The little youngster, my cousin's daughter, returned to our home late Friday evening and stayed until early Saturday afternoon. Loki was still barky, but definitely better than before. A few more visits and he would've been fine.
Later in the evening we also had a six month old baby visit our home for a couple of hours. Jujube was extremely curious and sniffed all around the baby. Loki wasn't curious like Jujube. He wasn't initially barky, but did end up barking at the baby later on. Unfortunately, this visitor was also from out of town, so we won't be getting any repeat exposures.
I've come to realize that although I want to use positive reinforcement, the thought doesn't occur to me until after the problem presents itself. And by that point, it might be too late. (Well, it's never really too late to train, but it's less than ideal.) When the baby first arrived, we were caught up in greeting our visitors, and I was trying to make sure that Jujube wasn't getting into the baby's face too much. I didn't notice Loki's non-barking (Why would you? He's not barking.) It would have been a good time to give him treats for not barking. That way you establish a positive association right away. Ideally, you want to give him treats for behaving well. If he starts barking, then you have to get him to be quiet first. Ignoring the behavior, waiting for him to lose interest and get quiet on his own takes way too long. So, inevitably, I use negative feedback. Something along the lines of:
All of the "Uh-uh"s are negative feedback. I do believe in the importance of negative verbal feedback (some people don't), but I still acknowledge that it is indeed negative. And so, the initial association with the baby is negative. It's not very negative, just slightly. The initial association is of being wary, being fearful, and hearing negative feedback. I think it's very easy and almost natural to make a dog's first impression of a baby negative. The first thing a mother holding a newborn wants to do is to shush her barking dog. It's practically instinctive. And so the dog's first impression is negative."Loki, quiet."
Sits and barks.
"Uh-uh, Loki, quiet."
Still, in retrospect I have to think that maybe we handled the situation today correctly. I think that it's important to greet your out of town visitors right away and give them your full attention. And it's possible that Loki wouldn't have barked at all at a baby. Who knew? I thought that he wouldn't care about a baby who wasn't independently mobile.
With all that happened today, the current plan is to give Loki treats immediately when our baby comes home, so that his initial impression is of good things and not of being shushed.