#38 | Your Dog And Newborn: Interview with Heather Corum from Canine Company

July 22, 2020

We love dogs and we love babies, so what is the best way to bring your baby home when you already have a dog in the house? All of us at the DTB show are dog owners and dog lovers, and we thought this was not only a fun, but also an important topic for new parents. Today, we have Heather Corum from Canine Company to give us the dog's perspective on what it's like when baby comes home and to teach us all the ways to train your dog for a safe, smooth transition to one big happy family with your pooch!

Canine Company

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View Episode Transcript

I'm Cynthia Overgard, owner of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, childbirth advocate and postpartum support specialist. And I'm Trisha Ludwig, certified nurse midwife and international board certified lactation consultant. And this is the Down To Birth Podcast. Childbirth is something we're made to do. But how do we have our safest and most satisfying experience in today's medical culture? Let's dispel the myths and get down to birth

There's one question I've gotten a lot over the years that I really can't answer and that is what is the best way to bring a baby into the home when you have a dog all of us here The down to earth show are dog owners and big time dog lovers, my husband and I have fostered and rescued dogs for years. In fact, we just rescued a little puppy a month ago. And now she's in the home along with our older rescue from years ago. And you know, we just thought this was not only a fun topic, but a really important one. So we have Heather Corum here from Canaan company to give us the dog's perspective on what it's like when a baby comes into the home, and to teach us all of the ways to train the dog so that you can have a safe, smooth transition and become that one big, happy family with your pooch.

Thanks for being here Heather. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity. Can you just tell us a little bit about first of all a little about your experience with dogs and then why this kind of preparation is so important for those couples who do have dogs?

Absolutely. So I have been working with dogs professionally for 25 years with canine company and we are a company Have pet professionals that provide training, containment, grooming and pet visiting for our clients. So I am in charge of our obedience program, which is called manners and I work hands on with clients in homes and also virtually to help them to have a better relationship with their pet to help them to understand what their pet needs are, and help their pet understand what the client expectations are so that they can have a harmonious home.

Why is this something that we don't just want to leave to chance or just like throw a little caution into the wind? Why is it so important to put some conscious preparation into introducing the baby to the dog?

That's a great question. You know, dogs are very sensitive to their environment and environmental changes can be a big deal for them. Now, often times our clients dogs are their first baby and when their actual baby comes into the world know everybody's so excited, but there's nervousness and anxiety and the dog is picking up on all of that energy that Dog is picking up on, I don't really know why mom is so you know, different than she used to be, maybe there's new habits or new things coming into the home. And so the confusion that can result from all of that activity and all of those emotions can become difficult for a dog to understand. So it's really important, since you have, you know, almost nine months to figure this out, it's really important to get ahead of it, for the safety of all involved for the mental health of all involved and just for, again, the harmony in the home so that the dog understands. This is a a great change. This isn't a new member of the family. No, I'm not being replaced. I'm still the fluffy baby. But we want to make sure that everybody is on on the same page as to what what each individual needs from this for the safety of the baby, as well as the mental health of the parents and the dog.

Let me just ask the top question that deepest fear of all that I think people have, what is the likelihood of a couple who has a dog who has a healthy meal relationship in their household? Who is a gentle dog? Or a normal dog who responds normally to guests? What's the likelihood that a dog will just like, turn and be unrecognizably? aggressive all of a sudden toward a baby? Does that really happen? Or are we coming from a more sensitive place about like just making sure that this all goes smoothly and that everyone acclimates to their new environment? Is there really a key concern first of making sure the dog doesn't just suddenly become aggressive when a baby shows up?

