Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Getting up close and personal with Baby

It's never easy for a dog to move over and let a new baby take the spotlight in the home.  What once was a dog-centered household, with two dog-centered and doting parents, has now become a baby-centered household where two small dogs also vie for the spotlight.  At every possible opportunity, I try to pet my pups, snuggle with them, play with them, and remind them how much I love them.  In many ways they are still the center of the house, simply because as basenjis, they insist on it.  When I play with the baby, they steal a toy and run off with it.  When I sit on the floor with the baby, they come up next to me and stare at me.  When I leave a burp cloth unattended for even a moment, they remind me never to leave such smelly treasures unguarded.  When the baby drools (which is ALL THE TIME), they swoop in and diligently lick clean anything wet, including the baby's face if I allow it. 

In the beginning when the baby first arrived, both Reef and Biko were very hesitant to come near the baby (see our previous post on "The Basenjis Meet the New Baby"). Gradually they came nearer, if only to be near to me; they started getting interested in the various smells accompanying this strange new human; they started boldly stealing burp cloths and attempting to lick his bald head (see our previous post on "Head Licking"); and now they've graduated to full-on face-licking.  Which sounds kind of gross, but actually I do sometimes allow it, because in truth a dog's mouth is probably less germy than the bib I'm using to wipe off the drool, and because it's actually a great chance for the dogs to become comfortable with getting up close and personal with the baby. 

As most of us basenji owners know, when a dog gets into licking something it can become sort of a frenzy, with the dog focused on just one thing: the yummy, smelly, wet thing.  When my dogs lick the baby's face, they get completely lost in the moment, and before they know it the baby's got a chubby hand on their ear, or is touching their whiskers in awe, or is trying to poke a finger up their nose.  At first I wondered how the dogs would react, but it seems that when the dog is there voluntarily (happily engaged in vigorous face-licking), they don't seem to mind the baby's curious grabs. And now that we've done this several times, the dogs seem to be starting to get used to the chubby little hands flying around their faces.

If a chubby hand accidentally pokes the dog or goes too far, I've noticed that the dog will snap out of the face-licking frenzy and shake their head to remove the intrusion, or simply get up and walk away.  This is a good thing, because a dog needs to be allowed to deal with a situation they find uncomfortable in a healthy way.  While I want my dogs to get used to the random pokes and grabs they may sometimes receive from their new little human brother, I certainly would never require the dogs to tolerate those interactions if they felt uncomfortable, and as the baby gets older I intend to teach him how to pet the dogs nicely, and most importantly, how to leave them alone

Too many times in rescue we see that a dog gets pushed to his breaking point by an owner not reading or heeding the dog's discomfort cues (licking lips, turning head away, yawning, hackles up, etc.) when interacting with a child. When the dog starts escalating his discomfort by growling and/or snapping, the humans incorrectly blame the dog, when in reality the dog tried to deal with the situation in a healthy way first but his communications went unheeded.  This awesome blog post explains how that happens, and what to do about it:  My Dog Bit My Child.  While it's great to try to get your dog used to interacting with kids, you also need to be very watchful for your dog's body language that he is uncomfortable with the interaction, and take immediate steps to end the interaction or allow your dog to flee to a safe place if your dog shows that he's not okay with it. 

So even though allowing the dogs to lick the baby's face is sort of weird, I actually see it as a great opportunity to facilitate a positive baby-dog interaction.  It gives the dogs a chance to get used to interacting with the baby in a supervised situation where the dog is choosing to get close to the baby, is allowing the baby to touch him, and he can flee the interaction (or I can end it) if he feels uncomfortable at all.  And even though I know that touch is only merely tolerated by the dog as a necessary evil to allow the dog to lick the yummy, wet, drooly baby face, if it gets the dogs used to the baby and it eventually helps me teach the baby about how to touch the dog nicely, I'll allow it :-)

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