The three Miniature Schnauzers have been the centre of the couple’s family life for years – the oldest, Albert, is now ten years old. The little dogs’ lives are soon to be turned upside down because they are expecting not one, but two babies in October.
The dogs really are the sweetest, most gentle little things, each with their own traits. Albert is probably the most sensible – he is the oldest. Nine-year-old Dinky, the girl, is a little more sensitive. Pippin is the youngest at just three and more challenging than the other two. He likes to be ahead of the others and wants to control what they have and do – which is no problem. They give in to him.
It’s because of Pippin that I was called. There has been a very recent incident, particularly worrying with the coming arrivals in mind. He nipped a toddler. The child was sitting on the floor at the dog minder’s house where the dogs stay from time to time, ‘doing nothing’. The lady and gentleman were in the room with the baby grandchild. We don’t know where the other dogs were, but for some reason (we will never know what), Pippin just came running into the room and bit the child through its nappy, resulting in a bruise. One could speculate. Maybe a toy was involved. It was certain that at the time Pippin was already highly excited and stressed with a lot of comings and goings to the house and he’s not used to children. What the trigger was we will never know, but it was certainly completely out of his usual character.
The minders are fortunately still happy to look after the dogs and say they will keep them and their grandchild apart now. Pippin apparently was following the child around ‘quite happily’, or so they thought. Perhaps the incident was over a toy. Anyway, I suggest the couple carefully weans him into wearing a soft muzzle just in case, so nobody need then worry.
They have about four months to get their dog used to living a rather different kind of life. The couple will stop stirring them up unnecessarily with things such as feeding into Arthur’s toy-chasing obsession which winds Pippin up too, not pumping them up with excitement when it’s food time or when they come home from work.
There will be lots of visitors after they have had the babies, so from now on people coming to the house should be less exciting. They can gradually tone down their own greetings over time so it’s not a shock. Callers will become more mundane if they don’t take too much notice of the dogs initially – so they need training too. Sometimes the dogs are so hyped one may pee.
Several things that happen and cause no problems whatsoever now need to gradually change before the babies come. They have plenty of time. It’s so much better than several cases I have been to who haven’t considered how their dog might feel and its extreme reaction has taken them completely by surprise.
They can buy a puppy pen and teach the dogs that this is their special den, a place where only good things happen. When the babies arrive either dogs or babies can be in the pen – a perfect way to keep them safe and the dogs included in family life.
Looking ahead to when the babies are in high chairs with food (and dropping it deliberately!) they can already start teaching the dogs to keep their distance while people eat.
In the car the dogs won’t be able to jump freely all over the back seat when the babies are on it, so best to get them used to being contained behind a barrier in the back now.
There are plenty of YouTube clips of babies crying and screaming. They can expose the dogs to short sessions, starting soft, pairing crying with food so the sound of babies screaming becomes good news! They can do silly baby talk to a cushion or toy – feeding the dogs at the same time (that would make a good YouTube clip itself!). They can introduce the dogs to the smell of babies. Whenever the dogs see, hear or smell babies – the ‘food bar’ opens.
Bringing the twins home can be planned to avoid easily predictable problems. The dogs will have been staying with the dog minders for a while beforehand, so the babies will already be home. My advice to the couple is try to choose a time when infants are asleep and quiet, safely in the dog pen or behind a gate if it looks like the dogs might be territorial over the pen – so they aren’t being cuddled and so that the dogs can have the couple’s full attention. They should be given time to calm down before everyone goes to the babies. Then the ‘food bar’ opens.
It is very likely that the dogs will take two noisy, crying, sniffling, grunting and deliciously smelling infant humans entering their lives in their stride as so many dogs do, but preparing these dogs for baby twins after years of being the centre of attention is kindest on them – and safest all round.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Pippin, Dinkie and Arthur, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).