So Dr. Animals and as animals, they do have animal instincts, and therefore they can be unpredictable. That being said, you use a couple of really important words and that is healthy relationship and normal behaviors. And if you have a healthy relationship with your dog, and you're aware of what he's, you know, what he's used to and what his habits are, and where his sensitivities lie, this is something that you can almost cater to before the baby comes. I can't say for sure that There is a dog you know that would not ever turn aggressively, especially a dog who is very well seated in his comfort level in the family. Just as people you know they become jealous don't don't necessarily feel jealousy, but they do understand rivalry they do understand, you know, attention and and affection. And when those resources are ceased, or they close off, or they become even more minute than they were before, it can be become very upset by that. And so, while we would never ever leave a newborn alone with even the most gentle dog, it's unlikely that who has a healthy relationship with their pet parents is going to turn for say, you know, in air quotes, but that's not to say that he can't experience that feeling of rivalry, that feeling of being put out of his comfort zone. And so be sensitive to those sorts of things and the changes that are coming, you know, even you and I as people Understand that in in a high stress situation like having a baby, like bringing a new baby into the home, everybody's emotions are running high and everybody can feel a little bit maybe different than they used to they're, you know, and maybe somebody gets a little snappy because they're just extra stressed or they're, they're, they're feeling anxious about how is going to go. And we have the ability to understand and reason, you know, this is because of this, the dog doesn't. So we have to kind of be their proponent and advocate in that situation, and understand that they need a little bit of an explanation from us.

Okay, great. So I know you prepared some tips for our families. So why don't you go through this right now?

Sure. Absolutely. Um, you know, I really think one of the most important things that that we can do if you're having your baby at a hospital or a birthing center, as soon after the baby is born as possible if you could have either your partner or you know a relative or someone who's watching the dog to to come home with an item of the baby's upper bathrooms. Or receding blanket would be really ideal because, you know, introducing that scent right away is super, super important. It allows the dog to have a positive experience without the crying without the sweat and the wiggling, you know that babies do. Also, I'm a big fan of naming things as they occur in a dog's life. Because dogs have a huge capacity for understanding vocabulary and understanding what things are. And as we know, they're very, very strong in associating sense with items. And so if the baby's name is James, you know, bring the receiving blanket home and say James, and then give a treat lots of positive rewards and repeat the name James James. Every time you're raising your puppy and you're and you're allowing them to smell this blanket because then when baby comes home and you introduce James, there's this underlying understanding of this is James and this is how we teach dogs to know who people are by scent. recognized. It's just amazing and they can have a friendship and a relationship before, you know before the baby's even six months old. What you can also do, Cynthia is inversely, so if James is ill, if James is crying if James is crawling on the floor, there's a no James, you know, don't touch him right now. You know, preparation is really key and having some forethought and foresight into what's going to happen in your life. Some people don't have a clue what's going to happen. But if you can have any idea, you know, we're going to be introducing this new furniture into our home, we're going to be renovating this you know, room that was an office into a nursery now. And that nursery may now be off limits where before, you know, the dog may have, you know, waited and laid under your feet while you were working at the computer. Now, the nursery may be off limits for the first few months while everyone's getting acclimated to one another. As I mentioned, dogs are very sensitive to environmental changes. So the sooner that you can do this and the more gradually, the better. also providing a safe space for the dog, whether that's a great Just his own bed, or a specific room that's kind of, you know, it's dog proof. And it's also off limits to the baby or it's quiet. That's really important as well. Maybe bringing in sense that the baby will bring with them. diaper rash cream, for example, you know, just a diaper pail, that's going to be a big one that we want to stay away from as a dog, right? That's important. Having an idea of what the dog might get into or what might be might what you might be very curious about. And knowing that we're going to want to keep them away and keep them safe as well as keeping the baby safe. One of the things that a client can do is to mimic what is going to happen when baby is born. So whether you're birthing in a hospital or your birthing at home, it's important to understand that the dog's life is going to get turned upside down. So as silly as it may sound, having a doll ahead of time that you're carrying around spending a lot of time with you know, swaddling, cuddling even You know, laying and sitting in a position on the couch as if you're nursing or bottle feeding. This is the kind of thing that needs to get used to seeing and being around, and also needs to be treated in a positive way with yummy treats for remaining calm and not jumping up on you when you're holding this stuff not barking at you when you're holding this doll. Another tip that I would advise is to similar to getting used to the smells of general baby smells, and also the sounds of a baby loud. Brian can be very disruptive to a dog and it can be upsetting. Sometimes newborns cries are very shrill, not just sometimes. It's important for a dog to kind of get used to that you can you can just download that noise on your phone or on your computer and kind of played in the background and you would start at a low volume and maybe raise the volume over time just so that your dog gets used to that's kind of the the soundtrack of our life now right is baby crying for a while.

