Updated: Apr 9
If you have pets, you know that they too undergo changes when a little one arrives in the home. I still remember our sweet dog, Blue, who would get anxious and whine while gently putting her paws up on the changing table when our oldest child would cry as a newborn. Blue was so invested in keeping our darling girl happy and calm - the sound of her crying truly distressed her. At the time, it never occurred to us to find a trainer specialized in bringing home baby. I wish we had know about Louise Feaheny, Doctor Loulitte, back then! When I learned about her unique service, I just knew I'd love to learn more about her and share that information with other families in Madrid.
Here's my interview with Doctor Loulittle!
1. How did you get started as a dog trainer? When did you start working with families on introducing new babies to dogs?
When we moved to Spain, I started volunteering at shelters and also as a foster home for abandoned animals. We adopted two cats and a dog and I set up a group called Madrid Pet Lovers, which aimed to give English speakers an opportunity to make a difference to rescues in Spain.
After a while, we agreed to foster a tiny Spanish Water Dog puppy. She was so scared when she came to stay with us, that I knew she was going to have behavioural problems further down the line. I reached out for help but got a lot of advice that I didn't agree with (such as using punishment-based training methods like a shock or a prong collar.) I realised that in order to help her, I was going to have to educate myself. I started taking courses in Spain, Ireland and the UK as well as online, and little by little started applying the knowledge to my own dogs, as well as the dogs I was working with in shelters. I also started helping people through the Madrid Pet Lovers group, and the advice worked. Through living with separation anxiety, reactivity towards people and other dogs, fear issues, and many other problems, I understood how much of a challenge it could be, and I wanted to help others to navigate the difficult waters with their own dogs too. I got qualified through The Institute of Modern Dog Training and thought it was time to take the leap from a hobby to a career.
Although I had done some work with babies and dogs, I started to really understand the importance of management and positive associations and introductions after my own daughter was born. There were challenges that I never would have even considered originally, but now I take them into consideration when working with every family. 2. How many children and pets of your own do you have? What kinds of pets?I've got a gorgeous little girl, Fía. She was 2 in July and she's a real mini-me with the animals. She adores them and is extremely respectful of them. She's a huge help and loves getting involved with their care.
We also have two dogs, a Spanish Water Dog called Cailín and a little scruffy dog called Mango. They're 5 and 6.
We have three cats: Dorothy is a 2-year-old Persian, Beatrice Summer is an 8-year-old tabby who came from Ireland with us, and Garfield is an 8-year-old Exotic Shorthair. We've got two chinchillas, Rocky and Trevor Phillips, a tortoise named Slow, and a Betta fish called Red Fish.
All of our animals are rescues and most of them were failed fosters. We never planned on having so many, but sometimes when one arrives you just can't say goodbye! In the last few years, we've also fostered 64 puppies and kittens.
I'd also like to add that I also have an extremely patient husband!
3. Did anything surprise you about having pets and children together?
Did you know that a happy Spanish Water Dog's tail is at exactly the perfect height to smack a one-year-old in the face? I didn't, but I do now! 4. What brought you to Madrid and when did you move here?
I moved here with my then-boyfriend, now-husband Jack. We were living in Ireland and were both unhappy with the long days that we were working, and never having time for each other. We decided to move to Madrid for one year to teach English, just for a change... and 8 years later, we're still here!
We brought Beatrice Summer, our first cat, with us and we realised that it was going to cost a fortune to get her back to Ireland. We decided to stay for another year to save for the move. In the meantime, we ended up adopting another cat and a dog, and realised that we just weren't meant to go back!
5. What is your favorite place in Madrid? Our home in Meco. When we arrived to Madrid we were living in Lavapiés, then we moved to Pácifico and later to Vallecas. Living in the city always felt like a very temporary situation for us. I've always wanted to live in the campo where we would have space for more animals. As we're still renting now, we're living in a housing estate rather than out in the countryside, but we have a garden and if we walk for ten minutes we're in open countryside, which is beautiful! It's a lovely quiet pueblo, but it's not far from Alcala de Henares, and we can still get into Madrid on public transport. 6. Do you have one major piece of advice for families with pets expecting a new baby?The safety of your baby and your pets should always be your main priority- everything else comes afterward. It's just as important to teach your little one to respect your pets, as it is to teach your pets to respect your baby. It's never too early to start preparing! Sit down and consider the things that your dog does that needs work from the very beginning. Do they bark at the door? Do they jump up? Do they chew things that they shouldn't? Do they guard food? Consider the phases that your baby is going to go through and think about how this could pose a challenge. Think about the behaviours that you may want to change, and what you could train your dog to do instead.
For example, if you don't want them to get in the way in the baby's room while you're changing them, you could train them to settle on a mat. Instead of running to the door and barking, you could teach them to go to their bed and wait. It's much easier to teach a dog what you want them to do, rather than expecting them to understand everything you don't want them to do. What is reinforced will be repeated, so make sure to communicate to your dog when they do something desirable.
9 months gives you quite a lot of time to prepare and to work with your dog, so don't hesitate to get in touch with a professional who can help you out. It's something that you don't want to leave until the last moment.
My other top tip is to invest in a good baby carrier! I'm also a certified carrying consultant so if you need any advice on babywearing, I'd be happy to help. Although we got a pram when Fía was born, we rarely used it and instead used wraps and carriers. At 2.5 years-old, we're still babywearing, and it makes getting out and about with the dogs so much easier. 7. What services do you offer? I offer online training sessions and also in-person sessions in my garden in Meco. Feel free to check out my website and get in touch with any questions that you might have.
Thanks so much for sharing with us! Readers, share your own experiences with bringing home baby with pets in the home in the comments below.
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