If your dog has been the “only child” in your family for a while, adjusting to the arrival of a new human baby can be overwhelming and upsetting. Your routines will change along with the amount of time and attention you’ll have for your dog. By preparing ahead for the new arrival, you can make the transition go smoothly for you and your dog.
The time to start prepping is when you first learn you’re expecting. Brush up on your dog’s obedience skills or sign up for a positive reinforcement obedience class. Essential behaviors include ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘stay’ and greeting without jumping on people. Basic behaviors should be on a verbal cue, so you can ask for behaviors while you’re holding the baby. Practice carrying a baby-sized doll (or sack of sugar) around and practice verbal cues with your hands full.
Behaviors like ‘leave it’ will help prevent your dog from picking up baby items and ‘drop it’ is useful if he’s already got something in his mouth. Teaching ‘wait’ can keep you and baby from being knocked over while passing through doorways, getting into and out of cars, and navigating stairways.
If the baby’s room is going to be off limits for your dog, teach him to lie down and stay just outside the room. Go into the room, mess around a bit, then come back and reward him for doing a great job. Start with a few seconds at first and gradually increase the time he must stay. Keep the door to the room closed when you’re not training.
Introduce your dog to the baby equipment you’ll be using. Let him investigate and be quick to redirect to appropriate dog toys if he tries to play with or chew the item. Many dogs can get spooked or overly excited around something that rolls around. If you’re going to bring the dog along when using a baby stroller, get him used to it now. Start by moving the stroller a bit, and then give a treat. Don’t force him to interact with it. Reward him for staying near on his own, and gradually move the stroller more. When he’s comfortable near the moving stroller, practice taking leash walks while pushing it.
If your dog hasn’t been around babies, the experience can be distressing and even frightening at first. Babies don’t look like adult humans, they smell different, make screeching sounds and flail about. The sound of a baby crying can be especially upsetting to dogs who are sensitive to loud or strange noises. