How to Prepare Your Dog for a New Baby
Get tips on preparing your dog for the changes that come with a new baby.
New baby: source of joy. New baby: source of complete and utter life upheaval. And not just for the humans in the household. New parenthood is challenging, even when you’ve chosen it and have some idea what to expect. Your dog, too, will find her familiar routines turned upside down. By doing some baby prep for her, you can make the transition easier for all of you.
How to Prepare Your Dog for a New Baby
This week’s topic calls for one of those ritual disclaimers. The general tips I offer are meant for a dog who’s at ease with babies and children. He shows friendly interest in them and enjoys their gentle, appropriate handling. If anything about your dog’s behavior around babies and children makes you uneasy, even if you can’t put your finger on why, consult a knowledgeable behavior specialist well in advance of your baby’s arrival. The same goes for overt aggression in any context. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need to give up your dog. Special help, tailored to your situation, may make all the difference. Just don’t sail down the River Denial, and don’t go it alone.
Plan Ahead for Your Dog’s New Routine
You’ve already heard it from friends and baby books: your life won’t be the same. However much work and attention you think your baby will need from you, she’ll need more. However tired you expect to be, triple it. As for Dogalini, if she’s used to an hour of fetch every morning and a country ramble on alternate Sunday afternoons, an abrupt end to this athletic way of life is just about guaranteed to leave her bored, frustrated, and bouncing off the walls.
Think realistically about how much attention and time you yourself can give your dog once your baby arrives. If you have a big yard and your baby’s due in spring, maybe you can park yourself in a lawn chair with Mr. Newborn and toss the ball for Dogalini a few minutes at a time, a couple of times a day. If finances allow, a paid walker can meet some of your dog’s exercise needs. If your dog gets along well with other dogs, a good daycare can be an option too.
Keep Your Dog Busy with Food-Dispensing Toys
When I have a baby-prep client with a young, active dog, I often suggest that all meals should come from food-dispensing toys, such as the Kong or the Atomic Treat Ball. Half an hour with one of these can burn off a lot of steam. If you’re using a stuffable toy, pack it with a mixture of canned and dry food, then freeze it to make a long-lasting excavation project. Get a dozen such toys, mix up several days’ worth of stuffing, dispense a stuffed toy at every meal, then stick the toy in the dishwasher when your dog is done. Minimal time on your part, maximum joy for your dog.
You can keep a supply of edible chews on hand, too, but for everyday purposes it’s better to use your dog’s healthful, well-balanced food. In a pinch, try that old standby “Find It,” whereby you toss dry food on the floor or in the yard a few pieces at a time and Dogalini uses her nose to hunt it up.
Set Up Your Baby Furniture in Advance
Your home will be full of new furniture, new sounds, and new smells. The moving and assembly of furniture often comes with a degree of noise and, dare I say, yelling, so prepare the baby’s space a few weeks in advance and spread out the stress. Also, the less novelty value the baby equipment has, the easier it will be to keep your dog away from it when you need elbow room.
Do You Need to Change Sleeping Arrangements?
If your dog shares your bed, and you plan to co-sleep with your baby, your mattress may get mighty crowded. Now’s the time to buy Dogalini that deluxe gel bed she’s been dreaming of and get her used to sleeping there. When I say “deluxe,” I mean it, by the way. The knowledge of cushiness will alleviate any guilt you feel about the change in sleeping arrangements, plus your dog will have an easier time adjusting to a super comfortable bed than to a mat suited for a flesh-mortifying monk.
Get Your Dog Used to Baby Noises
If your dog hasn’t done much time around baby noises, get a CD of them. You can also download sounds from the Internet; the advantage of a special-purpose CD is that it should come with instructions for using it to best effect. For instance, if your dog is at all sensitive to sounds, you’ll initially play the CD at very low volume in another room.
Brush Up on Manners Training
Are your dog’s manners skills so-so? Then get out those treats and get yourselves up to speed! Outings with dog and stroller will be much more fun if Zippy walks nicely on leash, for instance. A front-clip harness may help. Suggestions appear in the Resources section below.
[[AdMiddle]A solid down-stay is handy for when you’re walking Baby up and down at three a.m. to soothe her, or when you’re all hanging out on the floor and Zippy might be enticed by a diaper that suddenly got full. You might even want to teach your dog to lie down automatically whenever you sit on the floor--that way you, your baby, and your dog can be close without Zippy swamping you.
It’s also practical to have your dog wait for permission before getting up on furniture--you won’t find yourself with a lapful of canine every time you sit down to nurse. Dogalini can come up and sit or lie down next to you when you invite her, if you like. Practice with a life-size infant doll, or even have a dog-savvy friend come over with her actual baby--the more realistic your training, the better prepared your dog will be.
Bring Home Baby’s Smell
Last but not least, bring home Baby’s smell before you bring home Baby--take an item of the baby’s clothing and let Zippy get acquainted a day or even an hour before the newborn or new adoptee comes in the door. The less novelty value Baby has, the less rambunctious Zippy is likely to be. If you know Zippy will get totally beside himself when the baby-toting parent comes in the door, having them meet outside may make things calmer. Or perhaps a friend could hold Baby for a few minutes while Zippy greets the people he’s been missing. Leave the baby-greeting for last, after Zippy’s had a chance to settle down.
I’ve just scratched the surface here. You know your own situation best. Think through your daily routine with your dog. What will change? What manners behaviors will you find most useful in your home? What needs does your dog have that absolutely must be met no matter how tired and preoccupied you are? Can you find workarounds for those things you won’t reliably be able to provide? The more thoroughly you prepare, the lower the stress, and the lower the stress, the happier the family. The Dog Trainer wishes you all the best!
I welcome your comments and questions – email firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can talk to me on Facebook, where, amazingly enough, I’m The Dog Trainer. Dogalini is me on Twitter. That’s it for this week – thanks for reading.
The ASPCA has a nice short guide to baby prep, here.
Hetts, Suzanne, and Daniel Estep. Helping Fido Welcome Your Baby. DVD (Animal Behavior Associates, 2007).
Pelar, Colleen. Living with Kids and Dogs … Without Losing Your Mind (Dogwise, 2007).
Ryan, Terry. Sounds Good Audio CD: Babies (Legacy Canine Behavior and Training, 2005).
Scott-Fox, Penny. And Baby Makes Four: A Trimester-by-Trimester Guide to a Baby-Friendly Dog (TFH, 2007).
Shryock, Jennifer. Dogs and Storks: Preparing Families with Dogs for Life with Baby! DVD (Dogs & Storks; n.d.).
The Sense-ation and Sense-ible front-clip harnesses are sold online, here. The EasyWalk Harness, by Premier, is sold in many brick-and-mortar pet supply shops. Which harness is right for you depends partly on your dog’s size and build, so experiment if you need to. Also, for many dogs, the harness is more secure if paired with a martingale (“Greyhound”) collar (one is illustrated here). Choose a wide martingale made of comfortable fabric, not chain, and fit it so that it’s just tight enough not to slip over your dog’s head. Its purpose is to provide security, not to give so-called “corrections.” Attach the clip on your dog’s leash to both the harness and the loop on the martingale.