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How to Help Your Dog Prepare For a New Baby with Kate LaSala

Why it’s so important to prepare your dog ahead of the baby’s arrival, and what you can do to help your dog cope with the impending changes in routine etc.

By Zazie Todd PhD

Watch the latest episode of The Pawsitive Post in Conversation below or on Youtube, listen below or via your favourite podcast app, or read a transcript of the highlights below.

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Preparing a dog for the arrival of a baby

Zazie and Kristi chat with Kate LaSala of Rescued By Training about
the important steps to take to help dogs prepare for the arrival of a
baby in the family.

Kate takes a lot of fear and aggression cases
and she tells us how she came to specialize in working with families
with small children. She tells us about the issues people have with
their dogs when they are expecting and the reasons why it’s so important
to start preparation early. The dog needs to get used to being
flexible, to no longer getting all the attention, to changes in sleeping
arrangements, and to lack of sleep too.

Preparation is key and
she tells us about the action plan that is part of her new self-paced
course to help people get their dog ready to welcome a new baby and be
comfortable with the new arrival. She also shares her favourite fact
about child development that’s good to know about supervising children’s
interactions with dogs. Kate also talks us through what to do if your
dog growls at the baby or shows other signs of being uncomfortable.

And finally we all talk about the books we’re reading.

Show Notes

About Kate LaSala:

Kata LaSala CTC is a professional dog trainer and certified behavior consultant specializing in fear and aggression. She’s helped over 2400 dogs overcome issues their guardians thought were impossible, including fear of strangers, separation anxiety, resource guarding, and growling at toddlers. As a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator, she’s uniquely qualified to help families with babies or kids. She offers one-on-one remote services worldwide and self-paced courses included her new online course, Bringing Home Baby: Preparing Dog and Family for a New Baby.

Kate’s website Rescued by Training  Instagram  Facebook 

Family Paws

The Family Dog

The books in this episode

These are the books we recommend in this episode:

It’s Never Long Enough: A Practical Guide to Caring For Your Geriatric Dog by Mary Gardner

My Best Mistake: Epic Fails and Silver Linings by Terry O’Reilly

The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks by Shauna Robinson

The books are available from all good bookstores.

The covers of the 3 books recommended above

Preparing a dog for a new baby: The highlights

Zazie: Kate, how did you originally get involved in the specialty of preparing dogs and families for a new baby?

Kate: Because I focus on fear and aggression, I started getting a lot of requests from families that had dogs who were struggling with babies when they were bringing them home. So they’d bring their newborns home and the dog would be afraid of the baby, they’d be growling or clearly uncomfortable, so the parents would seek out someone, you know, my dog’s aggressive towards my child. And since I didn’t have children of my own, I was feeling a little ill equipped to tackle the child side of things. 

So then I sought out Family Paws and The Family Dog programs and went through both of their programs to be a little more educated about the kid side of things so that I could combine some child development education with my dog education and sort of marry those two pieces together. And I’ve continued to maintain both of those licenses throughout my certification. I’m currently still a licensed Family Paws educator and that education has helped me develop my course that I just released, but it’s really helped me work with these families, with kids of all ages. So infants through school age kids.

Kristi: It’s such an interesting question, isn’t it, about the kid thing? I think we’re all pretty comfortable with adults and adults in our interactions with dogs and how to teach adults. I actually find, like the whole question of pedagogy with adults to be super fascinating because it is a discipline and it is something that we can learn about. But then you throw in the kid thing and there’s like the developmental stuff and management stuff. So what are some of the big issues that people have when they come to you when they’re expecting? You know, baby’s not here yet. I don’t know how often that actually happens.

Kate: Yeah, you know, I think a lot of people don’t even know that pre baby prep exists. They don’t know to seek it out. They don’t know that it’s a thing. And so I get a lot of people who don’t come to me until the dog is already struggling. They have the baby at home, so they’re reactive. You know, the dog is having issues with the newborn and so they come sort of reactively because they’re having a problem now. So that happens a lot. 

