Babyproofing Dogs As A Business Niche

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Wed, 2008-06-04 10:07.
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While pregnant with her first child, Meridith Duffy cried nearly every day -- to her dog trainer.

She feared she'd have to part with her pit bull, Haley, when her child was born. Haley "had never bitten anyone," says Ms. Duffy, who lives in Braintree, Mass. "But I knew she had that potential, and I was nervous."

The trainer had a solution: a program to get Haley used to having a baby around. Soon, Ms. Duffy was walking through the house with a stroller, playing a CD of annoying baby cries, and tugging the dog's ears and tail the way a toddler might. Haley also got many hours of obedience classes. "We had to learn that she was a dog, not a person," Ms. Duffy says. "That was hard for us."

The Duffys, whose baby, Isabella, arrived 19 months ago, are part of a new breed of parents-to-be who pay to baby-proof their dogs. At least a half-dozen dog-baby books and DVDs are on the market, with titles like "Your Baby and Bowser." A canine re-education course called Dogs & Storks, launched in 2006, now has 35 affiliated trainers in the U.S. and Canada, with hundreds of graduates.

"It's catching on because people are choosing to have kids later, and their dogs are really their first baby," says the course's creator, Jennifer Shryock of Cary, N.C., who sells it to trainers for $300.

Dogs bite about 4.7 million people a year in the U.S., the majority of them children, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Bonnie Beaver, a Texas vet and past president of the group, says that of the 15 to 20 people a year who die from dog bites, about 80% are children.

Ms. Shryock tells expectant parents, "When the baby comes, you are going to look at your dog for the first time as an animal. You will feel different about Fluffy."

That came as a shock to Tracy Fuquay, of Raleigh, N.C. For six years, her Shih-poo, Marcy, was the family princess: She traveled in a purse, dressed in colorful sweaters, sundresses or a denim jacket with heart sequins. When Ms. Fuquay graduated from the Raleigh School of Nurse Anesthesia in August 2006, Marcy wore a cap and gown.

In the eighth month of her pregnancy, Ms. Fuquay finally started saying no to Marcy. The dog was no longer allowed to ride in Ms. Fuquay's lap as she drove, and was banned from her bed. The result: "Marcy became racked with anxiety."

Things got worse after baby Leah's birth in December. Marcy now often cowers, and she urinates on the rugs. "I'm cleaning as much dog pee as I am changing diapers," the new mom says. "My husband is ready to give the dog away, but I can't."

She paid Ms. Shryock $160 for a two-hour house call. The result was a sobering assessment: "Because Marcy was used to being treated as 'the baby' for years, she will have a more difficult time and longer adjustment time to learn that she is not the only one needing attention."

Christopher Reggio, a publisher of pet-care books, says demand for prenatal dog prep is rising because "dogs today are real family members. They aren't 'owned' by people, they're 'parented' by people." His TFH Publications Inc. in Neptune, N.J., last year released "And Baby Makes Four: A Trimester-by-Trimester Guide to a Baby-Friendly Dog."

Natalie Rivkin is in the final days of her third trimester. But in her mind she's already been a mom for nearly six years -- to Luca, her chocolate Lab. "My schedule is built around her. When she's sick, I worry," says the high-school math teacher in Boston.

The Fake Baby

One recent day, Luca watched as Ms. Rivkin reached into her sport-utility vehicle, gently lifted a plastic doll in a blue "onesie" from the infant car seat and buckled it into a new stroller, then began pushing the stroller and doll through a local arboretum.

"Hey, that's not a real baby," yelled a passing runner. It was hard to know what Luca thought; she was busy nibbling grass.

Ms. Rivkin was doing her homework for Barks & Babies, a seminar taught to 10 couples at a local maternity store. Her instructor, Jenifer Vickery, owner of the Pawsitive Dog in Boston, suggests practicing with a fake baby four weeks before mom's due date. Other prebirth strategies: ignoring the dog more, and scenting dog toys with almond oil to distinguish them from baby toys.

Like older siblings, dogs can act out when stressed by a change like a new baby, trainers say. Barking, biting and soiling the house can all happen if dogs get less attention and exercise, feeling sidelined.

"It's harder to be a dog today," says Sue Sternberg of Accord, N.Y., a trainer and specialist in testing dogs' temperaments.

Not necessarily, though, for Phoebe and Zack, two large members of the Joe and Joelle Coretti household in Milford, Conn. Phoebe is an 85-pound golden retriever, and Zack, a German shepherd, weighs in at 120 pounds. "I was nervous about how big they were and how they might think the baby was a toy to play with," Ms. Coretti says. "But I was also nervous -- since they were our first babies -- that they might have some issues with the new baby. I wanted the dogs to feel they were still part of the family."

Ms. Coretti went to a Dogs & Storks Seminar and picked up some training tips. After she gave birth last year, her husband brought home the baby's T-shirt and cap for the dogs to sniff. Baby Kyle, age 1, now plays with the giant dogs, "who," Ms. Coretti adds, "still sleep in our bed."

Lynda Vanderhoven of Boston practiced relegating Bailey, her yellow Labrador puppy, to his "doggie den" in the house so she would be able to attend to her new son, Sam, when necessary. One difference between her two "babies," she says, is that the dog "can be legally locked in a crate."

Feeling Guilty

By the time Susie Flaherty gave birth in 2006, her pit bull and Labrador mix, Rudy, had completed dozens of private and group classes. But it was hard for her and her husband to impose limits on Rudy, who'd been abused as a puppy. "He was our first child, and he was such a loving dog," she says. "Our need for the love and comfort he provided...made us inconsistent -- when we needed it, we had him up on the couch with us."

Shortly after her son, Angus, was born, Ms. Flaherty, a personal trainer in South Boston, couldn't cope. Unable to cuddle Rudy while breast-feeding around the clock, "I felt horribly guilty," she says.

She gave the dog to her childless brother in San Francisco. Rudy recently got a Facebook page so he can keep in touch.

As for Meridith Duffy and her husband, Keith, a marketing executive, they continue to send Haley, their female pit bull, to anger-management class. It seems to have worked.

"People think you're crazy to have a pit bull in the first place," Mr. Duffy says. "But now the dog lies down and the baby pokes her in the eye and pulls her ears, and she just takes it." A second Duffy baby is due June 7.

[Via - StatupJournal.Com]

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