Bethany Cunningham

Family Paws Parent Education would not be the same without all of the talent behind the scenes.  I want to thank Bethany Cunningham for all the amazing photos for our programs and website.  Bethany has also been a HUGE part of the program development and is now co-instructing the Family Paws Foundation course.

Learn more about Bethany here!  

Kiss to Dismiss- Not all licks are the same.

Our hotline gets many calls from concerned families who have experienced growling or a bite from their family dog.  In the description often they will mention how the dog always licked the child.  They are confused by why the dog would be “kissing” (a human form of affection and then biting?  This is why I began calling some licks …kiss to dismiss.  This definitely is a pattern we see esecially at certain developmental stages for the child.  It is very interesting.  Here are 2 videos where I describe in more detail what I reference as Kiss to Dismiss:

Here is Part 2 of Kiss to Dismiss

Ready to join the Family Paws Team of professionals?

Family Paws Parent Educator Course is indented to help professionals who choose to use our licensed materials in consultations or to offer community education.  Our 13 week course is just the beginning of the support and learning we do together as a strong network of professionals dedicated to dog and baby/toddler dynamics.

Our course for professionals runs 4 times a year. Once approved into our program you may jump in at anytime!  Here is more information about cost, time and CE’s for our program.

We are always looking for those who truly have a special interest in helping to create Dog Aware Generations beginning BEFORE baby arrives.  Are you that person?  Learn more here!

Join our strong team of dedicated professionals all over the world who are making a difference in the lives of dogs and their families one stage at a time.

Differences in appearance

We really encourage our families to increase their Dog Aware skills by becoming in tune with their dog’s subtle responses.  Ever notice a change in your dog’s behavior when someone approaches with a hat on?  Sunglasses?  Costumes?  What about kids running around in snow suits?  If you are expecting a baby to be visiting or living in your home then you want to keep in mind that subtle changes can decrease comfort or startle a dog.

This image is of me with a mask on. I got the ask to scare our teenage daughter and to just have fun.  Unfortunately Oliver was let in from outside while I sat on the steps waiting to SCARE my daughter.  Well….Oliver was not impressed.  He was spooked and acted as such.  As soon as I took it off he did some recovery head shakes to let that awkward moment go but he definitely was not pleased by this mask.    He, of course, reacted to this sudden odd change in appearance.

Here is another example.  My daughter walked in the room with this facial mask and I about jumped out of my skin.  This contrasting look and change in appearance started me at first.  We have to remember that just like people, some dogs are spooked or startled easily while others are not.  Know your dog.  Be Dog Aware and observant about their responses and what they mean.  Dogs that are spooked can bite.  This is not something to make light of or tease a dog with.  It is something to be aware of so that you can respond accordingly or adapt a situation if you notice your dog is stressed, unsure or reactive in some way.  It took us a minute to realize this was making Oliver uncomfortable too.  He was coming up close and acting very uneasy with her.  Then we both quickly realized it was the visual change he noticed and we were able to help him relax and take it in at his own pace with our support.  In this situation it took kayleigh talking to him and her turning away from him when he came close.  This allowed him time to really “know” it was her and settle down.

Can you think of examples that might involve young children?  Please share!

Lifting baby

Our dogs observe us all day long and when it is just we adults….they are quite used to our patterns of motion etc.  Once a baby arrives there are all sorts of odd looking actions that can cause dogs to become confused, excited or reactive in some way.  FPPE encourages families to know their dog and learn what triggers they may have.  Ex:  if you lift up a toy from the floor does your dog jump wildly?  If so then working on a new behavior you want your dog to do when you lift u a toy may be a great idea.  Our educators love problem solving with families before baby arrives. Don’t wait until your dog jumps and you feel anxious about their response.  Being Dog Aware means preparing and continue learning with your dog before and after baby arrives.  This is new to both of you!   Set you and your dog up for success by thinking through some of these possible opportunities.

Here is a great example of a Dog Aware parent making a good choice when lifting baby.  Tossing the dog’s toy away so that the dog is occupied while she lifts baby.  Nicely done!  Do you have examples to share with us?