Well, one thing on that it's interesting because you're right, when that sound is happening when that baby is in distress, the next thing that happens is the parents stress hormones elevate. And if the dog can pick up on our energy that would also make the dog feel very uncomfortable. Right? I mean, like if, if a police siren or an ambulance goes by, it's a disturbing noise to a dog, but they sense we ignore it, we feel totally calm. But if the baby cries, and that's disturbing, the parents do have a biophysical, a biophysical response to that cry, they get stressed until they can handle and soothe their baby. So that's something else that would impact the dog that responds to the crying in us. Right?

That's right. Yeah. And so we don't want our dog to think that the baby is a source of stress for us, although sometimes we can't help it. So preparing the dog for understanding that we are going to respond to that noise, but if he responds in a calm manner, we can reward for that. This is going to be a period of a lot of praise and a lot of treatment. To hug because they're really going to need to understand what behavior it is that you're looking for. It's also very important to be able to say no, you know, discipline and boundaries are totally okay for a dog, they're actually great for their mental health. And it's going to add to the safety in your household. So having the nursery be off limits, whether it's with a baby gate, or an invisible fence product, where the dog can get up to, but not into the nursery is ideal. And there are many dogs, you know, nanny dogs that would like you to know that the baby is crying, Hey, Mom, you should come over here and attend to this. And if that's the case, immediately praise and treat that dog because they do need to know that their help is appreciated, as long as it's not done in a very loud or distracting manner. Also, if a baby cries and we direct our dog to their own bed, to lay down in a fall manner, then they should get lots of treats for that as well. Because we don't want them to feel like this is something that we abruptly get up for and we stressfully respond to and then that that would then you know That stress will then project onto them as well.

So as far as giving treats to the dog for appropriate behavior, is it as simple as you know, we're used to giving treats to our dogs for doing something. And I feel like in this case, it's for the absence of doing something. So normally it's like sit and here's a treat, do something that I want you to do. And here's a treat. But in this case, we almost have to change our own thinking because as we go about our daily activities with the baby, and the dog doesn't react and the dog stays calm and just watches us and its head turns from this side of the room to that side of the room as we cross the room with the baby. That's when to give the dog the treat like Oh, good, you're doing nothing but being calm. There you go. So it's a change in our thinking, isn't it?

It is and you can also ask for things that the dog is used to. If a dog is sitting, he's unable to jump. So if he's in a sit, you can ask for a sit and treat for that. We also like to teach our dogs leave it and leave it is something that goes with it's not a toy. It's not yours, and it's is never going to be yours. So therefore babies boys or baby stuff or even baby believe it is something that just means turn your attention away from it. And we can command leave it and then when the when the eyeballs move away or the dog physically moves away from the item, we can reward for that. And they do that in a calm manner and they actually love the leaving game. Because we do know that baby toys and dog toys can look similar. And we want to make sure that the dog is comfortable with their own toys, but not stealing baby toys or things that they you know, we don't want a dog walking around with a bottle of diaper rash cream, that would be a mess. First of all is toxic for the dog all of the above else.

