You found out you’re expecting—congratulations! The season of pregnancy is an exciting time accompanied by many adjustments in preparation of the arrival of the newest family member. Dogs thrive on predictability, so all of these changes followed by the sudden arrival of a tiny, noisy human (that takes up all of your time and attention) can be confusing. However, advanced preparation and gradual adjustments will help make the transition as easy as possible for your dog.
The first tip is to start early! Make sure your dog has plenty of time to adjust to the new family dynamic and a new routine. In other words, don’t wait until the last minute! Waiting until the last few days before baby comes will not give your dog enough time to adjust, and this sudden change can be stressful for your dog. Considering you’ll be very busy with a newborn, you certainly won’t want to add dealing with a stressed dog to your plate.
It’s important to tackle basic obedience early on to prevent your dog from jumping on you during the late stages of pregnancy or while you’re holding the baby. Use this time to solidify commands like ‘go to place’ or ‘back up’ for when you need some space from your dog. Practice loose leash walking so future walks with dog and baby will be pleasant and enjoyable.
Adjusting daily habits
A newborn baby demands a lot of attention which means much less time to devote to the dog, both with affection and exercise. If your dog is already fairly independent and gets his exercise by exploring the backyard, this may not be a big deal. However, if he requires plenty of affection and needs walks or park visits for exercise, then it’s time to start making adjustments.
To maintain your dog’s current level of exercise, research reputable dog walkers and/or dog daycare facilities to find a good fit. Get your dog acquainted with the service by using it several times before the baby arrives. If you don’t plan on using one of these services, practice taking your dog on walks with the (empty) baby stroller. If your dog is likely to dart off at the sight of a squirrel or another dog, work with a dog trainer to make walks more manageable.
For a dog who hasn’t been exposed to them, the sounds of a baby can be quite curious. Help prepare your dog for everyday baby sounds by playing recordings of baby cries and coos throughout the day. Adopt a baby doll as your own for a few months before your due date and regularly hold it and coddle it in the presence of your dog. This will teach him to adjust to sometimes coming second in line for your attention. It’s important to not increase the amount of affection you give your dog before the baby arrives as overcompensation because this will only make the change more pronounced and stressful on your dog.
The presence of children
To acclimate your dog to the presence of children, take him on walks through parks or meet up with friends who have young children. Be sure to keep your dog at a safe distance on a leash and pay attention to his body language.
Preparing the home
Set up the nursery and other necessary baby items throughout the house well in advance. You may opt to install baby gates to prevent your dog from entering the nursery or to zone off other areas of the home.
Have a plan
Just as you will make a birthing plan, you’ll also need a plan for what to do with your dog when you go into labor. Determine who will take care of him, write up instructions for care, and make sure the supplies are stocked and easy to find. This is also a good time to equip your home with items that will keep your dog busy during the first few days, such as durable chews, puzzle toys filled with kibble, or Kongs stuffed with peanut butter.
Before the baby comes home, arrange for someone to bring an item that smells like the baby, such as a blanket or a worn onesie to your dog for him to sniff. After having been gone for a few days, your dog will likely be excited to see you. When you are ready to return home, have Dad or Grandma carry the baby so you can greet your dog and keep the baby protected from an excited, potentially jumping dog. As you settle in, allow the dog to pick up on the baby’s scent, always keeping someone between the dog and the baby.
A common mistake new parents make is to only focus on the dog and give him attention when the baby is asleep. Though it may seem like the right thing to do, your dog is learning that the baby’s presence equals being ignored. Teach your dog that good things happen while the baby is around and awake by giving him affection while you nurse or hold the baby. Have someone offer treats while the baby’s diaper is changed. Your dog will begin to enjoy the times you interact with the baby if it means good things for him too.
Babies and all the supplies that go with them offer a variety of new smells for your dog. Don’t scold him if he starts to explore baby items with his nose. Instead, make sure your dog has plenty of his own toys readily available, so you can redirect his attention if he picks up a baby toy.
Baby on the move
As your baby becomes mobile, you may need to provide a crate or safe place for the dog to relax and play with his toys without being disturbed. Familiarize yourself with dog body language cues to recognize when your dog is uncomfortable and to prevent potential problems. Pick up the dog’s food and water dishes while the baby is exploring. Baby will likely need to be taught to be gentle and not to pull on the dog’s ears, tail, or fur. Make sure to always supervise the two and never leave baby and dog alone together.
Over time, the two are bound to develop a lasting friendship. Your child will benefit from the enduring companionship of man’s best friend, and your dog will prosper in a life with extra snacks (purposely) dropped off the high chair as well as an additional person who can throw the ball.