’t seem to engage with each other.  It’s explained as a completely normal developmental stage and parents are discouraged from trying to force kids to play “with” each other before they are ready.

Two toddler friends play near each other
This is a favorite photo of mine because my baby is not messing with our dog and she is relaxed enough to lay near him while he plays.  They are companionable without being “magnetized.” (Note: Do I trust the judgment and maturity of a one-year-old or a dog enough to leave them alone like this?  No way!  After the picture, I’m right back engaged with them.)

It makes sense to a baby/young child to be by the dog without reaching for it.  We are not depriving our babies of any essential life experience by refusing to magnetize them to dogs.  It’s just the opposite — we are giving them the opportunity to be just the way they’re supposed to be.  Your baby will be perfectly fine being friends with your dog without touching.  And, your dog will be more likely to reciprocate that friendship.

Coming Up

Next upcontinuing efforts with crawlers and toddlers and how to “de-magnetize” kids before there’s a problem.

Posted by: Madeline Gabriel | January 24, 2011

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Get “Magnetized” to Dogs

Heads Up!…I’ve moved this blog to my new website:  DogsandBabiesLearning.com.  You can find this post and comments through mid-November here.  If you are subscribing, commenting, linking or sharing, please do so from the new website.

What Does it Mean to Be “Magnetized?”

I use the term, “magnetized,” to refer to how babies end up where they CANNOT stay away from dogs.  I’m sure you’ve seen it — the kids who make a beeline for dogs in the park or who are always messing with their own dog or wanting to pet other people’s dogs.

I discussed some of this in a previous post about babies that “love” dogs. The main issue is the lack of self-control inherent in a magnetized young child.  If a toddler or preschooler could turn it on and off, maybe, but reliable on/off switches are not what toddlerhood is all about.

Is it Really That Big of a Deal?

Yes.  I think this is a huge deal.  Not everyone agrees with me so you’ll have to think it through yourself and decide how much risk you are willing to have your child assume.  A majority of bites happen in response to a child approaching a dog.  Young children have zero judgment.  If you encourage your baby/toddler to go up to some dogs, he or she will likely want to go up to all dogs – whether or not you’re there to supervise.

It’s tempting to think, “Well, I’m a good parent and I’ll be able to teach the difference to my child.  Besides, I’m going to raise my child to be gentle and respectful with animals so she’s not likely to get bitten.” Maybe you’re right.  Lots of times nothing bad happens.  But lots of people drive drunk, too, and never kill anyone.  Doesn’t make it a good choice.

And that’s what this is – a choice.  As a parent, you get to choose for your baby the habits and behaviors you are going to instill long before your baby can make her own choices.  That’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

In my experience, encouraging a baby to notice, reach for and touch your dog (or any dog) opens the door to all the other variations a child will come up with through the toddler/preschool years.  Kids aren’t really known for doing the right things at this stage of development.  If you establish the dog within the circle of your baby’s interactions, the dog will be included in the whole range of physical expressions, not just the “nice” ones, but also the tantrums, experimentation, showing off for friends, etc.

Consider this:

“I have a normally very sweet, laid back 13 month old son named Joseph (changed name) who just discovered that smacking is fun two days ago.  Ah, the joys of toddlerhood!  He will pick up a toy (such as a truck) and smack our dogs on the head with it or just pound on them with his hands.  He will try to smack at his dad or me too, but not as often.  I am extremely lucky to have very tolerant dogs so far!  This is what I have learned:  telling Joseph “no!” just stops him for a second, and then he continues to try to hit the dogs.  I have also tried blocking him when I see he is headed towards a dog and distracting him with a book or a toy.  The distraction seems to work, but then he will crawl towards the dogs to smack them later.”

This is a classic scenario of a magnetized child.  It all seemed “fine” when the baby feeling like being gentle.  It’s hard to factor in the unintended consequence for later…when the baby is NOT feeling like being gentle.  Joseph is not a “bad baby” — this is entirely normal.  However, if he were not already “magnetized” to the dogs, he’s more likely to restrict his smacking to Mom and Dad and leave the dogs out of it.

Besides, even if your child doesn’t get as much into the smacking stage and your dog is endlessly tolerant, you still cannot escape The Curse of a Good Dog and the fact that encouraging this magnetized behavior puts your child at a greater risk of a bite when the good dog has a bad day or your child is too forward with someone else’s dog who DOES object. 