Yes, that's very interesting is that a normal command that you would give a dog with or without a baby leave it because like you teach them not to run shoes that way. So now this is a whole new series of objects in the home, completely foreign to the dog. So this is probably as you're saying one of the most important useful commands you can give a dog very useful. Yeah, we teach them that for counter surfing or for you No, the pill bottles that may fall off the kind of anything that could be detrimental to the dog leave it is not something that you'll ever have. It's not yours, you shouldn't think about it, it's never going to be yours. And a lot of baby stuff falls into that category. So working on your dog's relationship with you is important from the start. But as I mentioned before, some some parents, you know, their dog is their first baby. And so they have given all the love that they have to this four legged baby prior to having their own human baby. And sometimes that can be a little bit too much. And what we don't want is to have an abrupt cessation of that attention in that love in favor of lavishing the attention on the baby. And sometimes that happens, and it's very inadvertent and it's certainly not malicious. But the dog doesn't understand why suddenly my four walks a day and my seven trees a day went down to you know, maybe one walk if mom or dad has enough time and energy, and boy, they don't even want to play tug with me and we can't play fetch out in the yard. So what is happening? And so we want a gradual transition from time to dog to less than less, but still individual time with the dog, consider him a sibling, he does need his own time. But it's okay for him to be off on his own, maybe quietly integrate quietly in another room where he can see and hear what's going on. But he does need to learn how to self soothe. So that's an important part of being really good to your dog and preparing them mentally and emotionally for the disruption that's about to happen in their life.

Okay, you know, earlier you mentioned training the dog perhaps to not enter the nursery if the couple has a specific room dedicated to the baby. At what point can they ease on that restriction and let the dog in? Or is that just you know, when does that change?

I don't have a hard line on restriction to the nursery because there are so many dogs out there family dogs who are so accepting and I almost want to use the word responsible about their They're kind of Guardian role when it comes to the baby. Yeah. So it's important that a dog is never left alone with a baby. That's the bottom line is, is a dog is an animal. They can misinterpret things. Babies are unpredictable, they make weird noises and extreme smells, you know, so we don't want to leave them alone. However, when your dog has shown that he is receptive to hearing the cries and not responding in a negative way, or a hyper way, or jumping or barking or growling or anything like that, that would give you pause. I think that gradually under supervision, a dog can be allowed to come into the nursery, the nursery is secure and the crib is secure. You know, Doug's not getting into the crib, but he can go sniff the baby see the baby. So a lot of people will use a baby monitor for themselves, obviously, to hear the beat what's going on in the baby's room, and the dog will alert on that as well. And there I know many couples who have a dog again, they have that nanny feeling about them and they have That guardianship, and they'll alert on the monitor as well. And it's nice for the dog to be able to hear what's going on, and then maybe even go and visually see what's going on, they feel a responsibility to check in on the baby. And as long as you're feeling like, under supervision, your dog can handle this responsibility. That's okay. I think that it's important to understand that all of the emotions that we feel as people are not necessarily what our dog feels, they are very, very sensitive to our emotions, but they don't have the same emotions we do. They may have similar ones I mentioned jealousy versus rivalry. Dogs work for resources. And those resources include space and attention, food, and entertainment. And so all of those things are provided by their pet parents, and eventually by the baby as well. When the baby gets old enough to interact with the dog. This is going to be something that they're going to do together, which is great. But be careful not to categorize your dog in a human way. Many people accidentally become anthropomorphic. They give their dog a human characteristic that a dog doesn't necessarily have. And so scolding your dog, for example, for having a body accident in the nursery, number one dog shouldn't have been unsupervised in the nursery. And number two, if the nursery has a dirty diaper, you may think, well, maybe this is the thing to do in here, and I don't want anybody near my baby. So I'm going to mark this area, and to make sure that nobody is near my baby, and I'm gonna let everybody know this is my baby. So dogs don't necessarily think that they've done something wrong. They actually think they're doing you a favor. Well, if nobody's in here with a baby, let me mark this area so that if anybody should come in, they know that this is my baby and I'm protecting it.

You walk in and see the mess and the dog is like you're welcome. Yeah. That's right. That's right. It's so funny. Um, there's a lot more where that came from. I'll do it. Right. I can do this anytime for you. Anything that you need.

