They usually go on to detail what a wonderful dog he is, and how heartbroken the family feels.
I always feel heartbroken too. What a way to welcome a new family member — by getting rid of another one. That’s got to create lots of guilt and self-recriminations during a period that’s already stressful. And the dog is labeled as “scary,” no matter what a great pet he had been, so the chances of finding him a new home go down significantly.
But now I know about Jen Shyrock, a certified dog behavior consultant with a degree in special education for elementary students. She created the Dogs and Storks Program to head off just those types of situations before they occur. She discusses this life-changing program as well as her new Dog and Baby Connection project with Eric Goebelbecker of Dog Spelled Forward in this week’s Animal Cafe.
The Genesis of Dogs and Storks
Shyrock is a mother of four — ages 15, 13, 10 and 21 months — whose household includes a pit bull, a German Shepherd and a Siberian husky, not to mention four cats. So she not only talks the talk but has walked the walk — one filled with stroller awkwardness and dog poop — when she discusses the difficulties involved in keeping dogs from having to be rehomed when a new baby arrives.
It was her work with German Shepherd rescue that made her realize something needed to be done. As Shyrock says in the interview, “I saw so many wonderful dogs being surrendered. I knew there had to be a way to keep them at home.”
Among the other great information in the FAQ section of the Dog and Storks website are five tips to prepare for the baby’s arrival, how to respond “when” the dog reacts to the baby, as she emphasizes, not “if”
1. Identify and decrease attention-seeking behaviors such as pawing, barking, or jumping.
2. Become familiar with the subtle signals and body language of dogs.
3. Begin a baby-friendly, flexible routine of feeding and activities – and include your dog! Be sure to take these opportunities to practice obedience skills.
4. Role-play with a doll & baby equipment to help gradually expose your dog to these new and exciting items. Reward calm and desired behavior.
5. Identify and begin to use designated “dog zone/s” such as a gated or closed room, outside, a kennel or crate, etc. If you have multiple dogs get them used to being apart from one another, too.
Dog and Baby Connection
Recently Shyrock began thinking about the fact that dogs are far more at risk for rehoming after the baby arrives than before. She says in the interview, “The hard part is when the little one gets moving, that’s when we run into the growling and biting.”
She came up with the idea of not only offering presentations to discuss these issues but also having licensed practitioners, many of whom already have their own dog training businesses, to provide on site analysis — the basis for the Dog and Baby Connection program. “It’s essential to get into the home to see the environment,” Shyrock says, in order to help people read their dogs’ subtle body language and assess individual situations. Some dogs, for example, may enjoy being able to see the family interacting with the baby in an adjacent room, while other may find it distressing.
Shyrock also points out that many people ignore a dog’s shifting life stages. Thus parents who have experienced the family dog being great with a first baby don’t realize that not only is every baby different but that the dog is different too. “An older dog may be less patient,” Shyrock explains.
Above all, Shyrock knows how easy it is for mothers to feel overwhelmed and to fall prey to feelings of inadequacy. Even with all her knowledge and experience — in addition to everything else, she grew up in a family that showed dogs — Shyrock too has gone through the “rehoming phase,” the one where she has felt that she can’t possibly pay adequate attention to her dogs’ needs and they might be better cared for elsewhere.
Her suggestions for what to do? Well, listen to the podcast. Shyrock is extremely personable and articulate and, above all, dog-oriented. It’s refreshing to listen to someone so devoted to trying to keep families together — including the nonhuman members.
You’ll want to come back to the Animal Cafe chatroom on Wednesday, May 11, at 9PM EST to follow up with Shyrock, if only to thank her for creating these two great programs. Trust me. I don’t have any kids, but I’m grateful that she’s provided me with a positive way to respond to those depressing emails.