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Published: Monday, 7/1/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

CRITTER CARE

Prepare pets for arrival of newborns, experts say

Classes help keep babies safe around dogs

BY TANYA IRWIN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lindsay Sopko of Toledo is fostering  Wink, a one-eyed Shih Tzu-mix. She and her husband have four other dogs and a cat. Lindsay Sopko of Toledo is fostering Wink, a one-eyed Shih Tzu-mix. She and her husband have four other dogs and a cat.
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It’s possible to keep your dog happy and your new baby safe, said John Brown, behavior technician at the Lucas County Dog Warden’s Office.

Mr. Brown, who offers a monthly class about dog and baby safety called “Dogs & Storks,” started teaching the class because he was bothered by the number of expectant parents who surrender their dogs.

“Preparing ahead of time really reduces the stress of the parent when the baby comes,” said Mr. Brown, who used to teach behavior classes at the Toledo Area Humane Society.

Mr. Brown says it’s important for the dog to be calm, because parents need to involve it in their new routine with the baby.

“We want them to come into the nursery and be with the baby,” he said. “They can only come in when they’re invited. They have to lay down when in the nursery and be calm.”

Lindsay Sopko of Toledo, who has been fostering Wink, a one-eyed female Shih Tzu mix for Planned Pethood, has been preparing Wink and her other dogs for the arrival of her baby.

Wink came to the Lucas County dog warden to have a damaged eye removed surgically. The procedure was paid for through Cutie’s Fund, an effort to help dogs that come into the pound with high-cost medical needs.

This is the first baby for Mrs. Sopko and her husband, Taylor Sopko.

“Our dogs have not been around many babies or small children,” she said. “I’ve done a little research on getting them prepared and meeting the baby.”

The Sopkos have an area in the house that is gated off for the baby — with no dogs allowed — as well as the nursery, where the dogs will be allowed in only with permission.

“Our little Yorkies can be yappy at new noises, so I’ve played some sounds of babies crying to get them used to it, which seems to have worked well,” she said. “We plan to introduce each dog to the baby one at a time so that it doesn’t get chaotic and we can keep control over sniffing from a distance and being gentle.”

The dogs have showed some interest in the baby gear that is being brought into the house.

“They’ll sniff at it, but we let them know what is off-limits and not doggie toys,” Mrs. Sopko said. “They seem to already be understanding the boundaries of the baby areas and that some things are changing.”

Mrs. Sopko said she and her husband plan to give the dogs as much attention and walks after the baby comes as before so they don’t feel left out.

“It also helps that we have a large yard to play fetch, and we take them to my parents to go swimming,” she said. “Hopefully, the transition will go smoothly for all of us.”

Wink has been living with the family since June 6. She is 2 to 3 years old.

“She was found as a stray and was covered with burrs and had a bad eye infection,” Mrs. Sopko said. “They think that she may have had a burr stuck in her eye. Due to this, they had to do surgery to remove her eye.”

The dog seems to have no problems with just the one eye.

“She gets around the house just fine and is playful and friendly,” Mrs. Sopko said. “Wink gets along great with our four dogs — two large and two small — and our cat. She rides well in the car, walks well on a leash, and is housetrained. She loves being a lap dog and getting cuddles and pets but is also perfectly content to go lay in her dog bed and nap.”

Anyone who is interested in adopting Wink can fill out an application by going to plannedpethood.org.

And Mr. Brown’s biggest tip to new parents with dogs could be a lifesaver.

“Unfortunately, we hear news stories of babies being hurt or killed by the family dog,” he said. “Many times, new parents believe their dog is a ‘good’ dog and ‘good’ dogs don’t bite.”

Any dog can bite, however, he said, even a seemingly “good” dog.

“I always tell my clients never ever leave your dog and baby alone for even a second,” he said. “If you have to go to the kitchen, take one or both with you."

Dogs use body language to convey stress, fear, anxiety or pain. Owners need to understand that language and address it before it becomes a problem, he said.

The free “Dogs & Storks” class provides owners with the proper tools to read behavior signs, learn the dos and don’ts of dogs and babies, and gain knowledge on how to help the entire family live together safely and happily. Those interested can call Mr. Brown at 419-213-2807.

Contact Tanya Irwin at: tirwin@theblade.com or 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @TanyaIrwin.



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