Homecoming for Our Dogs!
with Tressa Fessenden-McKenzie of PathandPaw, Training Advocate

Those of you following me already know that I gave birth to my baby boy, Wiley, at home. As planned, my stepdad came over and picked up my dogs before things intensified, as I felt that the birth experience would be too stressful for them.


Although I intended to have them return within a day or two, delivery of a 9 lb 8 oz (!) baby took quite a toll on me, so they stayed a few extra days at Grandma & Granddad's house. It was a huge relief having them stay somewhere where they are familiar and comfortable while I took some time to heal and begin adjusting to mothering a tiny person.


When my mom brought the dogs back and we followed a plan to make the first steps of co-existence as mellow and relaxed as possible. I also asked her to film these first moments - this is me being raw and real with you all in the hopes that seeing our homecoming (puffy face, tousled hair and all) will help you create a plan for your dogs.


The plan was as follows: I stayed in the bedroom with Wiley when the dogs first came in. My husband went out to greet them, and let them out in the yard to use the bathroom and get a little bit of their zoomies out (my mom's house is about 2 hours away). He spent some time asking them for some basic behaviors when they came inside, and then my mom came into the bedroom to hang out with Wiley so I could go and greet the pups. We kept the treats flowing to make sure they greeted me with all their paws on the ground in spite of the excitement. The dogs were VERY interested in my new smells and took a long time to assess all the new odors on my body. Once our greeting was over, and everyone was a little more settled, Evan had the dogs each go lay on their mats (a behavior they have a strong reinforcement history for) as I walked out with Wiley in my arms.


Once the baby and I were settled in our comfy chair, each dog was released one by one to come over and sniff if they so desired. We kept in mind the Family Paws saying invites decrease bites - so it was truly the dogs' choice as to if they wanted to approach or not. Ultimately, they both walked over, gave a very perfunctory sniff, and then re-oriented to Evan (and his delicious treats). Many people are concerned with the dogs and baby "meeting" and will lower the baby towards the dog or otherwise put the baby into the dog's space. For me, a casual sniff and a walk away was just fine. Once the camera was put away, and the dogs were released to do as they pleased, they did each come back for a slightly more thorough sniff of him in my arms.


A sleeping baby, of course, is very different from a baby making noise. I kept some treats near my glider so that when Wiley began stirring, we could toss some treats so a little simple counter conditioning. Once this happened, my dogs behaved exactly as I expected each to behave based on their personalities. Muchacho, my more fearful guy, was disconcerted and decided to go into the other room to get some space from the new critter. Koa on the other hand was very interested and watched with great interest as I fed and burped the baby, tagging along to watch as his diaper was changed.


Now, the dogs have been home for two days. Muchacho is still not totally sure about Wiley, and we respect his need for space. As the days have passed, he's gotten a little more confident about being in the same space as the baby or approaching occasionally for a sniff - always on his own terms. Koa is still very interested and likes to "check on" the baby when he fusses, but I'm happy to report that she hasn't been obsessive, and is easily redirected away when needed.


So that's where we are right now! It's still a big adjustment for all of us, so we are taking it slow and laying low for the time being.