When expecting a new baby, there are a million things on your mind and one of them is: How can I prepare my dog for this?
Believe it or not, the first year with a new baby is easiest for your dog. This is because your baby isn’t mobile yet and is still confined to places like playpens and your arms. Once your baby starts crawling or cruising, things can get harder for your dog. Erratic crawling, falling movements, rolling walkers and crashing toys can be frightening to a dog. Toddlers that might grab a dog’s tail or throw a toy at him while experimenting with cause and effect are harder for a dog than a newborn baby.
This means the sooner you start readying your dog for the baby, the easier it will be on your dog when baby comes home! Consider these:
Changes in the Environment
Any changes that are going to be made in your home or in your dog’s routine should be made well in advance of the baby’s arrival. These are some things to consider:
- Will the furniture in your home move to accommodate baby equipment? If so, rearrange furniture early so your dog has time to adjust.
- Will you have a swing? If so turn it on and get your dog used to it before there is a baby in it as the movement disturbs some dogs. Give your dog treats for looking at it while swinging.
- Will your dog’s sleeping location change? If your dog has been sleeping in the bedroom, he can continue to do so even if baby is sleeping in there too. But you might want to move him from your bed to a crate if you plan to co-sleep with the baby.
- Will your dog need to ride in a new place in the car? Dogs and babies should be safely separated in different rows. Move your dog now and consider purchasing a barrier to keep your dog in the third row if your vehicle has one.
- Do you plan to walk your dog while pushing a stroller? If so teach your dog to walk nicely with the empty stroller before baby comes!
Basic Training Skills Your Dog Should Have
- Sit for polite Greeting (no jumping) – This is useful for greeting people who will be coming to visit you and the baby, but also to gain access to you or baby.
- Go To Mat (and stay there) – Useful for allowing your dog to be with you in the nursery.
- Leave It – dropped a pacifier or bottle? You should be able to say Leave It and have your dog back away from the item so you can pick it up.
- Drop It – Has your dog stolen a stuffed animal or gotten a hold of a bottle? You should be able to ask your dog to Drop It and have him spit the item out.
- Wait at the Door – It will help with things like going for a walk with the stroller if your dog is not plowing past you while you try to go out the door. Everyone can get out the door safely if your dog can Sit and Wait for you and baby to go through first. Then you can give your dog permission to go through.
Download a “Baby Sounds” app or purchase a CD. Purchase a rubber Kong if you don’t already have one. Fill the Kong with something great – spray cheese, liverwurst – the BEST stuff should be in that Kong. Don’t just smear a little peanut butter in there, make a Kong parfait with layered flavors of decadence. If you find your dog is eating his way through the Kong too quickly, prepare it ahead of time and freeze solid. Now, you’re going to start pairing those baby sounds with the presentation of that yummy Kong.
- Play the sounds, then give your dog the stuffed Kong. Let him have it for about 30 seconds. Then stop the baby noises and remove the Kong. Repeat. The order is important: Play Sounds, Give Kong. Sounds stop, Kong goes away.
- Repeat this, playing the sounds for 30 seconds at a time for 10 minutes twice a day.
- Next time you do the exercise, let him have the Kong (and play the sounds for a bit longer – 45 seconds.
- Do this again, for 10 minutes twice a day.
- Gradually keep increasing the length of time he listens to sounds and eats the Kong.
- Always remember the order: Play sounds, give Kong. Stop sounds, remove Kong. Repeat.
We want your dog to want to hear those baby noises because they “make” that Kong get handed to him.
Sniff a Doll
When your dog comes up to see what you have, ask him to Sit. When he does, mark the sit with Yes, and lower the doll’s feet for your dog to sniff briefly. Tell him Good Boy and give a treat. If he jumps up say whoops and the “baby” goes away. He must sit to gain access to the baby and sniffing politely will earn a treat. Repeat several times, then delay your request for the Sit. See if your dog offers it. Use really really special treats for this. Canned chicken, freeze dried beef liver, cheese. The baby makes the BEST stuff happen.
It’s normal for a dog to be curious, but if he isn’t interested in sniffing, so be it, don’t force the interaction. It’s important that your dog not think the baby is a forbidden object, and that he learns that polite behavior can grant him temporary access. Keep baby’s face and head protected and away from your dog.
Start using products that you’ll use on the baby like shampoo, baby bath and lotions on yourself. That way these smells will be familiar and associated with you when you start using them on the baby.