“Magnetizing” Starts in Infancy

I completely understand how it starts.  You’re holding your baby, playing goo-goo games and the dog walks by.  Wham!  Your baby drops you like a hot potato to look at the dog:

The baby is usually excited and may even be saying, “Duh, duh, duh, duh!” which makes you think  you have not only a budding Dr. Doolittle but a GENIUS BABY — she’s trying to say, “Dog,” already!  (Of course, that’s all she can say but we’ll put that piece of reality aside for now.)  I’m joking, but I do understand how hard it is to resist an excited, happy baby.  It will feel very natural to encourage this interest:

The next step would be to carry the baby close to the dog and encourage some gentle touching and getting to know the dog.

DON’T DO IT!

This is how babies get magnetized.  You think you’re building a relationship and teaching your baby how to be gentle with the dog, but, really, you’re making the early brain connection in your infant that, “Dogs are for touching.”

Really think about that.

Consider other things infants are entranced by.  Exhibit A – The Ceiling Fan:

Babies often show the same excited behavior with the ceiling fan as they do with the dog.  (Even the “duh, duh, duh” part!)  However, no matter how much you want to foster your baby’s interest and curiosity, does it ever occur to you to bring your baby closer and try to tell her, “Careful, honey, now keep your hands down…”

Why not? Are you thinking, “Well, duh, I’d never do that because the fan could hurt my baby and I know my baby won’t understand what I’m saying or be able to follow my instructions.  That would be crazy!!  I’d definitely get a ‘Bad Parent Award’ for that.”

Tell me why it’s different with a dog. I ask people that all the time because I’d like to be wrong.  I don’t like being the wet blanket at every event where very young kids and dogs are mixing, and I do have lots of other dog training interests I’d like to pursue.  I stick with my Dogs and Babies work because of all the families I meet after an incident who say, “If only I knew this, I would have done things differently…”

I think parents and dog trainers alike have a natural blind spot when it comes to dogs and young children.  We all want the storybook tale of best friends forever.  This makes us assume that dogs understand good intentions (“He was only trying to love the dog!”) and that toddlers will always be compliant.  Once you’re an experienced parent, you know that toddlers and “compliant” do not go together.  It’s hard to imagine that when you’re a new parent and you have a baby that seems so sweet and easy.  That’s why I focus so much on not starting a “relationship” with a baby towards a dog — because it’s a can of worms that’s a lot harder to put back once you open it than it is to just leave on the shelf a little longer.

Don’t be in a rush!  Let your baby just coexist peacefully with your dog.  So much of the “magnetizing” happens not just because babies are interested in dogs, but because parents feed that interest disproportionately more than they do other interests a baby clearly isn’t ready to pursue.

For example, why is THIS OK…

But not THIS

Yes, children need to learn how to be careful with knives and dogs alike, but does it really make sense to introduce the idea before they are developmentally prepared to be successful?  People expect to keep knives out of the reach of children but, at the same point, they do not expect to still cut their child’s meat when he’s twenty-one years old.  It should go the same way with dogs.

More to come about how to keep from magnetizing your baby, how to de-magnetize a toddler and why babies are really OK with loving dogs without touching them.  Unless, of course, someone can convince me that I’m off base. Let’s discuss!

Posted by: Madeline Gabriel | January 16, 2011

McDuff and the Baby

Heads Up!…I’ve moved this blog to my new website:  DogsandBabiesLearning.com.  You can find this post and comments through mid-November here.  If you are subscribing, commenting, linking or sharing, please do so from the new website.

I love this book!  Despite the way it looks, it’s really much more than children’s book.  All of the McDuff books have some good lessons for adults (thanks to the owners, Fred and Lucy, being slightly clueless), but this one in particular gets right to the heart of bringing a baby home to a dog.  I sometimes read McDuff and the Baby to my Dogs and Babies students, and I bet I could base the whole course on just the lessons in this book!

McDuff is a much-loved, more than a little indulged, Westie with a beautiful life before baby arrived.  Fred reads him the comics in the morning and feeds him sausages, Lucy takes him for walks in the woods, they all sit together on the couch and listen to music.

“Every day in every way McDuff was happy.”