New parents & Cat naps. Practice & plan with your dog for safe snoozes.

It is easy to doze off when you are a very tired parent to a newborn.  Family Paws Parent Education programs encourage expectant families and caretakers of babies to have plan and PRACTICE.  Where will the dog be when….baby is in crib, bouncer, on playmate, in basinet, or even asleep on a sleeping parent.

Our Dogs & Storks program encourages all families to prepare with their dog for times when they will  need to be secured in a “Success stations.”  What is a success station?  Great question!  Here is a handout that you can share that describes several.

A success station is a great strategy for your dog , your baby’s safety and your peace of mind.  A cozy crate, a gated area, indoor tether all could be comfortable success stations.  It is ideal if we begin early in pregnancy to prepare our dogs for time in their success station.  If not we can begin at any point along the way.  Success stations look different depending on your home, your dog and your comfort.  This is something many families really like to brainstorm with our licensed Family Paws Parent Educators.  There is a great deal to consider.

  1. How does your dog handle being separated you while you are at home?
  2. Is your dog able to be behind a closed door in your home with you home?
  3. How does your dog respond to being in a crate while you are home? In view?
  4. Is your dog used to being on the other side of a secure gate while you are talking to guests?
  5. Have you ever used an indoor tether system or put your leash on your dog while in the house?

These are just a few of the factors we need to consider to begin preparing for times when your dog may need to be secured when you bring your newborn home.  It is essential to consider many possibilities and what the safe option will be for you, your baby and family dog.  Dogs are dogs….they are not familiar with your new baby and must be supervised by a fully awake adult at all times.

If you have questions or concerns please feel free to contact our Dog & Baby Support Hotline   877-247-3407

Sit on the GROUND not the hound! Yep…it needs to be said!

Many people laugh when they see my stickers….sit on the ground not the hound.  This is NO joke.  Some think it is so obvious it need not be said.  Sadly many people think this is ok.  Or they know it is not a good idea but if the dog does not growl or bite…then he likes it.  We have a great deal of educating about being Dog Aware™.

Intelligent and caring parents make the mistake of expecting a dog to tolerate many things their child does.   What saddens me is the heartbreaking phone calls when a dog’s tolerance runs out.   When the subtle signals dogs use naturally to indicate stress, conflict or need for space, do not work then it is likely the dog will progress to a growl or bite.   Dogs are predictable and with more education and families become Dog Aware™ I know we can help parents make better choices to support life long relationships with dogs.

Headlines  I don’t usually like to comment and show things I DON”T want done.  I prefer to post things that are nice examples.  This however concerned me and I felt was a very good teachable moment.

Princess Charlotte make friends with HUGE dog and bounces on him.  One articles says jumps on him like a trampoline.  Let’s look at just a couple of things that could be very stressful for Charlotte’s new friend Moose.

  1.  Unfamiliar child to dog
  2.  Crowded space surrounded by people
  3. Lots of activity birthday party
  4. 16 months is an unsteady age
  5. LOTS of small children and excitement

I know I would NOT enjoy a child running over to me and bounding on my back if I were resting.  Not my own child and especially not an unfamiliar child.  Why is it we believe a dog should tolerate this?  “What a good dog.” often is heard in these situations.  This comment indicates we KNOW this is not something acceptable.  Why do it?

I compare this to when I was pregnant and the world thought my extended belly was a free for all to touch.  UM NO!  We all have spatial needs and boundaries and it is really important for us to teach our children this about animals too.  We don’t want our children rushing up to strangers and hugging them but yet it is “ok” for them to do this to strange dogs?  Think about it!  this is not fair or comfortable and the bottom line is if a dog does vocalize or complain he is likely to be punished or put down.  We really need to shift our expectations.

Dogs do not enjoy bouncing weight on their backs and even if they “tolerate” it one time this definitely does not mean they will continue to do so.  The likelihood actually is that they will begin to dread and anticipate small children as painful and intrusive.  This can be a huge problem for the next child the dog encounters. We must create mutually comfortable interactions when it comes to encounters with young children and dogs.  Not all kids want to touch dogs and not all dogs want to be touched.  No dog enjoys being sat on.

