After the tragedy that befell the McGrew family, many folks are taking a second look at their furry friends.
That's a difficult thing to come to terms with. Nobody wants to consider that a family member is capable of such profound harm, whether that family member has two legs or four.
Last weekend's Pet Docs column had valuable information about integrating dogs and children.
The Charleston Animal Society has two opportunities for people who want some hands-on training.
Susan Marett, local certified dog trainer and owner of Purely Positive, said that parents need to know that they can safely include a dog in their family.
But there is this caveat: “You have to prepare them before the baby comes,” said the society's director of humane education, De Daltorio.
“The Dog and Diaper class, that's fun because the babies do come to class with the dog,” if they're not walking or crawling, Marett said. The four-week session includes activities such as walking with the dog while pushing the baby in the stroller. Trainer Heather Moore, also of Purely Positive, leads the four-week class.
The class is $80 or $68 for Animal Society adopters and runs for four weeks, starting Tuesday.
There's also a one-night workshop for $20 on Thursday, the Dog and Baby Connection.
The workshop is a parents-only class, led by Marett. “It's about 90 minutes of training techniques for dogs, safe ways to include the family dog in family activities, and management activities,” she said.
Supervision is a big part of that, being completely present when the dog and baby are together. That means not getting distracted by checking email, for instance. “You never leave a dog and a baby alone, ever,” said Daltorio.
Because the baby is vulnerable and the dog is, after all, an animal.
Both classes help people learn to recognize cues from their dogs. “A lot of it is learning to read body language,” Marett said. Knowing that yawning is a signal that the dog is uncomfortable, for instance, can help parents make better choices about family activities.
“Unfortunately, we get a lot of people who return their dog because they're pregnant,” said Kay Hyman, the society's director of marketing and public relations. “It's real important that people understand that the dog needs to understand that the baby is higher on the hierarchy than the dog.”
Grandparents or aunts and uncles with dogs are welcome in these classes too.
One thing parents-to-be should do is start early on adjusting the dog to new routines that are likely to result from the baby, such as not walking the dog as frequently, and getting it accustomed to smells and sounds that will become permanent fixtures in the house when the baby arrives. “Babies are wiggly, smelly things that (dogs) don't quite understand,” Daltorio said.
Marett said she thinks these types of classes ought to be as prevalent as breast-feeding classes are for new moms. “I think everybody's a lot happier and safer” when they're informed and educated. For more information about these and other classes at the animal society, or to register, call 747-4849 or go to charlestonanimalsociety.org.
Reach Digital Editor Melanie Balog at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5565.