I've simplified our life at home. I'm not trying to cram too much into a day, I'm making nap time a priority, and I'm trying to get as many healthy fruits and vegetables into our diet as possible – this goes for Jasper too....he hates his green vegetables!
Settling into our new routine with an active toddler, it was clear that a few simple rules were creating a great foundation for a stress-free home. I was getting to spend quality time with Jasper, he was looking a lot more relaxed around Georgia, and I wasn't feeling like I was being pulled in a hundred different directions.
Don't get me wrong, there's still chaos at times, but it normally involves paint or hummus, not the dog!
Here are my five dog friendly rules that will help you to increase the level of calm, even in the most chaotic of family homes:
#1. If You're Distracted, Get Proactive!
This rule has been huge for me, and was a real game changer for Jasper. What it involves is setting up a child-free-zone, through the use of a baby-fence or gate. In our apartment we use the Summer Infant Custom Fit Gate as a room divide, providing Jasper with a safe child-free-zone anytime I'm distracted with the unending tasks involved in being a Mom while running a business from home.
If I am not actively (or mentally) present in what my daughter is doing, I want to make sure she is in as safe a space as possible. That goes for Jasper too.
Jasper loves his child-free-zone, and will often ask for the gate to be opened even when Georgia is napping – more on this coming up.
# 2. Nap Time = Fun Time.
I make the most of every minute Georgia is napping, and so does Jasper.
This is our time to cuddle on the couch, hide treats around the apartment for him to find, and engage in all the physical activities that I don't want to be modelling in front of Georgia, such as rough-housing, kissing, and general hands-on play that is not appropriate for a young child to copy.
I also use this time to clip Jasper's nails (which he hates more than green vegetables), and groom his coat, which despite being short, gets everywhere. It's our time to relax, drink coffee, and cuddle some more.
#3. Play Time For Everyone.
The key to creating a calm home is inclusion.
Keeping your dog behind a barrier in a child-free-zone is great for when things are a little chaotic, but your dog needs to be able to adjust to all the different developmental phases that your child is going through – and they can't do that from behind a baby-gate.
Inclusion can be as simple as having your dog quietly settle on their bed next to you while you're nursing or feeding, to playing gentle games that both your toddler and dog can enjoy, like throwing a ball, or tossing kibble in the grass for your dog to find.
The key here is to be fully present, keeping excitement levels low, and always have an adult in between your dog and child. Any interactions between your dog and toddler should be carefully set up by you, and should never include hugging or climbing on the dog.
I like the saying “One hand just enough. Two hands too rough.” when allowing your toddler to stroke the dog, and “Pat, Pat, Pause” is always a good practice to get your child into, allowing the dog to move away if they are feeling uncomfortable.
Disclaimer: If your dog is easily excitable, likes to jump up, or has poor basic skills, I would recommend contacting a Dogs & Toddlers™ Educator in your area who has experience working with young families before attempting Play Time.
#4. Leave An Escape Route.
This is an escape route for your dog, not you!
It's very easy for your dog to feel overwhelmed, especially when there's a quick moving toddler on the scene, and you may not always pick up on the subtile communication signals your dog is broadcasting, asking for space.
When including your dog in family activities try and do so in an open area. Avoid cornering your dog, or trapping them in tight spaces such as between the couch and coffee table. It's best practice to invite your dog into your area, as apposed to encroaching on theirs, this way they can choose to ignore the invitation if they need some toddler-free-time.
#5. Lets Eat Cookies In Bed!
This is Jasper's favourite addition to our list of House Rules.
Jasper's bed is set up behind the baby barrier in the “child-free-zone”. To help make this his Happy Place, and not an area he feels he's being banish to, I'm frequently tossing tasty cookies into his bed for him to find.
He loves this game, and regularly asks for the gate to be opened so he can hang-out in his favourite zone. This has been a huge change for us. Prior to Georgia's arrival Jasper was a bit of a Mamma's boy and would follow me around the house. Now, he still like to keep an eye on me, but he's happy to do so from the comfort of his child-free-zone.
A few weeks ago I headed over to a girlfriend's house to meet her 14 week old puppy, and I brought Georgia along with me.
Georgia, though not walking yet was pretty mobile, could crawl at lightning fast speed, and pull herself up on furniture. She loves to grab at anything within reach, oh, and she's also easily excited by any dog that is willing to pay her attention.
My girlfriend wanted to make this visit a fun one, for all of us, though was mindful that both Georgia and her pup would become easily excited, which can quickly develop into overwhelm, and stress.
Happy to follow my lead, my girlfriend and I went around the home and did a little prep:
Create A Safe Space
First off we secured the baby gates, creating two separate areas on the main floor of the home. If Georgia was in one area, the puppy would be in the other.
