Preparing your Dog for the Arrival of your Baby
September already! How on earth did that happen? 2020 has been quite the whirlwind already – and if you’re expecting you will no doubt be planning ahead for the not-so-distant future between baby and dog.
Babies and dogs can be a match made in heaven or hell – it’s crucial to put in some foundations to help the relationship blossom and be an easy transition. Here are my top tips on how to prepare your dog for the arrival of your baby.
Boundary training for success
Training a few simple commands before baby arrives will help you prepare your dog for their arrival. “In your bed”, “down-stay”, “go away” and “heel” next to a pram are all really helpful cues when you have your hands full with a newborn. Giving dogs commands to carry out during the day will mentally stimulate them but also set boundaries to help you juggle being a parent and a dog owner. It’s important that your dog understands to give you and baby physical space as and when you ask for it.
Dogs need to know they are not entitled to be near the baby without consent. This creates really lovely respect and gentility between dog and baby while they get to know one another and prevents issues such as becoming overprotective of your child.
If you don’t have these commands reliably in place, spend 10-20 minutes each day training with reward-based methods.
Likely changes in dog behaviour
You may have noticed odd changes in your dog’s behaviour at the time of falling pregnant. Dog’s often sense these changes before people do and can show signs of nudging your belly, night-time barking, restlessness or suddenly performing behaviours they have never done before like burying toys or bones.
The vast majority of family dogs adjust very well to new arrivals provided they understand boundaries and receive adequate exercise. Dogs that do not cop well, often do not understand what is expected of them, or have an excess of energy that causes frustration or behavioural issues.
You may also find that the change in routine and night-time feeds will also tire out your pup, so be sure to give them a little leeway if they seem exhausted during the day. Your dog will not be the only one in the house who will appreciate an afternoon nap, so pop a stuffed kong in their crate when baby goes down.
Myths about babies and dogs
“Dogs have a natural moral compass”
No matter what you see online or how human dogs appear to be – they do not have a moral compass that is entwined or paralleled with ours. This is humanisation and its a tricky old trap to fall into if you have read my previous posts. Dogs are primarily predators and it’s vital we respect their biological heritage and needs before giving them the benefit of the doubt. They learn boundaries and respectful behaviour through consistent training and it’s vital that baby and dog are never left together unsupervised. Dogs adjust to all change with time and patience, some will be faster than others. The best thing we can do is aim to prepare them with the skills, coping mechanisms and a loving environment to handle the change.
“Dogs know to be gentle with babies”
There is a growing perception in the West that dogs have some magical ability to understand that children are precious and require special treatment. Dogs you may see on Instagram have been trained very well, and it’s naive to assume that your dog will automatically become a “second mother” to your baby. What may happen, is that your dog senses your energy, hormonal changes and parental instincts. They can read the body language around the room – dogs are perceptive animals and very in tune with their families. This may cause them to be cautious or shy. You might see your dog naturally falls into the role of “nanny” but for health and safety, assume that you will need to draw boundaries with your selected commands to show your dog that space and calm behaviour around baby is paramount.
“Some breeds are better with children than others”
False. Any dog can be brilliant with kids, provided they are raised correctly. Beware breed profiles that claim that specific breeds are particularly good with children. The truth is all dogs need to be trained and gauged on an individual basis and while choosing a particular breed can predict a number of selectively bred attributes, breed type guarantees nothing.
Outsourcing dog care
Dog day care can be a blessing when you have your hands full with a new baby. Every minute is precious and there are lots of different services that can lighten the load. A local dog day care can take your dog for the day and exercise them until their heart’s content. Your dog will get to play and interact with others, as well as learn a few manners along the way. Most dog day cares guarantee a tired dog by the end of the day and the investment is worth it’s weight in gold in the first few months while you adjust to parenthood.
Another great alternative would be to hire a professional dog walker. Most walkers can take your dog out in group or solo walks to suit your breeds age, health and breed requirements.
Aim to get this process underway before baby arrives. Your dog will learn to enjoy the new routine and it will stagger the changes in their life to reduce stress.
Bringing baby home
If you can bring something home from the hospital for the dog to smell before baby comes home, you can begin to prepare your dog’s senses for the arrival of your baby.
Say hello to your dog when you arrive home without baby in tow. Your dog will be excited to see you after your absence and it’s important not to shock them at the front door.
The first meeting will require two people, one to hold baby and another to hold the dog lead and provide treats.
Make sure your dog has been exercised adequately before meeting the baby to allow them to feel calm. Start from a distance and reward the behaviours you want from your dog. Asking them to sit or down stay will be beneficial.
Spend 5-10 minutes getting used to one another at a pace that suits you. This is where your commands such as “in your bed” and “down-stay” come in to play. Reward your dog for being calm, disinterested or for performing on cue.
If your dog is over-excited, jumping up or pulling to get closer, pop them in another room to calm down before your next attempt.
Stuffed kongs are a great way to distract your dog, give them something to do as well as creating a positive association with your baby.
Practice for a few days before letting your dog come closer. Only let them off lead when you feel totally confident their behaviour is under control.
Set aside time each day to play with your dog, interact with them and go for walks. They will still need the same amount of attention and bonding time each day to function normally and avoid a negative association with the baby.
- Aim to create positive associations for your dog that baby = walkies, stuffed kongs or treats
- Ensure your dog has a quiet, safe space to retire to that is baby-free
- Exercise and brain games will be the key to keeping your dog balanced in the transition
- Make baby’s room a dog-free zone
- Give your dog a stuffed kong when you need space or time out
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How did your first dog-baby meeting go? Tell us in the comments!