Monday, April 25, 2011

How can you train your dog to accept a new baby in your home with positive reinforcement training?

In the earlier posts I discussed 4 different types of dog behavior problems and how to get around them effectively. The first problem that we discussed was how to effectively crate train your dog, then we saw how to tackle the grooming phobia, and then the barking problem while seeing other dogs or strangers and then prior to this post I discussed the phobia in dogs for other dogs and people.

In this post I am going to discuss another quite common behavior problem that the dog owners have to cope up when a baby come into their homes.

Before I share my knowledge on how to train your dog for a new arrival in your home, I will quickly give you a brief explanation of positive reinforcement training and how did it become the most effective means to training different types of animals and dogs.

What is positive reinforcement training and who invented it?

Positive reinforcement training is a training method where you reward the animal for the right behavior or the desired behavior and by ignoring or not rewarding the unwanted behaviors. By doing so, you are reinforcing the behavior that you want and the animal demonstrates it more often.  The rewards can be in the form of treats or warm praises and hugs. But treats are much more effective. So in positive reinforcement training method there are no aversives used or no negative reinforcements. This is the reason why positive reinforcement training is so effective and healthy for the animals.

The most popular method of positive reinforcement training is clicker training in which the desired behavior of the animal is rewarded with an abrupt sound from a clicker devise coupled with a treat or praise. Karen Pryor, who is also an expert marine animal trainer, is known as the founder of clicker training in dogs. Almost all renowned clicker trainers around the world use her techniques.

Clicker training method is based on a behavior analysis invented and developed more than 30 years ago by Keller Breland, Marian Breland Bailey, and Bob Bailey and was initially used in training marine animals in which a whistle is used instead of a clicker. Karen Pryor has used this training method successfully to train marine animals like dolphins and killer whales. Clicker training is also an effective training method to train other animals like cats, rabbits, chicken, parrots and horses. 

Please watch this video!

How to train your dog for a new arrival into your home

Now let me come back to the behavior problem for this post i.e. “your dog showing resistance (or hostile) to accept a new arrival into the home” and how to get around this problem effectively. You must train your dog long before the baby arrives into your home. There are in fact many simple and proven ways of training your dog to get used to a baby. I will discuss some of those effective methods right here.

Train your dog to have lesser contact with you

If your dog is always used to seeing you around or even sitting on your lap then you need to stop that months before your baby arrives. Instead you should decide the timings when your dog should be around you or on your lap. This way your dog will be OK to stay away from you or to just sit beside you(instead of your lap) when you are feeding or taking care of your baby. You can easily train your dog to do this using clicker training.

1.      Click/Treat when your dog sits besides you instead of your lap
2.      Click/treat him immediately as soon as he walks away from you.
3.      Also associate these behaviors with cues like sit, leave or anything that you like, so that it will become easier for you to make him do these when you want him to do.
4.      This way you will reinforce these 2 behaviors and the dog will ultimately learn what you want him to do.
5.      You must repeat these methods until he’s fully trained.
6.      This way your dog will learn to keep less contact with you which will make your life a lot easier when the baby actually arrives.

Let your dog get used to babies and baby’s stuff

If you have friends or relatives with babies, invite them over to your place and see how your dog reacts to the baby and it’s cries, you can even record the baby's cries and sounds on to a CD and play it out for your dog to hear on a daily basis so that he gets used to it. Also try to introduce your dog to baby stuff like cribs, pacifiers or a stroller and see how he reacts .If he remains calm in that atmosphere, you should immediately reward(click/treat) him for being nice. It is also a good idea to get your dog used to the scents of baby powder and oil. Repeat this as many times as you can till your dog is completely used to babies and baby stuff. If you want you can also see how the dog behaves to a baby's touch. Click/Treat him for staying calm. But make sure you sanitize your baby's hands after touching the animal.

Teach your dog to drop or leave

It is also a good idea to train your dog to drop any baby toys that he might have accidentally gotten hold of and associate them with the cues like “drop it” or “leave it” which will come in handy later on.

You can offer a yummier treat than what the dog is holding on to, so that the dog drops the toy in exchange for the treat, and when he drops it, you must click that behavior and treat it immediately. This way you will train your dog to drop things using positive reinforcement or clicker training.

Important: It is very important to gradually reduce the rate of treats given to the dog while training and gradually associate the behaviors with the appropriate cues. Because you don't want the dog to learn that in order to offer a desired behavior he should be bribed with a treat, no ! you don't want that.

It is also highly recommended, to protect your baby from contracting any kind of infections or diseases, to keep all your baby stuff out of reach of your dog and also make sure that the dog has no access to the baby or make sure that baby cannot go near the dog without your presence. You should also never leave a dog and your baby together unattended no matter how trained your dog might be.

If you can follow these above training tips you will certainly have a well behaved dog ready to give a warm welcome to the new arrival to your home and accept him/her as a family member.

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