Preparing Your Dog For Your New Baby

Preparing Your Dog For Your New Baby

By Heather Gibbs, CPDT-KA, ABCDT, SBA


Preparing for a new baby’s arrival can be an exciting and stressful time for all family members  involved – especially your dog! This article from Courteous Canine, Inc. contains information about how to prepare your dog for your new baby. 

For questions and training services to prepare your dog for your new baby, please contact Courteous Canine, Inc. at or 813-949-1465. 

Create a Plan

Make a plan to gradually train your dog in anticipation of your baby’s arrival. Your dog will experience new sights, sounds, smells, and will likely experience a change in their usual schedule when your baby arrives. 

All of these sudden changes may cause stress to your dog. To help reduce these stressors, begin gradually introducing these new schedule changes before your baby arrives. 

Dog Walkers

Consider enlisting the help of an in-home pet sitting or dog walking professional to help maintain your dog’s exercise and play routines during the first few weeks of your baby’s arrival. This can help to reduce your dog’s stress during this time.

Helpful Behaviors

There are several helpful behaviors for your dog to know: Behaviors like sit, down, come, stay, leave it, and drop it can be incredibly helpful for any pup to know. 

These behaviors are particularly beneficial when communicating with your dog around a new baby. 

Consider seeking the help of a certified professional trainer to work on accomplishing these training goals. 

Practice with a Baby Doll

While your pup may not recognize a baby doll in the same way as they will your child, the doll can be a help during the training process above. By allowing your dog to practice cues such as down, stay, and leave it while you are holding and moving the doll, you are setting your dog up for success for the future. 

These distractions should only be added to training sessions gradually, when your pup has a strong understanding of their obedience cues without distractions present. 

New Sights, Sounds, & Smells

Pair positive experiences for your dog, like play time and tasty treats, with new items and smells. Food can be one of the strongest ways to improve a dog’s response to new things, like a stroller or crib. 

Play sounds found online of babies crying at a low volume while engaging your dog in positive play and treat games. 

If your dog appears distressed by any of these exercises, reduce the difficulty and seek the guidance from a qualified, professional positive trainer. 

Personal Space

Baby gates and pens can be helpful ways to give your dog and child their own space during meal times and play time. 

Children should always be supervised and never left unattended with your dog. 

As your child grows older, children should be taught to leave your dog’s toys and food bowls alone. 

If you experience any behavior concerns with your dog guarding their resources, seek the help of a qualified positive trainer immediately for a personalized training and management plan. 

Boredom Busters for Your Dog

Give your dog puzzle feeder toys, like a “snuffle mat” or KONG dog toy, filled with tasty treats and food items. This is a great way for any pup to exercise their mind and help relax them. These items should only be given to your dog out of reach from your new baby. 

For a full list of games and enrichment ideas for your dog, check back for our upcoming article Boredom Busters & Brain Games or join our class of the same name.

Have Patience With Your Pup

Give your pup some love and attention! Welcoming a new baby into your home comes with its own stressors and excitement for everyone. 

Have patience with your dog and be sure to provide them with lots of comfort and attention. 

If you experience any behavior or training concerns with your pup during this transition, seek the help of a certified, positive trainer. 


About the author

Heather Gibbs, CPDT-KA, ABCDT, SBA

Heather is the Business Manager and a Behavior Consultant for Courteous Canine, Inc., a force free dog training school in Lutz, Florida that also offers sport training, behavior consultations, board-and-train, day care, and pet sitting. For more information, visit

© Courteous Canine, Inc. 2021

Say “No” To Dog Parks: Here’s Why & Better Alternatives

Say “No” To Dog Parks: Here’s Why & Better Alternatives

By Kimberly Archer
Dog Behavior Technician

As a dog parent you just want the best for your pup, and as such most of us want to provide our dog with a rich social life. The easy way to do this is to regularly take your dog to the dog park… or is it? Though dog parks are technically designed for this purpose, dogs having amazing experiences at the dog park before coming home to happily sleep on the couch is more fantasy than reality. Unfortunately, dog parks actually present lots of problems for dogs and their parents, ranging from behavioral repercussions to health dangers. Fortunately, there are better options. 

