It’s easy to forget that your pet also has to cope with a new addition to the family when you bring baby home. Your house fills with different sounds, sights, smells and routines, and pooch has to adjust as much as you.
To make matters worse for your dog, you have less time for walkies, play and training, as parental duties come first. They have to deal with all of this without the joy that new baby naturally brings to mom and dad. Instead, there is confusion, frustration and in some cases, anxiety and depression.
Prepare your mutt for life with a baby as soon as you know that you’re pregnant. It’s upsetting for doggy if you disappear in a great deal of excitement and return with a whole new world.
It’s also important that you make time for your dog during this busy and challenging time. They also need love and support during this transition period. After all, you want your dog to be as excited about your new baby as you are.
Here are a few tips to get Fido ready for baby duty.
No time like the present
Start early. As soon as you find out you are going to have a baby, start getting your dog ready for change. The question is: How do you do this?
The first step is to make sure your dog’s training is up to scratch. When Fido responds to ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘off’, and ‘drop it’, it’s easier to ensure safe interactions between dog and baby.
‘Off’ is an important cue, as a jumping dog can physically harm you and your child. A good suggestion is to use a doll to introduce your dog to the idea of an infant. Practice rewarding your dog for not jumping when you have the baby in your arms. You can practice the behavior with the stroller, swing and crib, too. The more you practice and the more your dog succeeds, the more likely she will focus on you, despite the chaos.
Kun Lest! That’s Maltese for the Scouts’ motto ‘Be Prepared’
Prepare your dog for the new arrival by letting her sniff the baby clothes and baby products. You can sleep with them so that your dog associates the smell with family. Play recordings of baby noises and reward your dog with yummy treats when she remains calm.
You can also mix up their schedule a bit as a practice run. If you usually feed them at 6 pm, start feeding a bit before or after that. If you go for a walk at a specific time, change it up a bit. This will condition your dog to accept that a change in schedule is more bark than bite.
You may be tempted to compensate for the inevitable lack of attention that will accompany the baby by smothering your dog with love and attention. DON’T. Your dog will revel in the extra attention and be very confused when that attention is stripped away. Instead, practice withdrawal of attention exercises, so that she gets used to not being the center of your universe.
The first time you and your baby come home
A relatively simple and smart idea is to allow your friends and family to enter the house first so that your dog can get out as much of its excitement as possible, and so your partner can fetch the lead and calm your dog down before the real interruption walks in.
Walk calmly into the house with your new baby, and don’t make a fuss of the baby or of your dog. Play it cool.
You could even go so far as to send some of the baby’s hospital clothing home before you get there, so that your dog can get used to a specific smell and not be surprised on the day. A dog’s olfactory system is far more advanced than our own and should be taken into consideration.
Hello, how do you do?
When you finally do a formal introduction, make sure it is in a quiet and calm space. Ask a friend to leash your dog or put her in a pen or behind a baby gate (you’ll have plenty of those by now) and bring her near the baby. Speak to your dog in a positive and happy tone. You want your dog to feel comfortable and associate good feelings with your baby.
Another option is to put a dog bed in the corner of the baby’s room so that she can be part of all baby-related activity, like feeding and putting baby to sleep. You can reward your dog for sitting quietly and being calm. You can also give your dog something to do while you’re busy feeding and fussing. A hoof with yummy treats inside will keep your dog happily occupied while you go about your baby business.
If you’re still worried about your dog’s reaction to a new arrival, or you need emergency training to calm down an over-excited labbie or golden retriever, then you should contact a professional trainer or behaviourist to help you and your pooch adjust to the changing situation.
Babies and dogs can live together and form strong bonds. The dog can even play a role as a caregiver, guarding the baby from harm and alerting you when the baby is, for example, toddling rapidly towards the pond (which is covered anyway). It’s up to you, as the responsible human adults in the family to facilitate the relationship and manage the environment so that a healthy relationship results. Changing nappies AND picking up dog poop is not going to be the best part of your day, but the joy of seeing all your children learn to love each other, will make it all worthwhile.