Those who follow Toby on Instagram know Toby and Thomas have a very special friendship. It’s a true friendship between a boy and a dog.
A question I get a lot is, ‘How did you foster this bond between Toby and Thomas?’ And the answer is through training, lost of it, on Toby’s behalf.
Thomas’ love for Toby came naturally while Toby needed a lot of help.
I have written about the fact that Toby didn’t warm to Thomas straight away and it took a while for him to feel comfortable around Thomas.
Thomas on the other hand has grown up with Toby and, I believe, sees Toby as one of us, a beloved family member.
Four years ago, when Toby entered our lives, we decided to train him to be much more than a dog. We wanted him to be a family member, to act like a family member and be treated like a family member. And through a bucket load of training we have a furball who understands how to behave within the Wigglebottom household.
Andrew and I both want our children to have the same bond we have with Toby. We want Toby to have the same bond with our children as he does with us. For these reasons, it has always been a high priority for us to help Toby and Thomas develop a loving relationship.
Now, before I go on I do want to state that not all dogs have the capacity to form a friendship with a baby or child. There are so many breeds where dogs and young children should not mix in this way. And this piece of writing is in no way a ‘How To Guide,’ it is simply a response to a question I get asked a lot. Toby is an extremely placid and calm dog and we trust him completely. But at the end of the day Toby is a dog, it is important to always respect dog’s natural instincts and innate behaviours. We make sure we never put Toby in a position where he feels threatened or feels the need to be aggressive.
In the beginning, first month
Toby took us all by surprise when we brought Thomas home from the hospital. He was not happy and acted very suspicious around Thomas. When Thomas cried or made those weird baby noises, Toby would growl. We were surprised he was acting this way. We thought he would understand that Thomas belonged to us, that his smell was similar to our smell.
We were very stern with Toby in the first week, telling him off every time he growled in response to Thomas’ noises.
We didn’t bother trying to foster a relationship in the first couple of weeks. Rather, we concentrated on Toby not responding negatively towards Thomas’ noises. Every time Thomas made a noise and Toby didn’t react, we made a huge song and dance over it until Toby understood that growling was not on.
When Toby stopped reacting to Thomas we started to tackle the next problem, getting Toby to be near Thomas. Initially when we put Toby next to Thomas he’d just run away.
Because we wanted Toby to take part in everything we did, we had to help Toby get over his dislike of Thomas.
We knew he had it in him to fall in love and make a new best friend, we just had to show him the way.
I would sit on the coach with Thomas in my arms and Andrew would sit next to me with Toby in his arms. Toby would not come into Andrew’s arms when Thomas was around so Andrew had to go get him. We would sit there for a while, praising Toby, giving him scratches and treats for staying in Andrew’s arms while sitting next to Thomas.
After doing this for a few weeks, Toby soon tolerated Thomas being near him.
Now it was time to get Toby to come into our laps or sit next to us when we had Thomas, without our help. When Toby did this, we would praise him and give him treats.
Eventually, Toby was happy to sit with all of us without being asked or bribed.
We realised we could move onto the next phase when one day Toby came onto the bed and rested his head on Thomas’ belly all on his own.
Around the 3rd month of Thomas’ life we noticed Toby was too comfortable and confident around Thomas. He would come and sit too closely to Thomas and we didn’t want him to do this while Thomas was so young as he could suffocate Thomas by accident.
Training him how to sit at a safe distance took a while. When Toby sat too closely to Thomas we would say, ‘No,’ and move him to a spot that was acceptable and praise him with a treat. We would repeat this over and over again until he knew not to sit near him where his tail or fur could affect Thomas’ breathing.
Once we noticed Toby had gotten the hang of how to behave around Thomas we kept reinforcing everything we taught him. We also made sure that Toby’s routines that were in place before Thomas’ arrival continued. He still came everywhere with us, he still got his long walk, he still got fed at the same time each day, he still got his bone once a week. We wanted to show Toby that just because Thomas was here, did not mean Toby’s life would be affected or that we no longer valued him.
Around the six month mark, Thomas started to pull and hit Toby. Obviously being a baby, we couldn’t tell him to stop doing this. Instead, we had to teach Toby to tolerate it by praising him and giving him treats every time Thomas pulled or hit.
One year onwards
As soon as Thomas turned 1, we could see he wanted to copy everything we were doing. One thing Thomas wanted to do in particular was feed Toby treats and play fetch with him.
We started to teach Thomas and Toby how to do this properly and safely as Thomas was going to give Toby things behind our backs whether we liked it or not. It’s hard to teach a one year old how to be safe around dogs when they don’t have the language but we knew we could teach Toby how to be gentle towards Thomas.
We would give Thomas some cheese or a ball and hold out his hand to allow Toby to gently grab the item. Toby understands the command ‘gentle’ and we repeated this command over and over again for a few months while we supervised Thomas giving food or toys to Toby.
These days, I feel comfortable allowing Thomas to play fetch or share some food with Toby without my supervision.
Overall, it took time for Toby to feel comfortable around Thomas. But once Toby realised Thomas was part of the family he started treating and acting him like he does us.
Prior to Thomas, Toby was with us all the time. Whatever we did, he did. Wherever we went, Toby came along too and we have kept this up. Because of this, Toby and Thomas are always together and has helped their friendship develop naturally.
Toby loves being around Thomas and vice versa. Yes, there are times when Toby has had enough and wants some alone time away from Thomas and we make sure Thomas stays away.
Thanks to Toby, Thomas loves dogs and gets excited every time he sees one. The issue we now have is teaching Thomas to be very careful around all types of dogs regardless of size and appearance as none of them are like his brother and all strange dogs should be approached with the utmost caution.
As his language develops and he understands more we will need to train Thomas how to behave around other dogs.