Potential Behavioral Issues

The types of experiences your dog will have at a dog park are completely unknown making it impossible to carefully create positive socialization experiences.

It may be strange to hear a dog professional mention dog parks as a potential behavioral nightmare, as we constantly tell you that continued socialization is imperative for every dog. However, when socialization isn’t carefully controlled and crafted out of happy and stress-free experiences, it leads to the opposite of the desired effect: traumatic experiences causing your dog to lose confidence rather than build it. A dog park is incredibly unpredictable, and the types of experiences your dog will have there are completely unknown, making it impossible to carefully create positive socialization experiences. To make it worse, you have no idea what experiences the other dogs there have had. You may enter a dog park seeing that all of the dogs in there look to be happy and friendly without realizing that one of the dogs actually has a serious fear of golden retrievers, the breed which you are currently bringing in. In a matter of seconds a playgroup can go from happily playing to completely stressed out and dangerous, leaving you without much time to intervene to protect your dog. Furthermore, most parents just aren’t familiar with dog behavior, and even if their dog was giving off signs that it was stressed they likely wouldn’t notice these signs until the stress has developed too far to appropriately redirect. 

Even if every dog is friendly and well socialized to the point where they typically do well in group environments, dogs playing have many different playstyles, arousal levels, likes, and dislikes. Your herding dog may love to run circles around the other dogs, whereas the boxer there hates being herded and would prefer to run up and paw at your dog. There are many different appropriate playstyles between dogs, but they are not all compatible with each other.

These are especially important points to consider for working dogs as they need to only have positive experiences. This is to ensure the working dog is never concerned and is always perfectly confident and happy to do their job. As Courteous Canine’s head dog behavior consultant, Angelica Steinker takes on the most challenging behavior cases. These especially challenging behavior cases tend to have one or many distinct dog park experiences which have led to their issues. She goes on to say that service dogs are generally never allowed at dog parks due to the high incidence of people mistakenly taking dogs with issues to dog parks for socialization – it only takes a single event to cause life-altering trauma, and service dog owners know better than to take that risk. In Angie’s words, “all dog owners must practice defensive dog parenting, just like service dog users, and avoid the use of unregulated and unmanaged dog parks.”

Even if every dog is friendly – dogs have different playstyles.

Another thing to consider is your dog’s specific personality. Some dogs may be incredibly extroverted and love playing with new dogs. But for the most part, it can be a lot of work and potentially stress to figure out the playstyle of each new dog, and many dogs are happier making specific friends and sticking with them. Just as humans make friends and mainly socialize with them, if you already know a few dogs that yours loves to play with, then why roll the dice with strangers? 

Health Risks

Moving past all of the behavioral challenges that dog parks pose, health dangers may also present themselves. Even if everyone immediately picked up their dogs’ potentially-infected feces (which they don’t), the dogs may not be up to date on their vaccinations. Even when vaccinated they could still be carrying one of those diseases without knowing, or a number of other diseases. Frequently interacting with dogs that are not in your regular play group greatly increases the chances that you’ll come into contact with a sick dog, especially considering the other dogs at the dog park are likely regular attendees who also frequently come into contact with other random potentially-sick dogs.

Alternative Options

Though reading this information may leave you feeling sad that your dog will never be able to play with another dog again, that’s not the case! There are many safe ways to allow your dog to socialize with other dogs and get their necessary exercise.

Great options are forming a playgroup or joining a daycare – ensure to carefully assess daycares first.

A great option to consider is forming a playgroup for your dog. Talk to some friends and neighbors about their dogs’ breeds, playstyles, and health history in order to find other dogs that would make good candidates as new dog friends. If your dog has never met one of these dogs before, be sure to introduce them slowly and don’t force them into anything. If they seem to get along, then great, you found a new friend! If not, there’s no need to coerce a friendship, just move on to the next candidate.

