The wild hormones, the sleepless nights, the aching private bits, the scream of a new born baby… nothing can really prepare you for becoming a first-time parent. Bringing your baby home is daunting on its own, let alone throwing a dog in the mix. In today’s post I will give you some tips and advice to help prepare your family for life with your dog and a new baby and ensure that your dog’s world isn’t entirely flipped upside down when the baby arrives. I strongly advise getting help and advice from a positive rewards-based trainer as early on in your pregnancy as possible.
How to prepare families with dogs for life with baby
There is a big misconception that getting your dog to smell a blanket from your baby whilst you are in hospital, is EVERYTHING when it comes to preparation for your dog. Let your dog sniff the blanket and they are prepared for your baby to come home. How your dog responds to the blanket – is how your dog will be when you bring baby home. But this is NOT the case. Unfortunately, I’m sorry to say, it’s just not as simple as that. Believe it or not, your dog has already smelt so many different changes on you in the lead up to the arrival of your baby, your changes in hormones, possibly your milk production and the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby.
Think about this, when you have new visitors in your house, do you ask each of them to send something prior to coming so you can prepare you dog? Of course not! We don’t want to make a big deal about them, nor do we want to make a big deal about the baby coming home. In saying that, bringing the blanket home is tangible and people like to do it. I’m not going to lie, I did it. BUT, I didn’t make a big deal about it, and that is the important part. If this is something you would like to do, don’t make a big fuss about it, we want our dogs to be calm around the baby. Make it short and sweet. Let them sniff and if they are calm, give them a little treat and move on. There is SO much more that we can do to help our dogs than just a blanket, so please keep reading!
Communication – let’s understand it.
Teach your dog Basic Manners.
Positive reinforcement is key to training a happy dog to have a great bond with both you and (in time) your kids. In your early stages of pregnancy, one of the first things I tell parents is to get to work on teaching your dog basic manners. Have a handful of really sound skills up your sleeve. Never use punishment. Punishing a dog or using force or aversive methods, doesn’t teach a dog what to do in a given situation and can actually make them become fearful. Teaching them skills using positive reinforcement, does teach them what to do. It gives us behaviours that we can ask our dogs to do in those moments where they feel unsure.
The main ones I suggest you work on teaching your dog is to “sit”, “down”, “stay”, “on your bed”, “leave it” and loose leash walking. Please get in touch with me if you need help with any of these. You want your dog to be able to do all of these skills no matter where you are and what distractions are around. So start simple and build up to that. Ultimately you want to know that if you were holding a screaming baby and your dog was feeling stressed and trying to jump on you, you could ask them to go to their bed and they would listen. Click here for a step by step on how to teach your dog some of these basic skills.
Think about the Changes.
From being your only child and I am sure being spoilt rotten, as much as you don’t want it to happen, very quickly things will change for your dog when you bring that baby home. Dogs love routine. So before the baby arrives, start to think about some of the changes that might occur to your dog’s world and start to introduce them now. We want your dog to form a positive association with the baby.
So if your dog lies on your lap when you are on the couch, but you know that when you are breastfeeding/bottle feeding, you will not want your dog on your lap, I suggest changing things now. You can teach your dog that when you lie on the couch, they get to have their own special spot on a bed on the floor or a special place on the couch and when they go their, good things happen, like yummy treats or a favourite toy! Another example, if you don’t want the dog going into the baby’s room, you could put the baby gate up now. Get them used to it so it’s not new when the baby comes. If you don’t think you will be able to walk your dog at 8am every day like you do now, start mixing it up. Start to drip feed the changes to your dog a little bit at a time, rather than making all the changes at once which can be a lot for the dog to handle. If you do this before the baby arrives, your dog will be more relaxed and prepared when the baby comes home.
Set up your baby stuff before bringing your baby home and slowly but positively expose your dog to it. From the cot, bassinet, pram, play mat, bouncers, swings, change table, feeding chairs – there’s so much “stuff” when it comes to babies. And lots of it comes with movement, flashing lights, music, things that might be a little frightening or even a little exciting for your dog. Bring them out, let your dog sniff it out, get comfortable before turning on the sounds or movement. Do it slowly, watch how your dog responds. Doing this before your baby is here, will be a great way to get him to feel comfortable around these new items before a baby is in or on them. If your dog responds in a way that you feel is concerning, please get in touch with myself or another positive trainer as soon as possible.
Think about the Walk.
Safety comes first. If you have a dog that is reactive when out walking or pulls on lead, then it might not be something you will do alone with your baby and dog. You might walk with your partner, so one of you can have the baby and the other has the dog. Or taking your dog out when someone else is looking after your baby can also be really nice bonding time for you and your dog.
For those, who’s dogs are good walking on lead and are not reactive when out walking, you can actually start practising getting your dog used to walking beside the pram before the baby arrives. The pram is generally a purchase that is made before the baby’s arrival, so it’s a good idea to get the dog comfortable around the pram without the baby in it to start with. And yes – that is pregnant me in the photo walking Cooper with an empty pram! A little embarrassing yes – but so worth it! Cooper learnt to walk so well with the pram and it’s really paid off as now we walk every day with no issues. If you are having difficulties walking your dog and this is something you really want to be able to do when the baby arrives, I suggest getting a positive trainer out straight away so you can start working on this.