Another thing that I think it's important to understand is that confusion can happen when there's not a clear expectation of the dog's responsibilities not only to the baby but but to the household. those responsibilities include, you know, being a well mannered, you know, we're not jumping, we're not barking at every little thing. Just because a leaf blew off a tree doesn't mean that we're barking at it. Knowing when it's time to stop playing and settle down. And so having a routine and setting up just like you would for a baby. In this case, you can make your parallel having a routine and for the dog to understand when he can expect things to happen. As well as when he can expect things won't happen. Like No, it's baby's feeding time. We're not going for a walk right now. It's really helpful. So if you can set something up like that, because we all know that we are going to get disrupted. There's going to be those middle of the night wakings and cries and all that and we can't necessarily prepare for that. back. But we can try to make things as structured as possible. Introducing your dog to the things that you will be using that he's never seen before, like a stroller, for example, or the car seat. These are things that he should get familiar with before baby is even born. And it certainly if you're walking your dog on a regular basis, maybe you're going to be walking him next to an empty stroller until baby comes home and is in the stroller with you. Because some dogs become a little bit frightened by the wheels a little bit frightened by the noise or the proximity of the stroller. And so they need to they can't just acclimate instantly, they need a little gradual transition into that, you know, babies aren't babies forever. They're not newborns forever. And as they grow, it's important to develop a healthy relationship between your baby and your dog and to know what's acceptable and what's not. As your baby becomes mobile, and is maybe crawling around on the floor, it's very important to know that you should be picking up your dog's food off the floor. We don't want to have any confrontations over food. Honestly, that's something that I recommend in the first place, even if your baby isn't on the floor and mobile, having free access to food all the time. And then knowing that you have a baby who will eventually be mobile enough to maybe go put their their hand in that food bowl is just a recipe for possible disaster. So why don't we just get in a habit now of picking up our dog's bowl off the ground when he's done eating, he's only you don't need 10 or 15 minutes to eat. Let's pick the bowl up and put it away. And then it will be reintroduced later at mealtime at his mealtime. When we know that baby is not on the floor and that way, there's no possibility of an incident.  when you just said it takes 10 or 15 minutes to eat. My first thought was, you don't have a lab, Do you?

That's right, absolutely. And so the idea of, of having controlled mealtimes is actually a mental tip to help your dog to understand that there are windows of opportunity for things and that not all resources are available. At all times, entitlement is something that many first time parents find out that their dog suffers from. But they didn't even know it. little dogs especially but all dogs, they kind of they take little liberties with you, whether it's just by first they just put my follow up on your lap, and then my whole front end is up on your lap, and then all of a sudden, I'm on the couch with you, and you really didn't walk your dog on the couch. And maybe you did, and that's fine. But sometimes they will just encroach on us a little bit at a time until we finally realize, wow, I really allowed a lot of things to happen that I never thought as a parent I would. And that may be as a parent, parent, you know, I don't necessarily want my dog. We don't want the dog jumping on the highchair for food. And they find out that babies are endless sources of food as well.

You know, I don't think in my years of being in this field, where we've talked about and read about entitlement with children. Now we're talking about dogs, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone really use the verb. You just did. An so impressed. You said if your dog suffers from entitlement, that is the perfect way to convey what entitlement really does to a child or to a dog. They suffer from it. And it does come down to another topic that we have all the time. It's boundaries. So yeah, you love your dog, you want to always say yes, yes, yes. But it really comes down to like this dog is going to feel more secure with appropriate boundaries.

So true, you've really summed it up very nicely. I do believe that a dog's mental health is very dependent on how their their owner treats them. And we all love our dogs, and we all want what's best for them. And sometimes what's best for them isn't what they want. It's what they need. And if we are constantly giving, giving, giving what they want, and allowing free access to the resources that dogs will work for. We're not giving them a good work ethic and we're not giving them a good mental state. So it's very, very important for us to be aware for our dogs and our children.