But the point of my course and what I would love to get out there is that pre baby prep is a thing, and I wish more people knew about it, and I wish more people did it. I think people, even if they know that it’s a thing, they seriously underestimate the amount of time and preparation that it takes to really help a dog prepare for all the changes that happen when we’re about to bring a baby into the home. 

 “One of the biggest myths that I bust is the whole bringing home the baby blanket myth.”

So, you know, if we think about all the changes that are going to happen, if your dog is sleeping with you and you plan on having your newborn c- sleeping or sleeping in your bedroom in a bassinet, we’re going to need to change that because the dog and the baby cannot be sleeping in the same room. That’s just not safe. So if your dog is used to sleeping in your room–my dog sleeps in the same room as me. If I were to have a newborn sleeping in my bedroom, that would be a huge adjustment for her to suddenly not be sleeping in our bedroom. 

So that is going to take months and months and months for her to acclimate to that change. It’s not just going to happen in a couple of days or a couple of weeks. So that’s something that we would need to work on long before the baby arrives. 

If your dog, like many dogs before there’s baby in the house, is the center of your world, is the center of all of your attention and everything, there may be attention seeking behaviors that they’re used to doing when they want food or they want attention or they want to play. We may need to reduce some of those attention seeking behaviors because suddenly maybe they’re either not safe, if you have a newborn. You know, BooBoo, my dog, when she wants attention, she’ll just come up and sort of whack me with her paw. And I think it’s adorable. So I have heavily reinforced that behavior. But if I was holding a newborn and she were to walk up and whack me with her paw, she could inadvertently hurt that baby. So that’s a behavior that I would need to reduce because that would be unsafe. 

Even a dog who just barks at you for attention if they want something, that may not be unsafe, but it would be really annoying. And if you’re trying to put a newborn down to sleep and your dog is barking at you because they want something that could really disrupt the household. So there’s a lot of sort of attention seeking behaviors. You know, if your dog jumps up at you for attention or whatnot, we need to put those things on extinction or try to minimize them or teach an alternate behavior that’s not going to be so dangerous or disruptive. And those behaviors, if they’ve been really well rehearsed and practiced for a long time, that can take a long time to undo those behaviors. 

I think people underestimate the amount of time that it’s going to take to sort of roll back the clock on those things. So even if they know that pre baby prep is a thing… I actually just had someone reach out to me this past week. Like, okay, well, we’re thinking about doing pre baby prep, you know, in our third trimester. And I’m like, no, no, no, no, you’re pregnant now. You’re in your first trimester. Let’s get this ball rolling now. Let’s do it now. Don’t wait until your third trimester. 

And then we also want to talk about getting the dog on what I call a baby flexible schedule. So if your dog is used to eating at 07:00 in the morning and going out at 7:30, we need to get that dog on a baby friendly schedule. So poopy diaper might happen at 07:00 a.m. and that’s going to mean that dog’s not going to get fed at 07:00 a.m. and we need to start to transition dog to a baby flexible schedule because things are not always going to happen at the exact same times that the dog is used to things happening.

Zazie: Yeah. Such a lot that people can do, and I think you’re right, most people don’t know that they can do these things before the baby arrives and that it’s so important to do them a long time before. As you say, it takes time. So suppose someone hasn’t done any of these things and they’ve just brought the baby home. What kinds of issues do people have with their dog then?

Kate: So a lot of dogs do struggle with those sudden changes in routine. So now the baby is home and walk time isn’t happening. Or maybe they’re not getting the attention or exercise that they’re used to getting. So maybe that’s causing a little bit of frustration because they’ve got all this pent up energy that they’re not burning off because they’re not getting exercise, they’re not getting the attention because they’re used to being the center of the universe. And now all of that attention is focused on baby, as it should be. Visitors might be coming in to visit the baby and not really paying attention to the dog. And so there’s going to be lots of changes happening in the household, and that can be really frustrating for the dog. 

“What I would love to get out there is that pre baby prep is a thing, and I wish more people knew about it.”

