It’s such an exciting time when you find out that you’re going to have a baby! Of course you’ll want to start preparing right away: deciding when to let friends and family know, learning what to expect during pregnancy, baby names…the list is endless because there are so many changes looming.
Bringing a new baby home is not just a transition for the parents, it’s also a dramatic adjustment for your pup! New smells, new sounds, new schedules, and ultimately less attention can be extremely disruptive and upsetting to your canine companion, especially if your dog is used to being treated like your ‘first baby’! The sooner you start preparing your dog for their new sibling, the easier it will be once the baby arrives.
When You First Learn You’re Expecting
Enroll in a Training Class
As soon as you find out you are pregnant, enroll in a basic training class with your dog. He will not only love the one-on-one time in class with you, but it will refresh (or teach) the training cues you will need once the baby is home. There are a few basic training commands that you and your pup will benefit from once the baby arrives.
Your dog should have a mastery of these basic manners:
• Sit and Lie down. This command is beneficial for any situation that calls for immediate calmness. If your dog is jumping up on you or constantly underfoot, this is a good command to use.
• Leave it and Drop it. “Leave it” and/or “drop it” is extremely useful as your pup navigates which toys are hers and which toys are the baby’s.
•Greet people appropriately. When a new baby arrives, there is typically a flurry of activity with new guests coming in to help you and your newborn. Having your dog understand appropriate greetings will circumvent a potentially annoying, if not dangerous, situation if the baby is nearby.
• Go to place (bed or crate). The “go to your bed” or “go to your crate” command is helpful in numerous situations. When you’re in your nursing chair, it’s a good time to direct your pup to go to the place you’ve selected and treat him.
• Sit, Wait. This command is beneficial when going through doorways and for general impulse control. When you’re heading out for a walk with your pup and baby, your four-legged child may be bursting with excitement to get out the door. The “sit and wait” command is extremely useful to prevent you and your newborn from being dragged outside.
•Walking on a leash. This is worthwhile for dog owners in general, but even more so when you are walking with a stroller. If your pup does not have mastery of walking on a leash, start with practicing loose-leash walking. Eventually you will want to add the stroller so your pup gets used to walking next to it when the baby arrives.
Mix Up the Routine
If your pup is currently on a regimented schedule, now is the time to start changing it up — life with your newborn can be chaotic and sometimes unpredictable. If your dog is used to eating breakfast at 7 a.m., for example, begin to alter the timing of your feeding anytime between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. Same goes for dinner. If you typically feed your pup dinner at 6 p.m., start serving it anytime between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Begin to minimize the attention you give your dog. This can be a tough one for doting dog parents, however when the baby arrives your attention will naturally turn to your newborn. Instead of the intermittent bursts of attention that your pup is used to, begin to give your dog longer periods of one-on-one attention with activities like fetch or a long walk. Be sure to mix up the times of the day that you give attention so your pup does not come to rely on the same time every day.
If your walks are typically around the same time, change the timing and duration. You may consider hiring a dog walker so your pup can stay active, keeping in mind that eventually you may have less energy to go for extended walks. If you don’t have friends or family to step in when it’s time to head to the hospital, an established relationship with a dog walker will be invaluable. It’s important that you trust your dog walking service and that your pup is accustomed to someone coming in and taking him out. Forming that relationship now will prevent the headache of trying to figure out a last-minute solution when you go into labor.
While you’re on your walks, make a deliberate effort to walk by playgrounds or schools at a safe distance where your dog can experience the sounds and movements of small children. Do not approach a child with your dog, but you should carefully observe your dog’s reaction to children at play. If your dog displays any negative reaction to a child, contact a trainer or behaviorist immediately.
Negative responses include:
• Tail between the legs
• Anxiously searching for an escape
• Panting (when not hot)
• Freezing in place
• Tense body language
If you do see any of these stress signals, do not punish your dog. Punishing your dog’s response in this particular situation may ultimately create a negative association with children. Instead, seek out a professional.
Finally, there may be areas of the house, be it your bedroom, the nursery, or the couch, that you will no longer want your dog to have access to. If this is the case, decide now and begin restricting these areas. If your dog is used to sleeping in bed with you, consider getting a comfy dog bed to put next to your bed. If necessary, confine your pup and their new bed in a pen or crate.
Three Months Before Baby’s Arrival
As final preparations begin for the baby’s arrival, be sure to associate the baby’s things with positive rewards.
Turn on the infant swing, play recorded sounds of a baby crying and laughing, put up baby gates and take your dog on walks with the stroller. Get a doll that simulates the movement of a baby and carry it as you would your newborn. Use the baby’s lotion, powders and shampoos on yourself so your pup can associate the smells with something familiar. Reward your pup anytime he is calm in the face of these stimuli.
If you will allow your dog to be with you in the baby’s room while nursing, place a bed out of the way and leave treats there for your pup to discover. Actively spend quiet time in the nursery with your dog, giving him a bully stick, chew toy or puzzle to play with quietly. When he is quietly resting with no distraction, give him a treat to reward the behavior.
If you think your pup would benefit from having a reprieve from your newborn and eventual mobile toddler, create a baby-free zone where your dog can relax and play by herself. This can be a crate or a gated-off area, so long as there’s room for your canine to relax without disturbance. To ensure that this area is a positive one, and one she will enjoy retreating to, reward her every time she is in this safety zone.
Bringing Home Baby
The time has come to head to the hospital! At this point you will have hopefully lined up a caretaker for your pup who can come in for feedings and walks.
While you are in the hospital, ask someone to bring home a blanket or onesie your little one has been wearing so your pup can get used to the smell of your newborn. Ask your helper to be cognizant of your dog’s reaction and to give him a treat if he’s calmly and curiously investigating the new scent.
When you finally do get home, first impressions are critical, so make them positive! First, allow every member of your household to come in and greet your dog, leaving the baby supervised outside the house. The excitement of finally having everyone home may prove to be a chaotic event, so allow your dog the time to greet everyone. Once your dog is composed, leash him and bring the baby in.
It’s important for you to stay at ease when you enter the home. Your dog will be naturally curious of the new bundle, full of new smells, sounds and motions. If your pup’s reaction is positive and appropriate you may feel comfortable with brief interactions, like allowing your pup to sniff the baby’s feet for a few moments. After every positive interaction with your newborn, be sure to reward him with a treat or high praise.
As the baby stakes claim in your residence, be sure to continually sing the praises of your canine companion. And while you may be tempted to treat your pup when the baby is sleeping, actively work at treating your dog when the baby is awake and your canine is showing proper manners. If you’re engaging your dog while in the presence of the baby, your pup will associate the newborn with a positive outcome, which will help bond the two.
Of course, adjusting to life with a new human sibling means your pup may encounter loud and upsetting noises, like the shrill of the baby crying. If these things seem to stress your pup, start associating those noises and experiences with rewards. Every time the baby cries, toss your pup a tasty treat. If your pup is overly concerned and getting in the way, use your ‘go to place’ command and have your pup quietly wait while tossing treats onto the mat, bed or area you are directing him to.
Soon, with enough repetition, your pup will come to appreciate the chaos of having a newborn baby around!