Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Success Stations: What & how?

A what?! What in the world is a Success Station? A success station is a management tool. This means there is no actual training going on, but the dog is learning that good things happen in this particular place while other things are occurring in another part of the home. For example, pleasant things happen while they are in their crate while mom feeds the baby in the nursery.
SUCCESS STATION — any designated spot that a dog is limited to so that they have no option but to succeed. This spot must be introduced in a positive manner and is for limited periods of time only. (as defined by Family Paws Parent Education®)

Family Paws Parent Educators primarily promote the use of these for parents with infants and small children, although there are many situations where a Success Station would be beneficial. (download handout pictured)

When a family has a new baby these stations are critical in helping mom and dad maintain some semblance of sanity. They create safe, enjoyable places for the family dog to stay when the regular routine is challenged because of the adaptations that come when accommodating a newborn’s needs. 

I personally do not like thrusting a huge training plan on to new parents. It's not fair and it's not realistic, and ... well ... it's not going to be followed. The truth is that new parents have too many other priorities than training the dog to respond to new behaviors. Success Stations are lifesavers for this very reason — they are simple and easy. When done properly, Success Stations get a dog in a safe place while he makes positive associations with what's going on with this new little attention-sucking human around. 

You can anchor a dog with a tether safely to an anchor (eye hook) in the wall (securely installed in a stud) or to a secure stationary object like a non-movable piece of furniture or do a reverse doorknob tether. A reverse doorknob tether (tm) — I totally just made that term up! — is when you put the leash on the opposite side of the door, on the knob, and shut the door on the leash so that it's completely secure. 

The tether is a great Success Station tool if you don't want your dog behind a physical barrier or out of the room (or he isn't good in those situations), but still safely secured so as not to be able to get up, move around and/or get to the baby. (Note: This is best when used only with non-mobile babies! Moving babies could easily approach a dog tethered and that's not safe, so other Success Stations are recommended for mobile babies, toddlers and kids.)  

My personal favorite Success Station is the crate. This is a great tool because it's totally secure and dog is completely out of the way and totally enclosed in a safe spot. This is also great for dogs that may be in the stage where they are still really unsure about the baby and you aren't certain of her feelings about this new little person, so they may feel better being in an entirely different room alone in a crate.

A crate Success Station is also perfect to use when you are very confident in how your dog handles being crated while you're home. If your dog is really crate-savvy and comfortable, this option is fantastic. If she's not, look at my troubleshooting section below.

Gates (or x-pens) are a great option as they help set boundaries for both dogs and children. They can also be located in various locations in your home and you can section off space that is large enough that Fido is comfortable and can have a nice space of his own away from baby. 

Be sure to get a secure gate and one that is tall enough for your dog. Also, be sure you know whether or not your dog will jump a gate or knock one over. If she does jump gates or knock them over I suggest maybe utilizing a different Success Station tool and do more training — you know in between all those baby feedings! — which is covered in my troubleshooting section below.

There are many times when a Success Station would benefit you and your dog. Here are a few examples that are very common:

baby feeding time 
tummy-time on the floor
toys & fun for babies on the floor
when baby starts to roll over &/or crawl
toddler(s) playing & dog needs a safe place
kids running in & out of the home
kids having kids over to play (read: chaos!)
you have to work from home & need alone time
during dinner parties
holidays (read: lots of family & guests)
entertaining at your home (guests moving about your home)

You may be asking – “Why can’t Fluffy stay out with me and baby? I want them to learn to live together!” This is a very common thought process for parents. They want their dog and child to learn to cohabitate and live around one another, to bond and build a relationship. However, the key to a fruitful relationship between Fluffy and baby is setting her up to learn to cohabitate peacefully and safely with baby. Remember: babies are only babies for a short time. This means that there is a lot of time for your child to learn and grow with Fluffy. 

In those beginning months, usually first few years, it’s most important that we simply teach Fluffy that having a child around means good things and no one will allow anything unsafe to happen.  Unsafe for dogs could mean a child: grabbing an ear, crawling quickly across the room, reaching for Fluffy’s toys, making loud baby sounds and many other things a child does that may be uncomfortable for Fluffy.

If Fluffy learns that a child equals loud sounds, unpredictable movements and grabbing, she may just decide children are no fun to be around at all.  So, it’s safest to teach her that in those beginning years we will keep her safe and offer good things while that unpredictable child is living in the same home. This will ensure that Fluffy builds good associations early and begins to look forward to being around your child because she knows you will not let anything uncomfortable happen and you’ll provide wonderful things when your child is around! Win!