There may also be cases where the dog wasn’t properly socialized early on to infants or toddlers or children in general. And so there could be some fear issues popping out if there’s lack of socialization or bad experiences with children. Newborns, they’re up every 2 hours for feeding. So not only are the parents sleep schedules being disrupted, we’re gonna have the dog’s sleep schedule being disrupted. So, you know, dog might be cranky or sensitive and having behaviors popping out because they’re not getting as much sleep as they should be getting, just like everybody in the household. So all of those things can exacerbate issues or cause new issues to pop out, things that we may not have seen previously.

Kristi: I think one of the scariest things, I imagine it’s got to be one of the scariest things for, for new parents is if their dog is actually displaying aggressive behavior towards their baby or around their baby. So what should people do if their dog growls or starts to sort of indicate that they’re uncomfortable with their body language once the baby comes in?

Kate: Yeah, yeah. Growling’s always scary, but it’s especially scary if it’s towards your precious newborn that you’ve just brought home and is only two days old. And our instinct is going to be to get the dog to stop growling. So our instinct may be to yell and be like, no, stop doing that, or punish them for growling. Want to not do that, you know, that may be our instinct, but we want to try to not do that and try to remember that growling is the dog’s way of communicating that they’re upset or scared. 

So growling is actually good because it’s the dog’s way of telling us that they’re upset. And if the dog didn’t growl, the only way that they would tell us that they’re upset would be to bite. So growling’s actually good. And as counterintuitive as it may feel, we actually want to try to happy talk and try to de escalate, try to feed in that situation. 

Practically speaking, you want to create distance. So you want to separate the dog and the baby as quickly as possible. You want to try to either move the dog or the baby away and physically separate them with a baby gate, maybe put the dog away behind a door or something like that, as gently and, you know, positively as possible. So you don’t want to forcefully grab the dog and, you know, drag him off. 

But then you really do want to contact a qualified professional like me or someone else for qualified professional help to help your dog learn how to be more comfortable around your newborn. You may also want to talk to your vet to see if medication may be appropriate to help your dog be less anxious through this transition, especially if your dog has noise sensitivities. There may be some sound sensitivity stuff at play. You know, babies cry a lot. They make a lot of noise. So if your dog does have noise sensitivity stuff, there could be that element at play. So your vet may be able to help you from a medication standpoint, but you do want to work with someone to figure out a plan to create management and to create a way to help long term, help your dog be comfortable in that household. 

Your dog and your baby are going to be living together for many, many years, and we have to come up with a way to create a space where they can both live happy, healthy lives and share that space together.

Zazie: Yeah. And I know that one of the things you’ve got in your course is actually an action plan for what to do if the dog growls at baby, because that’s such a scary time for people. But can you tell us something about what else is in your course that makes your course different from some of the other courses that are available out there?

Kate: Yeah, so, you know, a lot of the things that are out there are actually kind of short, you know, hour and a half long webinars, not really comprehensive courses. My course is a really in depth course. It’s 18 modules. It covers exactly what to train, how to do it. It’s not just tips here and there. And my goal with doing this was, you know, life with baby and dog is more than just tips. It’s your dog and your baby and their safety together is so important that it can’t just be covered in tips. It’s really, really, you know, the crux of it is how to keep everyone safe and happy. 

So there’s 18 modules. I cover why a dog might be fearful, where fear in dogs comes from. I cover dog body language, how animals learn, differences in how our species communicate, and then from a training perspective, over three dozen training plans of what to train with. Supporting videos, enrichment videos, other handouts, dog communication, tracking your dog’s body language, developmental body developmental milestones, identifying your dog’s triggers. 

So if we think about different breeds are going to have different triggers. If you have a herding breed, things that move, their inclination is going to be to chase it. So if we apply that to children, if a toddler is running, a herding breed is going to be more inclined to chase a toddler who runs. You really want to think about your dog’s triggers and identify those so that we can plan for your specific dog and what might trigger them versus some other person’s dog, how your dog gets your attention, and then developing a homecoming plan. 

So think about things like when you’re changing a diaper, where do you want your dog? What do you want your dog to be doing? And then what do we need to train in order to make that happen? You know, when visitors come over to visit the baby, what do you want your dog to do? Where do you want him to be? What do we need to train to make that happen? 