Isn’t that the truth?  Dogs live the good life in an adult-only home, don’t they?

The body language is beautifully drawn throughout this book so you can see exactly what McDuff looks like when he’s happy.  There’s a scene where Lucy and Fred are sitting on the couch with McDuff, gazing dreamily off into the distance.  I point this out to the class and ask them to draw a mental picture around “the family” — clearly McDuff is in the picture.

This all changes on the next page.

“But one day a stranger arrived…It was a baby.”

Lucy and Fred are all lovey-dovey snuggled up with eyes only for the baby.  No one is looking at McDuff, and he is on the other side of the room with a “Hmm, I’m not sure about this” look on his face.  He’s not growling or anything so he must be “fine,” right?

Do you see how easy it can be to overlook your dog?  If you drew your circle around “the family,” McDuff would not be in it.

It gets worse for McDuff as Lucy and Fred keep busy with the baby and there is no time for his usual activities.  McDuff is always close-by, trying to be with his family, but they step over or around him as he looks more and more sad.  No one is sleeping and even McDuff looks all rumpled in the middle of the night.  Little-by-little, McDuff’s tolerance and goodwill is being worn down.  You can see it happening with the turn of every page.

McDuff has very little tolerance left when the baby inevitably does something he doesn’t like.

“The new baby pulled McDuff’s beard, and he did not want to be nice.”

Would YOU want to be nice at this point?  McDuff later growls at the baby from across the room.  It doesn’t faze the baby – she laughs.  (And, apparently, Lucy and Fred, being the clueless types, aren’t in the room to witness this.)

OH!  But here’s where the story takes a turn for the better!

McDuff stops eating.  Lucy and Fred finally take notice of McDuff, because they do love him dearly, and they turn the whole thing around!

Fred bets McDuff misses the comics.  Lucy remembers the walks in the woods with all the good smells. They let him sit in a chair at the table and feed him his favorite vanilla rice pudding with sausage slices!  OK, well, presumably your dog isn’t THAT spoiled, but the point is that they notice their dog and think about what’s important to him and find ways to meet his needs.

In the end, the whole family goes outside to listen to their music – an accommodation that allows Lucy and Fred to enjoy their hobby and include the whole family — dog and baby, too.  McDuff takes a fresh look at the baby.  Instead of growling, he says, “Woof.”  The baby keeps her hands to herself and says, “Woof,” back to McDuff.

Now they are on the right track!  Maybe Lucy and Fred aren’t so clueless after all.  The author and illustrator, Rosemary Wells and Susan Jeffers, certainly aren’t!

Lessons:

  1. Pay attention to what’s important in your dog’s routine.  Even if you find you can’t keep up exactly with your dog’s routines, you can find a substitute.
  2. Know what your dog looks like when he or she is happy and relaxed.
  3. Your baby is a “stranger” to your dog, and your dog has not spent the last nine months preparing.
  4. Never forget to look at your dog and talk to him or her as you attend to your baby.
  5. Look at your dog for body language changes.
  6. Dogs will often remain in trying situations because they want to be with you.  Don’t assume the dog will leave on his own.
  7. Hope is not a method of bite prevention.  “Lucy and Fred hoped McDuff would like the baby…”
  8. Babies and toddlers will not heed warning signals from your dog.
  9. Dogs and babies must never be left in the same room without an attending adult.
  10. A growl is a call for something to change.  Most dogs will growl at one time or another as your child moves through toddlerhood.  It should not be ignored, but it doesn’t mean your dog can’t move on to live safely and happily with your child.
  11. Babies and toddlers, if given the opportunity, will touch dogs in ways dogs do not like.  This will not foster friendship.
  12. You WILL have time to bring back more of the dog’s favorite activities.  The crazy early time with a newborn does not last forever.
  13. Dogs are more comfortable with babies who do not grab at them and might even enjoy being around babies who keep their hands to themselves.
  14. Your new routines with dog and baby might even be better than the old routine!
  15. Given space and a chance to recharge, dogs can take a fresh look and be okay with the baby.

I think all dog people should carry a copy of this book and be ready to whip it out whenever the topic of dogs and babies comes up!  Sit with your friends and walk through the pages together — don’t just hand the book to people.  Discuss it!  There’s a lot of wisdom in this little book!

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