Baby’s and kids are curious beings and like to explore with touch and feel – and despite constant supervision and your amazing management that you will put in place, your dog still might accidentally get in the firing line to some roaming baby fingers. So you must get your dog used to being touched everywhere. Sit down every night with your dog and give them a rub down, make it nice but also throw in a couple of tugs followed by a treat. Touch every part of their body – paw pads, tail, inside the ears, mouth, everywhere. Not only does this help when going to the vet and being examined but it also means that if your child or another child does pull on your dogs tail or step on a paw accidentally, your dog should hopefully not be as reactive to it as they have learnt that when this happens they usually receive a treat. In saying this never ever leave your dog and baby together unattended.
I know this may be super difficult for some, but a big pitfall is to give your dog extra attention in the lead up to having the baby. Some fur parents think this is a good idea because they feel bad that the baby is coming and they won’t have time for the dog. But if anything, it works the other way. If you start getting them used to having not as much attention in the lead up, then it will be easier for them when baby comes and hopefully they won’t be as needy. Think about how your dog gets your attention and what you can do to change this when the baby comes.
Make sure your dog knows it has a safe kid-free area in your house. A crate, a playpen, an area sectioned off with baby-gates. Think about this now and start getting your dog used to being ok with separation in their safe zone. It will be a very important management tool for you with baby/toddlers when you are unable to have full supervision. For us, Cooper had a doggy door in those early baby days, and we would regularly find Cooper outside around 5.30-7pm (mad time in our house). More often than not, I wished I could have joined him for some peace and quiet.
Daily enrichment is so important for our dogs. And this will be really great to help your dog manage and enjoy that separation in their safe zone too. Click this link for more information on enrichment.
Babies also come with lots of new and interesting sounds, many will be new to your dog and some may already be familiar. The obvious is the sound of a new born cry. New borns can also be very noisy sleepers. We really want our dogs to remain calm when they hear these sounds. The last thing we need is for them to react, become stressed, anxious, etc. So, I strongly advise grabbing a copy of Lewis Kirkham’s, “Tell Your Dog You’re Pregnant: An essential guide for dog owners who are expecting a baby”. It is a fantastic book about everything I have discussed in this post. Plus it comes with a CD of all different baby sounds, so you can actually prepare and desensitise your dog if need be to these noises and get them even more ready for the new arrival. It’s interesting to see how your dog responds to different sounds. Another sound that very often comes with babies and their toys, is the sound of squeaky toys and that takes me to the next point…
Toys and Play.
Cooper loves squeaky toys! So very early on, Jase and I made the decision that squeaky toys would be for the dog and not for the baby. He just gets so excited by them that we didn’t want to risk him bowling the baby over with excitement if a baby toy squeaked. The trade off was that the baby would have soft toys and Cooper wouldn’t. So in the months before Harper was born, we removed all of Cooper’s soft toys and gave him different ropes, and chew toys that looked different to the soft toys. That way he didn’t associate the removal of his soft toys with the arrival of baby Harper. So have a think about the toys you give your dog and if this will get confused with the babies toys.
Also start thinking about how you play with your dog. Babies from very early on mirror our behaviours. So we need to be mindful of this and not play too rough with our dogs in front of our children. If you sit on the floor and this is the start of rough play for your dog, start thinking how you might change this. When baby is here, they spend a lot of time on the floor, doing tummy time in particular. So we need our dog to learn to be calm when we are on the floor with baby doing tummy time.
Preparing to become a new parent is daunting and exciting all at the same time. There is so much you can do to help your dog before the baby arrives. Set yourself and your dog up for success and get started now.
I know I have provided you lots of information but if you are worried at all about your dog and how he/she may respond when bringing a baby home, please seek professional help before the baby arrives. I highly recommend having a positive reward-based trainer come in and help you with this is as early in your pregnancy as possible, the more you can prepare, the better off you will all be. Don’t take risks. Be safe and get in touch.
** And please, no matter how much you trust your dog, always ensure the dog and child are supervised.
Let me know if you have any more questions on this and I’d be happy to help.
Make sure to check out these great resources too if you haven’t already:
- Five tips for dealing with that ‘dog guilt’ after having a baby
- Introducing your dog to your new baby – or as I like to call it – the Homecoming Phase!
- Does my dog know I’m pregnant?
- Click here for the Family Paws Baby and Dog Safety Handout – it’s a great visual with the do’s and don’ts.
- Click here for a great resource from Family Paws for different management ideas .
- Click here for what Active supervision looks like.
Disclaimer: Cooper and Kids will not be liable for anything that happens to you, your dog or children by following the advice and tips in this article. If you have real concerns or worries about your dog and/or safety of your children, please seek out a professional to come and assess the situation asap.