We come up with this homecoming plan, and then there are training plans to help you figure that all out and videos to go with all of that. There’s over three dozen training plans. 

I also include a membership in my private Facebook community where I have scheduled office hours, where I have a zoom and you can pop in during office hours if you have a question, if there’s something that you’re unsure about and you want to meet with me during office hours. So that’s included in the course as well. And then beyond that, there’s also a voucher for a discounted rate if you decide you want to have a one on one video session with me. There’s a discounted rate for a single video session. So if you decide you go through the whole course, office hours, you know, aren’t enough and you still want to do a one on one session with me, you get a discount on that. 

So there’s really a whole lot of stuff that’s included in that that is just so far beyond just like a 60 minutes webinar that so many other people offer out there.

Zazie: Yeah, it sounds very comprehensive. That’s brilliant.

Kristi: Is that part of why you decided to offer a course like this is just you? You sort of took the temperature of what kind of offerings were available for people, do it yourself kind of thing and found a gap?.

Kate: Yeah, I felt like there was a gap, and I also felt like my one on one financially may not have been accessible to everyone. I like the self paced course for a couple reasons. One, it’s flexible, so it’s not tied to anyone’s schedule, so they can kind of do it at their own pace. I like that it’s a more affordable price point for people who may not be able to afford private one on one training or who just want to do sort of a DIY approach to training. But I also feel like it’s a little more comprehensive than what I can do during a one on one session because I’m not tied to a fixed timeframe of, okay, we have this time slot on Zoom to go through this, and I can actually include a lot more content and information in a self paced course because people are going through it at their own pace. 

So I actually kind of feel like it’s more comprehensive than what I cover in my one on one sessions, in a sense, because it’s packed with information, but I don’t have to worry about cramming it into a two hour private session.

Kristi: I’ve always felt like when you’re dealing with somebody in a self paced online course, there’s a little bit less need for sort of myth busting. I mean, you have to myth bust for sure, but I feel like people can read it and go away and, like, process and think about it and then come back and maybe read it again. So, you know, you’re still getting your message across, but you’re not. Like when you’re sitting across a table from someone and if they have a myth, that’s important. And as a dog trainer, it’s important for us to sort of, like, swim through that. You can take this colossal effort. You know, changing someone’s mind is a big deal. 

Kate: Yeah, I do do myth busting in the course. One of the biggest myths that I bust is the whole bringing home the baby blanket myth. So that is one of the most pervasive things that birthing professionals still put out there is like, oh, just bring home the baby blanket and your dog will miraculously love your baby. I wish that that little piece of information would just go away because it’s just not that simple. If it was that simple, we wouldn’t need a course like this. We wouldn’t need dog professionals to educate people on how to get their dog to like their baby. 

You know, I tell people, unless your baby is in the unfortunate situation where they’re in the NICU or they’re in the hospital for an extended period of time, the amount of time and effort that we would need to have with, with a baby blanket that smells like your baby, to condition your dog, to build that association through scent, to associate your baby’s smell to your dog, to build that positive association is so long and would take such an intense amount of training, we’re not going to get that with one or two exposures. 

And if we think about maybe one, the partner is bringing the baby blanket home from the hospital. That baby blanket doesn’t just smell like the baby. It smells like the hospital. It smells like the person who’s bringing it home. It smells like medication. It smells like whatever, whatever they wipe the baby down with. It smells like so many other things. And now we’re bringing this blanket home and we’re sort of shoving it in the dog’s face and we’re like, oh, what’s this? What’s this? What’s this? And we’re making a big deal about this thing, and the dog’s like, wait, what are you doing? Why are you shoving this thing in my face? And we’re kind of, like, freaking this dog out, and we’re not doing it in a very, we’re well intentioned, but we’re not accomplishing what we’re trying to accomplish, and it’s just not that simple. 

And so the sort of myth that ob gyns or birthing doulas or whoever is telling these expectant parents, like, oh, just bring home the baby blanket and your dog will know to like your child is just, that is the biggest myth out there and it’s just so not true. And I just wish that that would go away. So that is one of the many myths that I do sort of myth bust in the course.

