Living with dogs and babies - the toddler stage.

As I say about pretty much everything, I'm not an expert. But as our Wee Monster gets close to 2 years old, I can reflect back on what has worked so far, and what hasn't, as we've integrated him into the dog's lives. The key for us, has been having the ability to separate the dogs and child when necessary. Sometimes, it feels like our house is just full of fences and gates. 

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These baby gates were put in as part of our slowly, slowly approach to bringing a baby home. We found out we were pregnant in August, moved house in October, shifting the dogs' beds out of our bedroom at the same time. Over the summer we installed the baby gates to the bedrooms and set up the nursery. For the last month or so of my pregnancy we banned the dogs from the couch (even though I was sorely tempted to cuddle them a lot) and played baby crying sounds to them. We tried the traditional "bringing something that smells like the baby home from hospital before the baby" technique too. Not sold on either the sounds or smell thing personally, but we'd tried everything. By the time the baby came home in March, the dogs were well accustomed to the new regime and I think this minimized any jealousy issues that sometimes occur when a new baby takes over the household. It'd be nice to feel like we didn't have to oust the dogs from their role as treasured fur kids, but it was inevitable for us. We needed them to give us space and not to feel upset about being banned from the bedroom or the couch.

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These days, the only dog beds in the house, are the ones in their crates in the living room. Most of the time, the doors stand open. Bolo and Frankie both like to lounge in their crates with their heads hanging out. Czar likes to be a draught stopper in the front hall. But, when there are treats to be handed out, when we're cooking or eating, when the dogs are eating, the dogs get shut in. Because they associate it with food and treats - oh the yumminess of toast crusts! - they are happy to comply. Crate training 101 - make the crate a happy place for the dog, like a kennel or den.

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The Monster play pen meets the same purpose for the toddler. It's a happy place for him when we're cooking or packing the car or a dozen other things. We've been pretty lucky that, so far, only one of his toys has been significantly chewed by the dogs, because I'm quite pedantic about dropping them into the play pen when I tidy up.

A lot of the interactions between the dogs and the toddler happen through the bars of either the crates or the play pen. Which is not to say that we don't let them interact at all.

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But, as you can see, the toddler is pretty enthusiastic about his puppies at times and it's not fair to let him annoy them constantly. So supervision is routine. We watch closely for laid back ears, bared teeth, showing whites of eyes and other signs of nervousness. At the first sign that the dog is getting upset, the two are gently separated. Importantly, the dog is not punished for any growling or other signs of unhappiness - a dog that is punished for growling is more likely to snap without warning. Warning adults and children that the dog feels distressed is NOT bad behaviour.

We've got a similar situation in the back yard. 

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Space for the dogs, which this summer has had a mister system installed for hot weather. Brick floor and tall steel mesh walls are fairly husky escape proof. Water plumbed in to drinking bowls and optional wading pools. Security cameras allow J to keep an eye on the dogs in the pens from work too. 

With a toddler around, wading pools can be a hazard, (especially for teddy bears, as we found on the weekend) but the door to the pen can be latched. Wee Monster has shown that he can and will climb in, fully dressed, even on very cold mornings, and slip over in the wading pool. If he hit his head, it could be a disaster. Remember, babies and small children can drown in as little as 2cm of water. 

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Wee Monster's play equipment doesn't get sprayed or chewed by the dogs, and there's no dog poo for him to land in when he comes down the slide. He has a safe place to watch the dogs zoom around the back yard when they're being silly. Generally they're very good with him, but sometimes they forget that they have a rear end, swinging around and swatting him with a tail or crashing into him with their hind legs.

These measures aren't for everyone. We have friends whose young Sibes would jump the indoor or outdoor playpen fences without any trouble. Other friends have dogs that aren't crate trained and wouldn't tolerate being shut in. But we've worked to create large, clean, safe spaces that are appropriately cool/warm/dry for both our child and the dogs. They help us enjoy each other's company without anyone feeling harassed or overwhelmed. Neither dogs nor children should be locked up endlessly in inappropriate spaces. We are always working towards our toddler treating our dogs appropriately, but are also mindful that our dogs are getting older. They have aches and pains like all middle aged folks, and may not tolerate the exuberance of a child who can't predict the consequences of his actions yet. So these separation measures help us keep everyone safe and happy.