Your dog's Success Station should be very comfy and inviting. I suggest having a comfy bed or blanket for Fido in the Success Station area. Also, provide safe Success Station Goodies for him (see list of goodies to use below) while in there. Providing rewarding things ensures he will make positive associations with the Success Station.

I also highly recommend adding a Pet Acoustics cube near or in the area of the Success Station. This is a 2" x 2" x 2" cube that is a little speaker and emits calming tunes designed just for dogs. It comes with a little strap (like those cell phone straps) and you can hang it on a wall. It goes almost anywhere it's so small and portable! I love mine! 

Get Fluffy and take her to the Success Station*. Attach the tether to her collar, or put her into a crate or behind the gate. Give her a pre-stuffed, frozen Kong once she’s in the station. (For Kong Recipe ideas click here to download my recipes handout.) I also suggest you take time to get at least 3-6 Kongs, pre-stuff them and have them in the freezer and ready to serve as needed! If you need to use something other than a Kong you can use a mixture of several different goodies to give Fluffy while in there. 

Other SUCCESS STATION GOODIES instead of a Kong
Provide a bully stick for Fido to chew on (braided ones last longer)
Sprinkle Fluffy's kibble in a Snuffle Mat 
Deer/Elk/Moose antlers are good chews
Stuff a water buffalo horn with food; Fido can chew the empty horn too!
Fill a few interactive food puzzles for Fluffy to work on (more on my Pinterest board)
Give Fido a marrow bone (these can be raw/frozen or dry flavored)

It's really important that you provide some type of goodie while Fido is in the Success Station so he will build up good associations with being alone while you are with baby. He will start to think — oooh when mom feeds that little squeaky baby I get to be safe in my own little place & I get yummy things! That little squeaky thing can't be all that bad!  It’s even better if the only time he does get a goodie is when he is in the station.

This may vary depending on what’s going on. It’s great to do all the things laid out here so that whether Fluffy is in the station for 15 minutes or a couple of hours, she’s totally relaxed and fine with either.  Ideally, Fluffy should be ok in the station for whatever amount of time you need her to be in there.

Is your dog not comfortable in a success station? Won't sit still? Whines? Paces? Barks? Stresses out when left alone when you’re in the other room? If your dog isn't good when alone, separated from you when you’re home, you'll need to do some training. This would ideally be before your baby comes but that isn't always the case. You can still do this slowly and successfully without having to spend a lot of time training.  The key is consistency and dedication. 

I also wrote a few blog post that may be of benefit as well, the first one is called “The most important thing to teach Fido” . Also another great one revolves around crates and their use, tips and more, titled “Crate Training Truths & Tips.”

You can do this, even with a busy and demanding lifestyle! So, start setting your dog up in Success Stations now, regardless if you are pregnant or already have a child …
  • Feed all meals in the area that will be used as a Success Station. No food or meals should be fed outside of this area for the next 30 days, only inside the crate, behind a gate or in an x-pen. This will help Fluffy think all the great things happen when inside the Success Station, hence she will want to be in there more often!
  • Put Fido in the Success Station for short periods of time and gradually increase the time he is in there. Be sure to put several goodies in there and make it as fabulous as possible.
  • Make all times Fluffy isn't in the room with you or is in any way separated from you a more desirable experience than being with you. This means when she's with you don't make it as fun as being without you. (Note: This is temporary until she finds being alone just as good as being with you.)
  • While working on Fido getting used to being in a crate, behind a gate or in an x-pen you can utilize the tether option for a Success Station. This is one that is good to use as the dog can be in the same room without being in or behind a barrier. Still provide all the same Success Station Goodies while Fido is tethered, listed above in the Success Station Goodies list. If baby is mobile you’ll also need to use an x-pen to put around Fido so dog cannot reach baby.
Success Stations are designed to help dog and baby cohabitate peacefully while parents can have peace of mind. There is a lot of info in this article, however, I do highly recommend you find a licensed Family Paws Parent Educator near you to come in and help your family draw up a plan to suit your needs best. If there isn’t an educator located near you there are several who do consults via Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom.  There is also a hotline that is answered all the time, free of charge (877) 247-3407. Family Paws Educators receive very specialized training (outside of normal dog training education) to specifically help families that are preparing for a baby, have a baby (or babies!) and toddlers.
Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA,
& Private Trainer with The Family Dog™
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior
servicing the Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas, USA metroplex
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