Heather, before we wrap up, what would you say to other couples who Don't have a dog at the time of bringing a baby into the home, but they plan on getting a dog in the first year or two. Is there anything they need to take into account? Or is it essentially a non issue because the baby is already a part of that home?

You know, that's a really great question. I think that's dependent on whether it's a dog is a puppy at the time that they bring it home or whether the dog is an older dog that has some experience with children. If you've got a one year old, you've probably already got your home baby proofed. And it's a good idea to remain so for the puppy because there are several things that a puppy will get into that a baby will get into as well. Whether you still have gates up to keep them out of certain rooms or something that's ideal, but as far as your relationship goes, bringing a puppy into your home and understanding that a young child can be overwhelming for a puppy but also, if it's a young dog, they may equate a young child who is on the floor who's grabbing it things who's you know, making strange noises as just another puppy and Sometimes puppies play rough they play with their teeth and paws. And that's not unusual. And it's not malicious. But babies don't have the same teeth and claws. So it's not an even playing field there. So just the supervision there is really key. But yeah, but you know, kids and dogs just go together. It's wonderful for them to grow up together.

What would you say is the biggest takeaway of all with all these tips you've given us and strategies? What's the most important thing to keep in mind?

I think that the most important thing is to be aware of yourself and what you're putting out into the environment. You know, your energy and your ability to handle a stressful situation can really have a huge effect on your dog as it can on your child. Yeah. When the when your child gets older, if they fall off a bicycle, and you oh my god and you're screaming yell and Oh, he's my baby. If you just say, okay, Joey, stand up and brush it off. We're going to try again, this is great. That's the kind of thing that you Want to be able to do with your dog? So if your dog panics about something that is new to him, whether it's baby related or not being able to say, Hey, buddy, you're okay, everything is cool, we're gonna get through this together and having a very farm and kind of just even feel personality and energy to you is going to be so, so important. And if you feel like you can't understand your dog, you're not on the same talking terms, you're not on the same page. How do you get someone to come into your home to allow you to see things from the dogs point of view, just like you baby proof your home before your baby is there, you can make your home, a place where your dog feels confident, like it's his own, but also like you're in charge, you're the leader there, you provide the resources that are that are necessary for his well being, which aren't necessarily all the things he needs, but you also provide this kind of benevolent dictatorship where your your Love and you're all airing and you're giving him what he needs to be the best dog he can both mentally physically. But you're also there as a disciplinarian in case he gets out of hand.

Does that make sense? It makes perfect sense to me. I've practiced yoga for many years. And my favorite yoga instructor is the founder of power yoga. He's out in California, his name is Brian test. And when you're practicing an intense position, he says, you know, we want to treat our bodies the way we want to raise our children. You want to be firm, but gentle, and I even respected in my children's piano teacher or the people who are coaching them and other things like can this authority figure be firm and gentle. And that really is such a beautiful balance when you strike it because the firm never negates the gentle, the gentle is always there. I've never been able to combine two attributes together that I have found to be more important in in loving someone you're responsible for. Absolutely. And when it comes right down to it, we are responsible for those that that don't have the ability to take care of themselves, whether it's an infant or a dog, who doesn't have the ability to reason the way we do. You know, there are things that we do for their own good, it's for your own good. You know, and they may not agree with time, but it's really the most important thing that we can do for them. I have had so many great experiences of clients who came into the process of oh my goodness, we're going to be expecting a newborn into our home. But we have our dog and our dog is our baby and what do we do and having them apply all of the tips that we discussed today and then just really having an exemplary outcome where everyone is happy and everyone gets along? They really are just such a part of the family.

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About Cynthia Overgard

Cynthia is a published writer, advocate, childbirth educator and postpartum support specialist in prenatal/postpartum healthcare and has served thousands of clients since 2007. 

About Trisha Ludwig

Trisha is a Yale-educated Certified Nurse Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Counselor. She has worked in women's health for more than 15 years.

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