Having a baby is an exciting time for everyone. There will be lots of changes in your life, especially if this is you first child. For your dog, it can be more stressful than exciting. Thankfully, there are many things that can be done to make this transition much easier for your dog. If you are a person who has had a dog fill the role of a child, and you are having your first human child, you need to start working on this ASAP, pretty much as soon as you find out you are pregnant. The sooner you institute the following, the better.
- Enroll your dog in an obedience class. If your dog has already been through one (or several), now (before your baby arrives) is a good time for a refresher.
- As soon as possible in the course of your pregnancy, you need to start adapting your dog to what her new schedule will be. Dog are creatures of habit and do not like abrupt changes and random events. Try to mimic, as much as possible, what your routine will be when your baby comes. You will inevitably be spending less time with your dog, so start to ease her into that now. You will still need to provide appropriate exercise for her, so think about how you are going to accomplish that with a new born in the picture. You should also include 10-15 minutes of play time that is devoted entirely to your dog. This time devotion is important and should be consistent, even once the baby has arrived, and even if the baby is crying (have your spouse handle the crying baby situation if it occurs during this time). This time with your dog can also serve to give you a break and as a chance to relax.
- Begin to walk your dog on a schedule that will be realistic to maintain once your baby has arrived. I prefer first thing in the morning. This will help to burn off excess energy that your dog may have and will help her be calmer throughout the day. This is also a great time to hone your dog’s leash manners. Remember, once the baby comes it will likely be you, your dog, and your baby in a stroller that are going for a walk. A dog that has bad leash manners can be difficult in this setting, to say the least. Get your dog under control now, not once your baby is in the picture.
- Allow your dog to become familiar with your baby’s room and all of the new things that will be in there, such as diapers, lotions, powders, etc… Do not allow your dog to take over the room and be sure to reward calm behavior. If your dog becomes over excited, remove her from the room and try again later. Do not encourage over excitement, sometimes your “happy voice” can do just that. Do not allow your dog to take over the room by spending time in it unsupervised or by sleeping in it.
- If you have been using stuffed toys as toys for your dog, change to a different type of toy. Asking your dog to differentiate between her soft fuzzy toys and your baby’s soft fuzzy toys is too much to ask. Make the change now.
- When you, or your spouse, is in the hospital delivering your baby, have your spouse bring some article of clothing with the baby’s scent on it home to introduce the baby’s scent to your dog. Do not make a big deal about it by creating excitement. Just place it somewhere that your dog can approach and investigate. Don’t forget to reward calmness. If your dog gets over excited, remove the item and try again later.
- Arrange before hand for someone to care for your dog while you are in the hospital delivering your baby. Frantically trying to find someone at the last minute will be noticed by your dog and may cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. Try to avoid kennels/boarding facilities as many of these will put your dog in a stressful state of mind.
- When returning home for the first time with your baby, have someone hold the baby outside of the home while you go in and greet your dog. This will eliminate the potential risk of injury to your child that an excited dog can inadvertently inflict. This will also allow your dog to smell the baby on you. If you have a dog that likes to jump, be sure he is on leash and being controlled by someone else. Do not try to introduce your baby to your dog when she is excited. Many people make the mistake of thinking that if they just let their dog see/sniff the baby their excitement will go away. Do not fall in to this. Introducing your dog and child when your dog is excited will only serve to have your dog associate excitement with your baby.
- The formal introduction to your baby should proceed as follows: Someone sits on chair or couch with the baby, you will be responsible for controlling your dog. Your dog should be on leash and preferably be wearing a Gentle Leader. Do not dangle your baby in front of and above your dog, this will encourage jumping up and lunging. Allow your dog to calmly approach and sniff your baby. Do not allow excessive licking. Be sure to reward calmness. The formal introduction occurs ONLY after your dog has demonstrated that she can be somewhat calm around your baby.
If your dog growls at your baby, DO NOT tell her that “it’s okay” or have a conversation about it with her such as “mommy and daddy still love you” etc… Also, you DO NOT want to correct the growl. This is a warning signal that says your dog is uncomfortable. We want a warning. Don’t take the growl personally, many people do and then become angry at their dog. This will not help and will make matters worse. Just calmly remove your dog from the situation and start over later. The next time, go slower and remember to reward calmness.
Under no circumstances should your dog be allowed to sleep in your child’s room and/or bed. Your infant will not be able to move if your dog lays directly on him/her. Do not allow this to happen.
If your dog shows aggression towards your new born, get help from a behaviorist immediately. Do not think that your dog will “out grow it” or that time alone will make it better.
Thanks for reading and please do not hesitate to ask questions
Pictures courtesy of Clover_1, overdrive_cz, and redjar via Flickr