As much as I might wish to be Dog Trainer to the Stars (or at least Bruce Springsteen and William Shatner), my dog training path has led to helping families with babies and young children live well with their family dogs.
Ironic, because I used to be as baby-phobic as they come.
I started teaching Dogs and Babies classes in 2001, when I was pregnant with my first son. At the time, I managed the Behavior and Training program at the San Diego Humane Society and we were always looking for new educational classes (and good visuals of a pregnant lady helped land some extra TV spots!). My first class was more about useful things you can teach your dog to make it easier to enjoy having the dog around — stuff like pick things up so you don’t have to bend over when you’re pregnant. Very dog trainer-y. However, I did include a photograph of a woman sort of holding out her baby to her dog and passed it around for people to check off whether they thought this was cute or horrifying. About 2/3 of the class chose “cute.” That was an eye-opener for me as I realized that there is a common blind spot when it comes to dogs and small children. Here is the original picture:
Anyway, I had my baby and went back to my regular behavior work and just did my thing with baby and dogs at home. It wasn’t until my son was a little over a year and I brought him to help with socialization at a puppy class that I realized that people found it odd that he could be very close to dogs (puppies, even!) and not be reaching out to touch them.
Everyone talked about the stuff their kids did with (to) their dogs, finding it hard to believe that very young children could share space with dogs in a friendly, relaxed manner without getting into the dog’s space. For us, it was natural – I guess my baby-phobic-ness made me assume my dogs wouldn’t really want much to do with a baby either!
I still did a Dogs and Babies class from time-to-time at the San Diego Humane Society but started including more “kid training” and photographs of dogs and kids together to illustrate and discuss body language. When I had my second child, it was a good test to see if THAT boy could also be the kind of kid dogs feel safe around because he was very different from my first son. Lest you think I just have easy, calm children, here he is in action at age three:
I pulled out the camera that day just to show my mother what I was up against. Later, though, I looked more closely and realized that our dog did not seem all that concerned. Me? I flinch all the time when he comes running by like that! Seriously, if dogs can feel safe around THAT child, your kids will be a piece of cake!
After I left the humane society, one of the major hospitals in San Diego, Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women, asked about adding the class to their Women’s Education offerings. A couple of other hospitals also picked it up, notably Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, and I’ve been teaching the class and specializing almost exclusively in dog/baby/young child issues since early 2005. I teach about 20+ classes a year and do bite consultations and work with families to help resolve concerns with dogs and young children.
I’m all about dogs and babies and kids. No glitzy, star-studded life for me. Just stuff like cleaning dog vomit off the Harry Potter wand before the kids get home from school (although, you’d think if it was MAGICAL, it could at least roll out of the way before the dog puked on it…). In a way, my life with kids has been one long science project because I have paid attention to every bit of what goes on with them and our dog(s) and our friends with their kids and dogs and my dog/baby clients through the years. I know what works and what doesn’t work, and I’m happy to share my experiences and insights through this blog.
I hope it helps your family get to your own “happily ever after.”
Madeline Gabriel, Certified Professional Dog Trainer