Once you have a few dog friends you’ll need a place for the dogs to play. If someone has a large fenced yard then that is a perfect place. If not, you can go to the dog park when it is empty so that you’re just using the space rather than meeting new dogs. If this seems like a lot of work, consider a doggy daycare! You’ll want to carefully assess daycares and find one that keeps mostly the same dogs in playgroups, employs small playgroups, gives them lots of space, has a knowledgeable human ensuring appropriate play, requires vaccinations, and uses lots of toys and force-free methods to redirect any uneasiness. Here at Courteous Canine, we have an excellent playgroup which is constantly monitored and adjusted to ensure all dogs are happy and enjoying play with their friends.

Or maybe your dog is not very social, so you have been using the dog park mainly for exercise. If this is the case, consider an option that doesn’t include other dogs. Even if you don’t have access to a fenced area you can use a long line (a very long leash) to still play sports like frisbee with your dog. You could also consider jogging or running with your dog, and even dogs without much obedience training often stay close to their human and have a great time running beside them. Your dog may also enjoy a dog sport like agility or dock diving which are both excellent ways to keep your dog fit. And just as the more social dog playgroups may do, you could always just take your dog and some toys to the dog park when it’s empty. 

Moving Forward

When deciding where and how to play, ensure that you keep your dog’s personality and well-being at the forefront of your mind. You also want to carefully observe potential play areas for any safety concerns such as obstructions, feces, toxic plants, anthills and nearby dangers. Parks equipped for positive experiences would typically have shade, a sturdy fence, lots of space, poop bags, small pools, and access to fresh water. The dog park in my personal neighborhood actually has metal agility equipment “designed for dogs,” but I would never encourage a dog to jump over or through a heavy metal object for fear of hurting their leg if they don’t jump perfectly! Keep little things like this in mind when you’re choosing what’s right for your dog. 


Happy playtime!

Pitfalls of Punishment

Author’s Note:

Positive punishment is when you add something unpleasant when an undesirable behavior is displayed to discourage that behavior.

Negative punishment
is when you take away something pleasant when an undesirable behavior is displayed to discourage that behavior.

Positive reinforcement
is the addition of something pleasant when a desired behavior is displayed to encourage that behavior.

Negative reinforcement
is the removal of something unpleasant when the desired behavior is displayed to encourage that behavior.


Positive punishment:
Spanking a child when they talk back

Negative Punishment:
Getting your rights taken away after committing a crime

Positive Reinforcement:
Getting a raise when you perform well

Negative Reinforcement:
Annoying dinging in car stops when you put on your seat belt

Positive punishment is most easily associated with the punisher. It is the use of positive punishment and the deliberate application of negative reinforcement that needs to be avoided. Negative punishment causes less “fall out”. (Sidman, Murray, Coercion and Its Fallout).

Punishment is Familiar

As people and trainers we tend to gravitate toward what we find familiar

The subject of punishment is a sensitive topic because we have all experienced being punished and we have all punished. Due to our knowledge that punishment is unpleasant it is uncomfortable to think about exactly how we use punishment.

However, punishment is familiar and as people and trainers we tend to gravitate toward what we find familiar as this is much easier than coming up with new ideas.

Punishment Begets Punishment

Punishment is popular – in our society we are surrounded by it. Managers use punishment to control employees, teachers use it to discourage misbehavior in the classroom; this popularity of punishment makes it seem like using punishment is acceptable.

The thirst for punishment seems to be driven by people’s desire to control, ironic considering people actually control very little. The very fact that all of us are almost always at a loss of control seems to be the driving force behind the need for control. The best dog trainers seek perfection, and it is this desire for perfection that can cause a desire to totally control their dogs. On the surface this concept of “total control of the dog” sounds ideal, the trainer gets total obedience and the dog gets rewards. However, invariably the dog will make errors. These errors clash with the concept of total control and can pave a road to the use of punishment.