Kristi: It seems hilarious to me that out of all of the stimuli that make up a baby, scent would be the one that the dog would be like, oh, okay. I mean, there’s also sound, sound stimuli like, I mean, it’s a baby.

Kate: Yeah, it’s a baby. It’s a physical thing. And I think people also, especially if they’re giving birth and they’re not adopting, I think there is also, we want to think, oh, this baby came out of me. Somehow my dog will know that this baby came out of me. And there’s this, my dog loves me, so my baby came out of me. So by default, my dog will love my baby because it’s a part of me and we want to assume that. And that’s just not true. And especially if your dog was not properly socialized or didn’t have the benefit of good socialization to children, that often is not the case. 

And babies, and more often than not, toddlers, you know, sometimes dogs are quote unquote fine with newborns because they don’t do very much. We carry them around, they make some noise, they’re a little stinky, and the dog sort of tolerates them. They put up with them. But then once the newborn moves into sort of mobility and they get a little mobile and they start to do stuff on their own and they get a little independent, then that’s where a lot of dogs struggle. 

So once they move into sort of toddlerhood, that’s where I get a lot more phone calls. And that’s when people start to freak out like, oh, now that my baby’s crawling and pursuing the dog, now the dog is growling or now the dog is super uncomfortable. So I think that’s something to also think about. Just because your dog may be comfortable with your newborn, do not assume that that will mean your dog is comfortable with your child moving forward into toddlerhood and school aged age.

Kristi: I think those like, another important message is that just because your dog is uncomfortable with your toddler doesn’t mean that they don’t, they aren’t going to like him as a little human or her as a little human, you know? Yeah, this is stuff we can train for.

Kate: Right.

Kristi: I think that leads us into another question. Our last question with you is, what’s your favorite sort of factor about child development, specifically, sort of in regards to child dog interactions that people listening to this podcast might be interested in?

Kate: I like to talk about the differences in the way our species communicate, especially in the way we show affection and create bonds. So if we think about, as humans were taught from a very early age, to connect to each other. Making direct eye contact, you know, you meet someone, you make eye contact, you shake their hands. So when a baby’s born and someone holds that newborn, we gaze directly into their eyes to, like, make a connection. Children are raised and make direct eye contact with each other. So they’re going to try to translate that to other species. 

So as a child is interacting with a dog, they’re going to try to stare directly at the dog’s eyes. As a toddler, they may be at direct eye level if a toddler’s standing. And for a dog, direct eye contact is often very confrontational, and that sets up some conflict. 

And then if we think about how we show affection. So as humans, what do we do? We often greet each other very excitedly. We run towards each other, we embrace, we hug, we kiss. And for dogs, hugging and kissing, you know, hugging is a uniquely primate way of showing affection. You know, hugging, for dogs is restraint. And most dogs may tolerate hugging at best, but most dogs don’t actually enjoy it. And if we think about when dogs get restrained, it’s at the vet and the groomer. And for many dogs, those are not pleasant experiences. We can train them to like those experiences, but for many dogs, they’re not inherently positive experiences. 

So for children, hugging is how we show affection to other humans, and they may want to hug a dog to show them that they love them or that they, that they, you know, want to show affection to that dog. But that is going to be a conflict. And so I think we have to be really cognizant of that and start to teach from very early age how to properly interact with other species and to just be really aware that a child is not going to know not to do those things. 

And we have to model as adults, we have to model appropriate interactions with the dogs in front of the children. So even if your dog tolerates or maybe puts up with you hugging them, that’s something you don’t want to model in front of your child because children are always watching and learning. And so you may hug your dog and think, oh, it’s fine. You know, she’ll put up with that from you as the adult, but you don’t want to do that in front of your child because your child is going to model that behavior. And that’s not something that’s necessarily going to be safe. 

And that’s also not something that you want to teach your child is safe to do. Because then if they go to your neighbor’s house and think that that’s safe to do with all dogs, if your dog tolerates it, they may go to your neighbor’s house and your neighbor’s dog may not tolerate that, and then you’re going to have a dog that’s biting your kid.

This transcript has been lightly edited for content and style.

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