Jacks and Babies – Can they co-exist in harmony?

Owners often wonder if it is possible to have their new baby and their Jack Russell Terrier co-exist together in relative harmony. There are often sad stories of terriers being discarded because they didn’t get along with the new addition, but many times there is a lack of education for the owners or a lack of effort to make things work. However, the relationship with your terrier does not have to end this way.

There are four key steps to take prior to and once baby has moved in. Though they make take a little time, owners who love their dogs will find these imperative to creating a desirable environment for both dog and baby. Though there are other steps that one can take, these four are very important.

1. The dog MUST learn and know its place in the pack. 

2. Baby MUST be associated with positive but calm consequences however a correction or two may be necessary. 

3. The dog should NOT be ignored every time baby arrives on scene. 

4. The dog MUST have a safe haven. 

THE DOG MUST LEARN AND KNOW ITS PLACE IN THE PACK 

This is a step that can be initiated well previous to baby arriving. Every dog, regardless if an infant is involved or not, should learn and know that it is most certainly not the leader in your household. There are very simple ways to achieve this by setting boundaries and rules for your terrier. Basic obedience training can and does help most dogs learn their place; however, terriers are a “take charge” sort of animals, so some extra steps may need to be put in place for these feisty little hunters. Actions such as requiring a sit and wait before putting the food bowl down (do not free feed unless your JRT has a medical issues that requires it), a sit and wait before entering and exiting the house, keeping the dog off of furniture that baby will be on, and out of what will be the new babies room, having the dog move when you need to get by, rather than going around her, don’t leave the dogs toys out for him to pick and choose from and correcting or redirecting inappropriate behaviours. Keeping babies room a “no go” zone is important and should be done without the use of crutches (gates or obstacles). Your dog needs to learn his or her boundaries and crutches should be avoided because there is no real training involved. Once a crutch is removed, the dog will likely go back to entering and exiting whenever he pleases. If you are consistent, fair and repetitive, the above should go smoothly and your dog will soon learn (or be reinforced) that you are the boss, not her.

BABY MUST BE ASSOCIATED WITH POSITIVE BUT CALM CONSEQUENCES, HOWEVER A CORRECTION OR TWO MAY BE NECESSARY 

Dogs should associate the new member of the family with good things. However, this MUST be done in a calm manor. If your dog is super excited about toys, but is only mildly excited about petting, use a pat as a reward around baby, not the toy. Find something that your dog enjoys, but that keeps the energy level low. Some dogs will lie calmly chewing a bone for hours, and this can be used as a reward every time baby is around. The bone is only offered to the dog when baby is close by, associating baby with a calm, but positive, rewarding activity (only do this if your JRT has no resource guarding issues). If your Jack has no food aggression or possessive behaviour, having baby in your arms every time you feed the dogs also associates baby with a positive consequence.

There are times when a minor correction may have to be used and this can be in the form of a voice correction (agh, agh), a touch, a leash correction or even just a look for some softer dogs. A minor correction is used when the dog becomes too pushy or too excited around your infant and you want to bring the energy level down. If need be, go back to the basics and keep the dog on leash so she is easier to control. Umbilical training works great with this situation as it keeps the dog involved, active but under control.

THE DOG SHOULD NOT BE IGNORED EVERY TIME BABY ARRIVES ON SCENE 

Ignoring the dog, or putting the dog away when baby is out creates an environment for jealousy. If your JRT is under control, there should be no reason to exclude him or her from being around during family time. In a calm moment, hold the baby and call the dog over to pet her. Petting is a calming touch (nice long gentle strokes or a chest rub) and keeps the dog in the right frame of mind in baby’s presence. Ignoring the dog while holding the baby can possibly create jealousy in some dogs, there for having a negative impact on the relationship between the two. This point ties into the above point, as it helps the dog to relate positive experiences with baby and not abandonment or jealousy.

THE DOG MUST HAVE A SAFE HAVEN 

Though this is the last point, it may just be the most important. Every JRT should have a place to go once baby is on the move, so that they can “get away”. It could be a crate, a soft bed, a blanket, but it must be a spot that baby is not allowed to enter or better yet, a spot where baby cannot get to. Dogs who aren’t given this reprieve can become frustrated from constant harassment, and can lash out. That being said, if you have control over both baby and dog this should never be the case. So just remember, the dog may need to get away sometimes just as much as you do, but they can’t tell you that they want a break, so make sure to give them their own “getaway”, safe from prying hands.

Over all, though some steps and training can take time, integration of the new arrival to the household should be an easy one. If you notice that you are having some problems with keeping your Jack Russell calm, or controlled and are unsure how to proceed, do not be afraid to contact a local dog trainer to help you with any issues that may arise. Speaking with a trainer and getting some hands on education is a much better option than giving the dog up (unless there is a safety issue in regards to terrier and child). Keep positive, consistent and fair and you will help build a wonderful relationship that your child and dog will greatly benefit from.

*Please note: interaction between children and dogs of any age should ALWAYS be supervised by an adult. 

Julie Deans © 2011 dogtraining101@hotmail.com

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