Congratulations – you’re having a baby! Have you told your dog yet? Yes, your dog! Now is the time to start preparing him for the arrival of your new family member. By giving him the proper guidance, you can help your dog make (and even enjoy) a smooth transition from only “baby” to older “baby.”
Start thinking like a mom
Begin by taking a good, critical look at your dog and his etiquette skills, and tackle anything that needs to be addressed. Think about how seemingly harmless habits could become problematic later – dragging you downstairs in your last trimester, for instance – and start training your dog not to do these things. With a baby on the way, good manners are more important now than ever.
The 24/7 demands of a baby require that you redefine your relationship with your dog. Firstly, your newborn’s arrival will mark the beginning of years of schedule changes. Help your dog adjust ahead of time by varying meal and walk times, and when you come and go from home. As well, you won’t be able to spend as much time with him as you used to, so begin now to gradually decrease the intensity of your relationship by thinking quality versus quantity. This will ensure he doesn’t associate a sudden decrease in attention with the new baby.
Use your time together constructively. Gently squeeze, pull and push the dog, just as your baby will, while offering encouragement, praise and favorite treats. If he is uncomfortable with this hands-on contact, he needs to learn to simply walk away rather than growling or snapping. Remember, if he doesn’t tolerate you doing these things, he certainly won’t like the baby doing it.
Your dog is part of your growing family, so you need to find ways to include him as much as possible. Provide him with a crate or dog bed in each room where he is allowed, but where he may need to be dismissed from the center of the action every now and then. This way, he will still feel part of the family even though he may be temporarily restricted and unable to directly interact with you.
If you plan to deny him access to any room, such as your bedroom or the baby’s room, do it before the baby arrives so your dog doesn’t connect these changes with the child’s arrival. Even if you do not want your dog to roam freely in and out of the nursery, place a bed just inside its door. This lets him satisfy his curiosity, observe the new addition, and be part of the action without being underfoot.
Dogs in baby land
When you set up the nursery, let your dog investigate it at his own pace. Also, acclimatize him to the baby’s stroller by pushing it beside him from room to room, then out on daily walks. This is important – if you find walking with an empty stroller difficult, imagine how much harder it will be with your baby on board and your dog pulling you down the street!
It’s also a good idea to install the baby’s car seat in your vehicle ahead of time, and decide where and how your dog will ride when the baby is in the car, for the safety and well being of everyone. You do not want your dog to feel as if the newcomer has pushed him out of his spot.
Babies emit many new and unfamiliar noises, so you should introduce your dog to the sounds of a crying infant before the real one arrives. Ask friends to record a tape of their own baby’s noises, or buy The Sounds of Baby CD. Play it quietly through the day. After a few weeks, turn up the volume, especially when your dog is doing something he particularly enjoys, such as eating, playing or being given a new bone. This will help him make a positive association with the noises.
You can also buy a doll that resembles a real baby, and treat it like one. Invite friends and family to practice “oohing and aahing” over it. Hold the doll down for your dog to sniff, and bring it with you in the car and on walks with the stroller. These activities help neutralize your dog’s sensitivity to the change and give you a preview of how he will react to the real baby.
Keep training while in hospital
The big day has arrived and you and your new baby are getting to know each other in hospital. While there, send home a few of the clothes the baby has worn or blankets she has been wrapped in. Leave them where your dog will notice them. This gives him an opportunity to become accustomed to the baby’s scent before her grand entrance.
Fido, meet baby
When you bring your baby home, first walk into the house alone, without the baby. This will give your dog the freedom to greet you and leave you hands-free to return the affection without worrying about the baby. Once your dog has said hello, have another family member ease his way in with the baby, and let the dog check her out.
Remember, your dog takes his cues from you. If you act uptight when he is around the baby, he’ll wonder what is wrong. Be confident, yet cautious, take your time and introduce baby to dog at a rate that is comfortable for everyone.
Be verbally aware as well. To your dog, “baby talk” sounds similar to the way you may talk to him. To avoid confusion, be aware of your tone and voice inflection so the dog does not misconstrue your communication with the baby as an invitation for interaction.
Despite how busy and distracted you’ll be, try to give your dog as much one-on-one attention as possible. Dogs who don’t receive the stimulation they need may start displaying inappropriate behaviors, creating a disruption in the relationship you have worked so hard to establish. On days when you just can’t spare time for him, put his toys and chews to good use, and practice exercises such as “down/stay” to keep him occupied. If you find that, despite your best efforts, your dog is still not receiving enough attention, consider enrolling him in a doggie day school where he will be mentally and physically stimulated, and also enjoy a training review.
No matter how good your dog is, or how much he seems to enjoy the baby, never leave them alone together, even for a moment. He is still a dog, with natural instincts that could be triggered by a crying infant.
If your dog even once exhibits questionable behavior in the presence of your baby – showing avoidance, hackling, curling his lip, or growling – seek professional help immediately. Until the situation has been successfully resolved, use crates and baby gates whenever you are alone with the baby and the dog. Only allow your dog to be loose (with a leash dragging so someone can quickly control him) when two adults are present, so one can take over dog duty while the other cares for the baby.
With love, patience, planning and understanding, you can enjoy the satisfaction of watching your child and dog become loyal companions, evenly matched playmates and fast friends.
What about cats?
If you’re a cat guardian, you’ll know that felines don’t like change. Here’s how to help her adapt to a new addition:
• As you prepare your baby’s room, let your cat fully explore the area and familiarize herself with the new decor, furnishings and toys.
• Cats hate having their routines disrupted, so try and ensure that meals, play periods, brushing, etc. all happen at the same times as before. If you usually care for the cat yourself, and you’re the one expecting, make sure other family members are fully prepared to take over.
• As you would with a dog, play a tape or CD of baby noises to accustom your feline to how an infant sounds. Have someone bring home from the hospital a piece of the newborn baby’s clothing, and let your cat sniff it. Praise her while she’s doing so, and leave the article where she can investigate it as often as she likes. Have someone pet and quietly play with the cat as the infant is being brought home. Let her see and sniff the baby, while calmly offering praise. Reward her with a treat. If she’s frightened, don’t force the issue. Try again later.
• Make sure Fluffy still gets lots of love and attention.
• Don’t leave Baby and Kitty alone together, even after they’re used to one another. He might hurt her by pulling her fur or tail, which in turn could provoke her into scratching or biting.
• As your baby becomes a toddler, teach him how to gently and correctly hold and stroke the cat, and to respect her need to be left alone when not in the mood for play.
Fact or Fiction?
You’ve probably heard the old wive’s tale about cats smothering babies but it’s nothing more than a myth. Your cat will probably stay well away from the infant until she’s completely used to him! She may come and investigate him, sniffing around his face in the process, but there’s no evidence to suggest that the sniffing can suck out the baby’s breath.
Tools for the transition
For more information, books such as There’s a Baby in the House! by Mike Wombacher can help. Wombacher has been a trainer and behavior modification consultant since 1995. His book offers a twelve-step preliminary training program for your canine companion, talks about how to help ensure a seamless transition when you bring Baby home, and includes a section on resolving potential problems, from anxiety and aggression to touch sensitivity and over-protectiveness. www.doggonegood.org
Another option is The Sounds of Baby, a CD of baby noises by Dogmom Productions designed to gradually and gently acclimatize your dog or cat to what an infant sounds like. This audio desensitization program has three tracks. The first features soft baby and toy sounds meant to simply arouse the curiosity and interest of your animal companion. The second includes more provoking noises to help develop his patience, while the third is the most challenging, with loud noises geared towards increasing your animal’s tolerance and acceptance. www.soundsofbaby.com