Benefits: Setting up a barrier through the use of a baby gate, or an exercise pen, is one of the easiest ways to manage the space, creating a calm zone, and providing a safe environment for individual puppy and baby play.
Things to watch for: Barrier frustration is a real thing, and both puppies and babies can exhibit some or all of these unwanted behaviours: jumping up; bitting; scratching, and whining. It's important to interrupt these behaviours, and redirect their attention to a more appropriate activity.
Bring Out The Puzzles
Food puzzles are the bomb! Not only can they keep your pup happily occupied by themselves, but they also provide much needed mental stimulation, which is a great way to tire-out any active pup.
If you're new to the wonderful world of food puzzles here are a few of my favourites:
The goal here is to give your puppy sometime fun to do, on their own, allowing you the time to attend to your visitors. Set your pup up in a quiet part of the home, either behind a barrier, in their exercise pen, crate or bedroom. Somewhere where the baby can't pester them.
Depending on how quickly your pup empties their food puzzle, you may need to re-fill. Another option is to plan ahead of time and freeze your pup's breakfast and dinner in a couple of Kongs and have them in the freezer ready to go.
Most puppy parent I know would jump at the chance to “socialize” their pup with a friend's baby, but there are a couple of things to consider before doing so.
First off, successful socialization is a lot more passive than you would initially think. Having your pup settled safely behind a barrier working on a frozen kong, while your friend's baby makes all these weird noises, movements, and smells a few meters away is often all you need for a great first encounter.
Secondly, a bad experience during socialization, for either your pup or the baby, can create a negative fear associations that could last for the rest of their life. A bad experience could be something as simple as a baby getting scratched, or your puppy having it's ear yanked. It really doesn't take much, and accidence can happen quickly.
If you have an easily excitable pup, or a visiting child who is rough and grabby, don't rush to introduce them to each other. It's better to keep them apart, happily entertained by their own activities, than to risk a bad experience.
Time To Say Hello?
If you are going to have puppy and baby in the same area there needs to be constant supervision, frequent breaks, and a real effort to keep the excitement and energy level in the room as low as possible.
♡ Provide enough time for both your puppy and the visiting baby to settle. Use a barrier and food puzzles to distract your pup, and prevent the baby from encroaching on your pup's space (this includes shaking the barrier, poking fingers through gaps, or banging on their crate).
♡ The key to success is to keep the encounter as low key as possible. Open the gate, invite your pup in and encourage them to settle. Having your pup on leash will add an extra level of safety.
♡ When puppy and baby are drawn to each other, keep the encounter short, 10 to 20 seconds, then redirect them towards another activity.
♡ Your puppy should always have an escape route, and should never be cornered by an approaching baby. Obviously you want to prevent behaviours such as jumping up, licking, and mouthing, but also keep an eye out for the more subtle signs of puppy-stress and overwhelm, such as looking away, lip-licking or tongue flicks, yawning, and a full body shake-off. Any of these stress signals is your cue to create more space between puppy and baby.
Have A Plan B
The start of an ideal visit would involve your puppy settling in their quiet area, away from your visitors and their baby, working hard on a food puzzle, only being allowed into the group space once they are calm. If this seems impossible you will want to have a Plan B ready at hand:
♡ Putting your puppy in a bedroom, or crate. This will only work if your pup has practiced their crate training skills, or is happy to spend alone time behind a closed door.
♡ Or arrange to have a neighbour or Dog Walker take your pup out for the duration of the visit.
Training Tip: If your puppy is easily excitable around children in the home, practice working on their Focus & Attention skills outside, with children at a distance.
Happy Baby. Happy Puppy.
My girlfriend was amazing at managing our visit. Her pup was behind a barrier for the first 30-45 mins, then brought into the group area to work on her food puzzle while Georgia and I entertained ourselves in a different part of the house. Puppy and baby were only allowed in the same space once they had settled, and were comfortable in the new environment. After half and hour the pup was happy to go to her crate for some quiet time – baby guests are exhausting!
Through careful management of the area, and close supervision of all interactions between dog and baby we were able to have a fun little visit, and avoided traumatizing the puppy, or Georgia. The puppy was able to “meet a baby”, Georgia got lots of attention, and the home-prep didn't take more than a few minutes, and used items that were already in the house.
A Little Planning Goes A Long Way
A little thoughtful planning ahead of time can make a whole world of difference when setting your puppy up for success when babies come to visit.
Hopefully after reading this you can now see how “puppy socialization” around babies is actually a very passive process, and by focusing more on keeping both puppy and baby calm and entertained in their own individual activities, can create a better experience for both parties.