Make a Spot for Your Dog
The idea is to make your dog feel included in the things you’ll be doing with the new baby. If you’re going to spend a lot of time in the nursery rocking or feeding the baby, let your dog be a part of that by providing him with a place to be. Before the baby even arrives, help him learn that this is a place to be calm and quiet.
Create a spot in the nursery for your dog by placing a mat or towel on the floor. Practice the Go To Your Mat exercise while you sit in the rocker and rock the doll. Keep a jar of treats nearby so you can periodically drop one onto the mat, and/or use this time to listen to baby sounds and use the Kong.
First Impressions When Baby Arrives
Once the baby is born, you’ll likely be at the hospital for a few days. During this time, enlist the help of a family member. Take a blanket that has been used to swaddle the baby and ask a family member to bring it home for you. This person should walk in the house holding the blanket in his/her arms like a baby. Your dog should offer a sit to gain access to the blanket.
When your dog sits, the person can lower the blanket for your dog to sniff. Your dog must not play with the blanket – a short sniff is permissible but not much more. Have your helper give a treat to give to your dog for sniffing calmly. Your helper can then take the blanket to the place in the house where the baby will sleep and place it there. Make sure the dog is not going over to it to bother it. The blanket should remain there until you bring your baby home from the hospital.
If you are delayed coming home from the hospital, a “fresh” blanket can be sent home every few days and the process repeated. The old blanket in the baby’s sleeping spot can be replaced with the new one.
The day you come home, have someone else carry the baby. You should go in and greet your dog who has no doubt missed you. When your dog is calm, bring in the baby. Have your dog Sit and lower baby’s feet for a brief sniff the way you practiced with the doll. The routine should be familiar to your dog. The smells should be familiar from the blankets your helper has brought home. The sounds should be familiar from the CD you’ve been playing.
What will be new to your dog is the erratic way your baby moves. Some dogs may find this disconcerting at first. Use lots of treats, asking your dog to sit and be calm around the baby. There is a good chance your dog will acclimate to baby’s strange movements. Remember that newborns change very quickly. Once your baby gets better motor control, his movements may seem less puzzling to your dog.
Do Activities Together (but Respect Your Dog’s Need to be Alone)
Remember to incorporate the baby into all the good things in your dog’s life. Take them on walks together. Have baby in the kitchen when feeding your dog. Make sure your dog feels included and has a special spot in the nursery so he can be with you while you feed the baby. But also make sure your dog has a quiet place to get away if he needs a break – a bed in a downstairs guest room, or a crate in a quiet corner of the den.
Make One-on-One Time for Your Dog
The baby will no doubt completely take over your time and attention at least for the first few weeks. When you are able, make specific time just for you and your dog. 10 minutes of fetch with a new toy or 10 minutes of Tricks training will help maintain your relationship with your dog.
Learn to Recognize Signs of Stress in your Dog
Dogs tell us with subtle body language signals that they are uncomfortable. Recognizing these can help you understand of your dog is becoming excessively stressed by the new baby. See our blog post Can You Read the Signs.
Familiarize Yourself with Natural Stress Relievers for Dogs
If you feel your dog is becoming stressed by the baby, the noise, the change in routine, consider using some natural or environmental stress relievers:
- Calming Music – Through a Dog’s Ear music CD
- Lavender Aromatherapy
- Rescue Remedy
- Comfort Zone Plug-Ins
- L-Theanine: for dogs over 55lbs 100mg 2xdaily. Dogs 22-55lbs 50 mg 2x daily
- Composure Chews (Vetri-Science brand on Amazon)
- Anxiety Wrap/Thundershirt
- T-Touch Massage – Also see videos on You Tube (one, two, three)
Have a Good Relationship with a Vet & Dog Trainer
If your dog is truly excessively stressed by something your baby is doing, you can consult your vet about stronger anti-anxiety medications and consult a force-free dog trainer to help you start a behavior modification plan. You never know what may come up: A friend of mine recently told me that her dog is exceedingly stressed by the sound of her children’s coughing. Her dog is so upset by these sounds that the dog stays outside and refuses to come in when the children are sick. This often means being outdoors in freezing cold temperatures, since children more frequently get sick in the winter.
Remember to Breathe
Integrating a baby into the home is a huge change for you as well as for your dog. Remember that your dog takes lots of cues from you about what is and isn’t OK. He senses your stress (he smells your stress hormones) Remember to take care of yourself and minimize your own stress. And… congratulations on the new baby!
By Pampered Pets Lead Trainer Valerie Balwanz PMCT, CPDT-KA