Tips To Keep Your Puppy Safe When Baby Comes To Visit.
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 Brick, by Nina Ottoson
♡ Kong Stuffing Recipes, from Rewarding Behaviors
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.