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My pack changed a lot in 2018 and I have written about all the dog related changes: that Ludde passed away , that Seeker unfortunately had to move and that Keen moved in , but not about the people related change – namely my daughter Viola who was born in January 2018.

In addition to dog training, child rearing is probably the area where you get the most advice – mostly unsolicited and often outdated and not scientifically substantiated. I am therefore very careful about giving such advice if no one asks me, but I got a question about just how I combine dog training and children.

When I started writing, I realized that it was not possible to write just about how I did with dog training and children without describing the background – how I think about children. So, here’s my thoughts about it – and they are just my thoughts. They have worked for our family so far. Viola is our first child and so far just over a year old so we will be able to learn lots on the road ahead and change things many times before she’s grown up.

At the bottom of the post I have also collected some reading tips that I’ve found very helpful.

I think a lot of child rearing is like dog training and I have benefited greatly from that knowledge. Train, prevent, interrupt, for example. It is possible to teach a child very much even before it has a verbal language. Because I believe in reward-based dog training and knowing how learning works, I naturally wanted to incorporate that in my parenting as well. There is a lot of discussions about practical things – food introduction, sleep times, and more, but not so much about what kind of parent you want to be and your view of children.

View of Children

If you start with the view of children: do you see children as future human beings or as human beings? As the old philosophers expressed it as “wild beasts that must be tamed” (Plato) or as “unfinished adults who will be good adults if only they get the support they need to develop” (Aristotle). If one decides that children are human beings, there are also certain things that one cannot do in their upbringing because then one violates the child. A good question to ask is usually “would I do this to my colleague?”. If not, it is probably a good idea to think about it a few more times before doing it to a child. In this case I also believe you need to study learning theory, because unfortunately, common sense is not enough. Common sense says to punish the person who does something wrong and if that doesn’t work, harsher punishment is required. In addition, it feels good for the one who gets angry and gets an outlet for his frustration by punishing. However, there is a lot of research that shows that children don’t learn from failing, but by succeeding. Only at the age of 12–15 years almost all children have developed the ability to learn from their mistakes … (The psychologist Bo Heljskov Elvén talks a lot about this, read more on his website: http://eng.hejlskov.se/)

With that in the back of my mind, my husband and I have discussed (and are still discussing) our parenting a lot. What I have come up with so far is the following: I believe in being present and responsive – to adapt to my own child and what works for us. I think children want to cooperate, and I think children who can behave will behave. It is my responsibility as a parent to teach my child that and to support the child in its development in a respectful manner. This does not mean that the child can do what it wants, but compliance with rules and frameworks must not violate the child.

What is important in our lives?

Another thing to think about is what I want and what is important in our lives – in the same way as with dog training. Don’t just have a lot of rules because everyone else has it but consider why you want it in a certain way. We have made some choices that have been important to us:

“Heap” of family in Italy

We decided early to share as much as possible of our parental leave equally (Swedish parental insurance is great – we get 480 paid days where 90 days each can only be used by one guardian, the others can be divided any way one wants to) so both of us would have the opportunity to stay home a lot with Viola and because she would also get to be with both of us. First, we were home together for six weeks. Because I wanted to breast feed I took more of the leave in the beginning – otherwise I am like the approach to start taking 50/50 immediately after the six weeks we were at home together. When she was three months old, I started to work 20% (one day a week, then I expressed milk at work when I couldn’t breastfeed). After the summer, when she was seven months, I started working 60% and will do so until August this year so a total of one year (by then she had stopped breastfeeding during the day, so I do not need express milk, which was much more convenient for me).

We wanted to be able to continue walking in the woods with the dogs and wearing a baby wrap / then became a favorite. Baby wearing in wrap / carrier has also been great when we have been traveling, often times we have not even had the push chair with us. It was also the vision I wrote in the birth letter (information that we bring to the hospital when giving birth) – the first dog walk with the baby in the wrap.

In Warner Brother studios in England (where Harry Potter was recorded, this is Hagrid’s hut)

We wanted Viola to be included as much as possible and not limit ourselves because it would be exhausting to bring a child – we simply had to adapt so that it worked. We therefore wanted her to get used to resting in different places so as not to be totally dependent on always falling asleep in her bed. At home we also varied keeping it quiet with having a lot of sound and movement to get her used to that too. So now, if she has fallen asleep, she sleeps through (almost) anything. 😉 Basically, the same thing we do when getting the dogs used to new environments.