The thirst for punishment seems to be driven by people’s desire to control

We are conditioned to notice errors – when exceptional behavior goes unnoticed, we cannot reinforce it.

While each individual is responsible for how they choose to train their dog, society has primed us to choose punishment. As young children the conditioning begins in school when errors are marked in red. We are conditioned to have laser-error-vision which is programmed to see errors rather than exceptional behavior. When exceptional behavior goes unnoticed or is taken for granted the opportunity to reinforce it has passed.

Another dynamic intertwined with punishment is blame. Blaming is fun because it means that somebody else is at fault so someone else will suffer for the error. First you blame, then you punish.

But I was Punished

While we were growing up we all experienced punishment. This leads to pro-punishment thoughts such as, “but I was punished and I turned out okay”. People do not turn out okay because of punishment – this is a gross oversimplification of a highly complex process. People turn out okay because they are taught values that are in alignment with most of society’s values. People turn out okay because they choose to behave in a decent way.


Punishing is Self-Reinforcing

When a trainer uses punishment it is reinforcing to the trainer in several ways:

  • Punishment elicits strong responses from dogs so the effect seems powerful to the punisher.
  • Anyone watching is likely to be impressed by the dramatic reactions of the dog which is reinforcing to the punisher.
  • Trainer has made the decision to punish, this is empowering and reinforcing to the trainer.
  • If the trainer is feeling frustrated the punishment will have a cathartic effect. The act of punishment is a release of the frustrated feelings and therewith reinforcing to the trainer.
  • It does not require any creative thought or problem solving. It is easier for the trainer to use punishment, than using reinforcement.

In addition, punishment is frequently referred to as “the only thing that works.” The reason punishment is the “only thing that works” is because the trainer has not chosen to put forth the extra effort required to find the proper reinforcement that would be effective for that particular dog. In other words, punishment-training techniques have been practiced more than reinforcement techniques, so trainers are more likely to have better punishment skills than reinforcement skills.

All this ensures that trainers using punishment will never be sure whether they are using it because it truly was the last resort or because they have a history of being reinforced for using punishment. (Murray Sidman, Coercion and its Fallout)

Arguments for Punishment

Traditional trainers, trainers who use choke collars and leash corrections, insist that correction-based training is both faster and more effective. However, both punishment and reinforcement require appropriate timing to be effective. Experienced trainers know what type of punishment will invoke the best results. Consequently, a lot of trainers lack the knowledge of how to creatively use reinforcement. This is one reason why some

trainers find correction-based training to be quicker. For them it is quicker because they choose not to take the time to learn the reinforcement techniques that would lead to the same results.

Punishment is only quicker because trainers choose not to take the time to learn how to use reinforcement techniques effectively.

Both corrections and reinforcement require appropriate timing. A poorly timed leash correction will be ineffective. Poorly timed reinforcement will also confuse the dog the dog. The difference in outcome between these two training techniques is that the incorrectly rewarded dog is less likely to quit working, react stressed, or develop a poor attitude, as the improperly corrected dog may.

Punishment Causes Countercontrol

Nothing is free – the use of punishment comes with a price. Extreme punishment causes seemingly insane behavior. Several years ago there was a shocking story of a circus elephant that “went mad” and attacked its handler and trampled spectators before it was shot to death on the street. In a follow up story, it was announced that the elephant’s trainer had used cruel training techniques. Many examples of the resulting dogs with horrid behaviors caused by excessive punishment can be witnessed at any local animal shelter.

