Deborah R. Meyer, Chapel Hill
News, November 12, 2003; published with permission.
Parents may be bewildered when a new baby comes home from the hospital. “What
have we gotten ourselves into?” they may ask. So imagine what the family dog must
be thinking about the new baby.
“Babies sound and act like prey species,” said Barbara Long, owner of Chapel
Hill’s Paw in Hand, which offers a variety of dog obedience related services.
“They wail and flail their arms around and sound like an injured rabbit to a
dog. Then there are these strange things that have come into the house, plus the
company is coming in and cooing over the baby.”
On Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. Long will give a free lecture, “Babies, Kids and Dogs,”
sponsored by Chatham Animal Rescue and Education at the Pittsboro Library. Her
focus? A dog and baby in the same household can be compatible but people and
animals must lay the groundwork for success.
Long, whose experience and passion for her profession is profiled in “Careers
with Animals” by Willow Ann Sirch, works to help young couples train a new dog.
“Two or three years later they will tell me that they’re expecting and want to
know what to do with the dog,” Long said. “I tell them that we need to make sure
that the dog is OK with the fact that they are having a baby.”
“One of the things I do is have them take the things they get from the baby
shower — the bassinets, the swing chairs, the car seats, the high chairs — and put
them out and wear the snuggly they will carry the baby in. The first time the
dog sees these things shouldn't be with the baby in them.”
According to Long, moms tend to keep the dog away from the baby. A mom may scoop
up the baby, run into the nursery, shut the door and change the diaper, she
said. So the dog sees that every time the baby cries, his person leaves. “I try
to set them up with routines and management so that everybody is comfortable,”
she said. “I suggest keeping a biscuits on the changing table and tell the mom
to invite the dog in for a biscuit in a happy voice. Then the child becomes a
predictor that something nice is going to happen, even if the door gets shut.”
Long stresses that children and dogs should never be left alone together. “My
dogs are great with kids,” she said. “Thatcher, who went with me for years to
Chatham elementary schools, was literally bomb proof. The whole class could
surround him. Would I have ever left him alone in the room with the kids? Not a
Jenn Merritt, the dog training program manager for the Orange County Animal
Protection Society, echoes Long’s motto of being prepared. She often turns to
Long to help people who are expecting and wondering what will happen to their
dog. Merritt recently took the workshop “Dogs & Storks” taught by dog trainer
Jen Shryock, who specializes in working with families who are expecting and own
“I was very excited to hear Jen's Suggestions,” Merritt said. “Every trainer has
something a little different and wonderful to contribute. Jen recommended a
series of CD’s by Terry Ryan called ‘Sound Sensibilities’ designed to
desensitize dogs to sounds. One CD is about the baby. Similarly she suggested
using whatever products, like baby powder and lotion, to get used to the smells
Shryock found her calling when she volunteered to answer phones for a Triangle
dog rescue group.
“Consistent problems I heard were that a couple was having a baby and felt they
needed to give up the family dog or they had children and were having a problem
with their dog’s behavior. I thought there should be more education about kid
and canine interaction.” Shryock said.
Shryock, who grew up training and showing dogs in obedience and conformation,
started Family Paws two years ago, offering “Dogs & Storks” and individual
consultations. With three young children, two dogs and a cat, Shryock knew that
a lot of the problems people experience could be thwarted with preparation and
planning. “Dogs & Storks” is offered the second Sunday of every month for two
hours in Cary. Participants come from all over the Triangle. Shryock’s clients
include dog owners who are adopting a baby from Guatemala and others who just
“I’ve also got a mom right now who, when she first came to me, had a 10 month-
old baby and an 11 year-old dog who was not crate trained. The dog had slept on
the bed its entire life and had some issues about being startled,” she said.
“This wasn’t going to work when the toddler comes into his parents’ room during
the night. I taught the mother how to make the crate a wonderful place to be and
now it’s a big game for the dog to be in the crate.”
Shryock publishes a newsletter, Ages & Stages, which covers dogs and children
and writes an occasional newspaper column. Her Web site www.familypaws.com has a
message board where people share problems and successes and get input. Shryock,
who fosters dogs and cats, offers rescue groups and obedience trainers a reduced
workshop rate and uses their fees to buy dog books for her library.
Shryock, Merritt and Long all stress that when aggression issues in a dog cannot
be resolved, a new home should be found for the animal. The safety of the baby
must come first.
Long, a former Orange County APS manager knows that by the time a family comes
to the shelter to surrender a dog, they’ve given up.
“For families, this is such an important issue,” she said. “Their dog is their
baby, and then they have their real baby. There still needs to be a place for
the dog. You can make it happen if you prepare ahead of time.”
Barbara’s Recommended reading:
There’s a Baby in the House
Child-proofing Your Dog
Your Dog and Your Baby — A Practical Guide
Sound Sensitivity tapes
All of these books can be ordered from