In the beginning she slept a lot in the wrap during the day because she just wanted to sleep near us. At nights we co-slept until I started working 60%, then we taught her to fall asleep in her own bed. Sleep training is also very much debated, but we taught her without too much crying to come to rest herself – first with us nearby and then gradually farther away, but close again if needed. Now she usually falls asleep herself in her room, very calmly, within 10-20 minutes. If she does not, it is usually a potty break that is needed and then she falls asleep. She slept very well in the car right from the start, but after a while the push chair and other beds started to work as well. For example, we drove to Italy when she was five months old and were in England for just over a week when she was eight months. When she was a week old, we were on a graduation dinner for my sister – she slept through the whole dinner in the wrap.

A portable tent with her sheepskin in – where she slept well for example at a nose work camp and when we were in England

We wanted to use baby potty / Elimination Communication (EC) to become diaper-free as early as possible, reduce the risk of constipation and make her more satisfied by learning her innate signals. Like getting a puppy house trained, though it takes a little longer. 😉 You simply offer the child to pee / poop by holding her over the sink / potty / toilet from day one. In the beginning, when changing the diaper and on routine after for example food and sleep, but soon we learned to see signs for when the she needed to pee / poop. And at times you see no signs at all because the child is so busy learning other things … Today we use one – two diapers a day (we change it as soon as it gets wet). At home she’s without a diaper almost all the time and maybe 80% ends up in the potty / toilet, so it is going pretty well but we’re not done yet. (It is largely a myth that children get ready to become diaper-free at a certain age, but bladder control is something you learn and the sooner you get to practice the sooner you learn.) Read more at https://godiaperfree.com/elimination-communication/

Potty break somewhere in Germany

We also wanted to use cloth diapers to avoid diaper rash , to reduce the environmental impact, to get a lower cost for the diaper period (around 5000 SEK instead of 10-20,000 SEK, plus that the cloth diapers can be resold / used again so the cost will not even be 5000 SEK) for a child) and to get rid of the diapers as early as possible.(Today, children in Sweden have diapers up to 3-4 years of age, in 1950 children were diaper-free at 18 months of age – the only one who benefits from that in the long run are the diaper producers … 50% of the world’s children are dry / diaper-free at one year of age – those children do not live in the “western world” …).In the beginning we had disposable diapers at night, but after just a few weeks we switched to cloth diapers full time – it worked smoother than I thought it would. Read more at https://www.mamanatural.com/cloth-diapering/

We wanted to socialize as a family during meal times , so from the very beginning she sat in her baby chair when we ate. From six months we started with BLW, baby lead weaning , where she at her own pace got to eat the same food we eat cut into elongated pieces and cooked without honey and extra salt the first year (i.e. no puree and no spoon feeding).Now she loves food and happily eats everything herself, both at home and at restaurants. Read more at https://www.facebook.com/blwbb1/

At “Christmas dinner” with Klickerförlaget where she among other things had potato croquette with parmesan and truffle cream, baked cod and wafer with bleak roe and smetana.

So, with this in the back of my head I then combine Viola’s needs with mine and try to get dog training where it’s possible. As long as she isn’t hungry, alert and has peed / pooped, she is very easy going, I would say, something that facilitates things a lot. It is tempting to think that it’s because something we’ve done, 😉 but that’s impossible to know.

It takes a lot of time to take care of a child, so that means even more planning and prioritization than before to get to the dog training. What worked well for me is that she has been used to being in many different environments and that she eats what is available. First, breastfeeding / bottle feeding and then the same food as I eat, so I only needed to pack with a small snack in the form of a banana or so, a bib, wipes and a couple of cloth diapers. Of course, the “baby potty”/EC takes some time and a little hassle , but it’s still worth it. We have a travel potty in the car and now it also works to put her on regular toilets if we hold her. The car that was previously crammed with dog stuff now contains both lots of dog stuff and even more baby stuff. To accommodate three dogs, two adults, one baby and packing in our car, the roof box stayed on the car for a long time. Now we just put it there for longer trips.

Children and dogs in the home

Most of the time we spend at home together with the pack – two dogs and two cats. In order for it to work well, adaptations are needed for both children and dogs. I want Viola to learn how to hang out around animals and I want the dogs to be relaxed around Viola.

Before she started to move, the dogs didn’t care much about her. The first time they met her, Ludde and Diesel sniffed her a bit, but then they just accepted her. Seeker was a little more eager, mostly because she was closer to us than he was, so we had a leash on him for a while and rewarded him when he sniffed carefully. Pretty soon he got used to her too.