Punished animals will tolerate the punishment to a point. This point is known as the punishment threshold. When the threshold is crossed the animal swings into countercontrol. Countercontrol is usually aggression. People then control this countercontrol with the ultimate punishment of killing the animal. When it comes to control, nothing works better than killing. (Murray Sidman, Coercion and its Fallout)

The bottom line is that punishment erodes your bond with your dog. Likewise positive reinforcement strengthens that bond. It is important not to confuse the submissive licking and

Punishment erodes your bond with your dog while positive reinforcement strengthens that bond

groveling of a punished dog with bonding. A physically or verbally corrected dog will frequently lick the face of the person who just punished them. This is not bonding. The dog does this to signal submission – they lick you to show you that they are not a threat to encourage you to stop harming them. 

Dogs that are shocked will develop a tolerance to shock so the trainer will increase the shock and hurt the dog more

Both punishment and reinforcement are subject to desensitization. This means that when a trainer resorts to the use of a shock collar, if that collar is used to administer a great deal of shocks the shocks will need to become stronger in order to be effective. Dogs that are shocked will develop a tolerance for being shocked. The opposite can also occur, this means that the shocked dog sensitizes to the shocks and actually reacts stronger to the punishment. This sensitizing response can trigger panic. (Pamela Reid, Excel-Erated Learning)

The fact that dogs can desensitize to the use of a shock collar can then lead to abuse. The same process of desensitization can occur with other forms of punishment. A swat becomes a slap, a slap becomes a smack, a smack becomes a kick, and so on.


Reinforcement is subject to the same dynamic of desensitization. If a trainer always gives the dog, the same treat in the same way the treat will become less effective. This is one reason that if a trainer chooses to train with food the dog should be hungry during training times and the food should be varied. (Karen Pryor, Don’t Shoot the Dog)

Punishment Means the Dog is at Fault

Human logic dictates that fair punishment is the result of mistakes on the dog’s part. However, the dog’s mistake could be caused by many other factors, some of these are:

  • Learning has not generalized – what you have taught them is not understood in various contexts
  • Cue was not sufficiently proofed – something else is more interesting to the dog
  • Distraction was too overwhelming to the dog. Dog was set up for failure.
  • Dog does not feel well.
  • Dog is confused.
  • Dog has misunderstood.
  • Dog forgot.
  • Training is poor.
  • Dog was not paying attention – trainer needs to work on attention.
The reality is that the mistakes are either training or handling related. (Sheila Booth, Purely Positive). If the trainer is at fault, the trainer can easily make the changes required. The trainer changes his behavior rather than blames the dog. The trainer is in control. This process also assumes that the dog is intelligent enough to learn and intelligent enough to misunderstand or become confused. It is clear that the dog’s errors are the trainer’s responsibility.

Mistakes are training or handling related, not the dog’s fault

Is Punishment Stronger than Reinforcement?

Punishment elicits dramatic results. A dog that is shocked is highly motivated by the pain she has received to avoid further shocking. A dog that is beaten for messing in the house will go to extreme measures, such as eating her stool, to avoid future beatings. All this evidence suggests that punishment is simply stronger than reinforcement.

punishment will never strengthen a dog’s bond with his owner

However, punishment will never strengthen a dog’s bond with his owner. It is that bond that is proof that Reinforcement is stronger than Punishment.

Creativity and out-thinking your dog are more work than a quick pop. If more trainers chose to dream up doggie-reinforcement-fantasies all dogs and trainers would benefit. Dogs are amoral; we are not. Who has the moral obligation to try to do better?  


Coercion and its Fallout by Murray Sidman.
Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor.
So Your Dog is Not Lassie by Betty Fisher and Suzanne Delzio.
Behavior Problems in Dogs by William Campbell.
Train Your Dog the Lazy Way by Andrea Arden.
Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson.
Dogs are from Neptune by Jean Donaldson.
The Man Who Listens to Horses by Monty Roberts
Purely Positive by Sheila Booth.
Excel-Erated Learning: How dogs learn and how best to teach them by Pamela J. Reid.
“Of Hostages and Relationships” by Suzanne Clothier,
“The shocking truth about shock collars” Animal Behavior site
*A version of this article was published in APDT Chronicle of The Dog