Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Dogs and Storks" class pointers

Ok, what do you see above?

Is this an "Aww, lookit how cute Bubba is with Junior!" moment? Or is it "Holy crap, Bubba thinks Junior is a groundhog and it's about to shake him by the neck relentlessly!" moment?


Well, after taking this "Dogs and Storks" baby prep class, I'd have to go with #2.

Apparently, parents are misreading many of the warning signs that dogs give out when they are uncomfortable or fearful. We think, aww how cute! when really the dog is begging us to provide distance and space from this little terror called a toddler!

I learned a lot, and it scared the bejeezus outta me, even though the teacher kept saying "MOST of time there's nothing to worry about...."

She did tell the story (which traumatized me and pissed me off.. so warning, skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid that) of how when she was in vet school they had to put down a 13 year old Golden Retriever, who had been a gentle member of the family since puppyhood. the dog had bit the toddler for "no reason" and they thought the dog must have a brain tumor or something as it was so uncharacteristic of him. No one could understand why the dog behaved like that until the autopsy was done and they found a pencil stuck deep into his ear. UGH. Thanks, teach! Now that will be stored in "the vault" for my remaining days.

Ok, so for those of you who skipped that paragraph, it's safe to read again.

Here are some pointers I picked up. And I'm around dogs a LOT, so if I didn't think of them, maybe you haven't either. Hence, the sharing.

BEFORE BABY ARRIVES (i.e. prepping your dogs):

1) Shake baby powder on dog beds, baby items (such as the high chair, bouncy thing, etc). Babies come with many foreign smells. If the dog is already used to certain smells, he won't be as anxious when the real thing arrives.

2) Have dog sit next to baby items and give them a treat (you are acclimating the dog to the sight and sounds of the items. Some items make clicking noises as they rock, or humming noises, etc, that can sound very loud to a dog.)

3) Ignore the nudging or pawing that dogs do for attention. This can hurt the baby so get them used to not doing that now.

4) Train the dog to go to "his place", and train him to do this from a sitting position and a lying down position (you are lying down) so he knows to follow that command when you are nursing or co-sleeping.

5) Walk the dog with an empty stroller to get him used to it. Stroller are bulky and make a lot of noise. It's a very differnt kind of walk than what the dog is used to. Never put the leash on the stroller handle bars. One squirrel is all it takes for Junior to take the ride of his life.


1) When bringing baby home, set her a top a higher surface, like the dining room table, and act like she is a purse. Meaning, don't treat her like anything out of the ordinary. Give the dog a stuffed frozen Kong, allow him to sniff the baby if he wants. He will probably be more interested in his treat than the baby if you don't make a big deal out of the introduction.

2) When dog wants to come over and sniff, hold baby sitting up in your lap. Hold out her heel in the palm of your hand for dog to sniff. Use your knee as a barrier if needed.

3) Most people think that *doggie time* is once baby is napping, but it's better to have dog get attention when baby is present. That way the dog associates the baby with good things. If the dog plays whenever the baby isn't around, and when the baby is around dog gets no attention, the baby is not such a wonderful being in the dog's opinion.

4) Have "zones" in the home. A dog zone and a baby zone. These are places the dog can be safe from the baby and the baby can be safe from the dog. You can use barriers to create these zones, or crates, or doors.


The vet said she cringes when she sees parents bragging on how good the dog is with the baby, and the following signs are happening:

1) The whites of the dogs eyes can be seen (like a horse, this is anxiety and fear)
2) The dog is looking away from the baby
3) The tail is wagging and the dog is licking lips or yawning or panting
4) Dog is moving slowly
5) Dog is freezing (after *flight* and *freezing* comes *fight*)
6) The baby/toddler is LYING ON TOP OF THE DOG, or trying to ride the dog. The dog is then trapped. If you cut off the escape route, you give take away the option to flee (after *flight* and *freezing* comes *fight*).
7) The toddler is pulling the dog's tail or scruff of the neck (you must teach "gentle touch") as soon as the baby can reach out.

The vet said she often saw these signs and the parents were completely oblivious. She felt sorry for the dogs, because this is the way the dog communicates and he is not being heard. How many times a day, an hour sometimes, does a dog have to turn away from a toddler... before he reaches his limit and growls or bites? And then the dog is put to sleep and it was not his fault, it was the parents fault. That Golden Retriever (above) comes to mind... after 13 years of being a gentle, loyal family member, he acted instinctively, in pain and terror. The parents did not protect him. They failed at their job. And they punished the dog for their negligence.

Here is an example of the whites of their eyes being shown:
Even here where the dog is not fully trapped, his body language is fearful. The child is lying half on him. Don't let your kids do this!

Here is a dog turning away. Now he could obviously get away if he tried hard enough, but the dog may not feel like he is "allowed" to escape. The child has his neck over the dog's neck, signaling superiority over him:

So listen to your dog's body language! Allow them a safe retreat where your toddler cannot reach them. Keep them well exercised, and keep their minds busy (I recently bought the Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble and the Premier Twist and Treat which they all love.)

Much more info can be found at the Dogs and Storks website.

Another helpful website is and

I hope all your pets and kids end up growing up peacefully together, sharing and caring and teaching each other important lessons on life - (like where to find fresh water is an important one!)

Does anyone else have any tips to share? How's it going with your kids and dogs?

1 comment:

ShannonC said...

The top picture is one in a series of pix. The dog is "marking" the animal with his scent. (better technique than peeing on him). This is itself is not a scary behavior. The child is new to the family and the dog could be being protective to other animals by letting them know to whom the baby belongs. Combined with other behaviors.. "who the baby belongs" could take on a different meaning...