The next time they became interested in her was when she started eating by herself – then they became very interested;) To know how much food she gets in her, the dogs get so stay away from the table in their beds when we eat. When we have eaten, they get to help clean the floor. Keen was very fond of kissing her the first week he was here, so we interrupted some of the kisses and rewarded him when he ignored her. In a few days we went from 126 kisses a day to maybe 10 – a little more reasonable. 😉

When she started to crawl around and then walk, she became a little more interested in both the dogs and the cats. In the beginning she gladly pulled on their fur especially on Diesel that has the most fur, so then we needed to be very close to interrupt that and instead encourage her to pat nicely. When we couldn’t keep them under such close watch, we made sure that the dogs were somewhere else, for example in the laundry room behind a gate so they got to be in peace.

Now she usually pats very nicely, but not always very softly but more pounding, so the dogs aren’t that amused by being patted by her and walk away when they get tired or we take her away. Of course, we do not leave them together on their own – even if they are really kind, they are animals that can be scared or get hurt by something she does, and they should not have to deal with that.

The dogs, however, appreciate very much that she likes to take food from the cat food bowl and give it to them – it has been a very good way for them to interact quietly and nicely together. Most patiently is Trixa, the tri-colored cat. She settles close to Viola and remains there even when I think Viola pats a bit too harshly. It is noticeable that Viola likes to pat and cuddle with both the dogs and the cats, and that they also appreciate it when she pats nicely. But we still work on getting her to pat nicely all the time;)

When I want to train the dogs

When it comes to the dog training, I have found some different ways. Above all, it is about timing – to make sure she isn’t hungry, has peed / pooped and either has slept and is cheerful and happy or just getting sleepy so she sleeps during the training. Another key is clearly age-appropriate entertainment – it is not possible to demand that she sit completely still in a corner for an hour, but she must have something to do.

In a wrap / carrier. My standard way for dog walks in the forest and dog training. When she was smaller, I had her in front, now I have her mostly on my back. The first time she was on a dog course, she was one month old. I timed it so she slept in the car on the way there, nursed when we got there, put her in the wrap and then she fell asleep and slept through the whole course. Then I nursed before I went home and then she fell asleep in the car. Now she does not sleep as often in the wrap anymore, even if it happens. If she is awake, however, she is happy to sit on my back for a long time ( 1-2 hours) as long as there is something to look at (and it is not too bad weather cold / windy / rainy). In the nose work training she likes, for example, when the dog finds a scent low on the ground, then it is fun when I bend down to reward them. When she is on my back, it is difficult to reach and give her, for example, the pacifier so then it is great with understanding friends and private students who can assist with that.

In the push chair – sleeping or busy with something to eat or play with. We have spent many training sessions this way – I have put her in the push chair and walked until she’s fallen asleep and then stopped and trained. Once I had walked too far from the push chair because a neighbor came over and wondered if it was my push chair (with baby) when I came back (I did not think I was far away, 50-60 meters out in a field).She has also been on the shooting range several times (with ear protection of course). Then I have had very nice instructors who also helped me put back the hearing protectors on her from time to time.

Sleeping in the car with baby monitor. Works very well when I manage to time it – she falls asleep easily in the car so to leave home a little before her sleep time is perfect. When I arrive at the training site, I just start the heater in the car and the baby monitor. She does not always sleep in the car as I intended, so then she gets into the wrap or push chair instead.

With someone else, either at home / elsewhere than where I am or with someone who is also involved in training / attending the course. For example, Lena joined me on a course several times last year just to help me with Viola – absolutely fantastic with good training buddies. When I competed in nose work the other day, two nice course participants came and borrowed her and the push chair just before I went in and made the last two searches (the first two I had her on my back).

Wandering around. Has worked very well lately since she started to walk around and entertain herself. However, it requires training places where she can do it without hurting herself and understanding training friends who think it is perfectly ok to have a distraction that wanders around and that moves stuff around.

So, after all this dog training, she either gets really interested in dog training when she gets older – or she will shy away from it like the plague. 😉 Right now, this way works in any case, when she grows and gets other needs, we have to adapt to that.

I hope that my thoughts inspired you to think about what suits you and your family best – and perhaps try some of the things that I mentioned.

Suggested Reading

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Retrieving for All Occasions - Foundations for Excellence in Gun Dog Training
Retrieving for All Occasions - Foundations for Excellence in Gun Dog Training