Another concern by allowing this behavior is that a child may think Mommy and Daddy love when I sit on dogs.  Pictures and videos are taken…. everyone laughs.  This is very reinforcing for most toddlers and they will repeat this with not only that dog but other dogs too.

What I would like to suggest to help families tempted by setting up these “cute” situations is to become familiar with subtle signals dogs offer indicating stress or a need for space.

Dog Aware parents learn about body language that is seen WAY before a grumble or snap.  Most likely in all of these riding dog encounters the dog is offering signals but they are not being received by the trusted adult because they are unaware of them.   Here are just a couple.

Licking lips

Turning away, head turn

Whale eye (whites of eyes)

Shifting weight

Checking in with adult (making eye contact)


Sniffing ground


Changes in breathing speed

Closed mouth

Tight facial muscles

These all are ways that dogs attempt to communicate before escalating to a growl or snap.  If these attempts are missed too many times dogs may offer less signals and snap or growl sooner.   This is why many say the dog bit out of the blue.  Often parents think because “he always was fine before” or “they have always done that with him and he loved it.” or “he never leaves and lets them do anything to him.”  Each of these are things we hear multiple times a day about great dogs that are misunderstood due to a need for families to become Dog Aware™  We all think we know our dogs and how dogs behave but the reality is that we are not dogs and our communication

Having toddlers and dogs together is a full time job.  It can be hard especially if you do not know what to look for.  Family Paws Parent Educators offer ongoing support and resources dedicated to dog and baby/toddler dynamics.  Don’t wait until you NEED us… us when things are going well so we can help them go GREAT!

If you have questions or are interested in learning and becoming a Dog Aware parent we invite you to reach out to us on our hotline 877 247-3407 or find one of our licensed Family Paws Parent Educators near you!

Become Dog Aware™and supervise with care!

We all have heard the advice SUPERVISE CHILDREN AROUND DOGS!  Ok….so what does this really mean?  Is it that simple?  I thought it was until I become Dog Aware™.  Now I approach supervising differently!

Here are two pictures of my children and dogs from many years ago.  I was supervising.  Right?  I supervised their hugging, free-touching, pulling, hugging etc.  I bet my dog appreciated my supervision skills?  (Sorry Moose and Carin)

Free touch of babies & dogs is not comfortable for dogs.
Hugging and leaning on dogs is uncomfortable.

I was missing a key part of supervision! I was not Dog Aware™!!!!!  Dog Aware™ parents continue learning and stay curious about the behavior of their family dogs.  At the time of these photos I felt I knew enough about dogs and you could not have told me differently!  I grew up with dogs, showed dogs and I knew dogs.   I was WRONG!  What I knew was lacking.  How unfair of me to think dogs are that simple and that I knew all I needed to know!? Do we ever know everything????

I really had a LOT to learn.  Once I realized this I got excited!  Imagine the relationship my kids and dogs could have if I knew more!

So, yes I was supervising my kids with our dogs but with no real knowledge of what I was looking at.  I had lived with dogs but never PARENTED WITH DOGS!  This was new and I needed to be open to learning to help build and strengthen the bond between my children and our dogs.    Although I grew up with many dogs I had never parented a child with dogs.  I am still learning every day as my kids grow into young adults.  Being a dog family with children means being aware and respecting comfort levels of the dogs that are in the home.  I love when parents are open minded and curious about the subtle signals their dogs use to communicate.  Dog Aware parents stay curious and continue learning to build and strengthen the bond between all family members.

Are you ready to increase your Dog Aware™skills?  Are you curious about how your dog reacts or responds in different situations?  Are you interested in strengthening the bond between your child and dog?  Believe me, you are in the right place.  I am so excited to share some of what our family has learned over the years!  We continue to learn every day from our dogs.  I love being curious and open to seeing things differently.

I would love your questions and photos during the month of May to discuss Dog Aware™ How are you Dog Aware™??  Leave us a comment!  We want to hear from you!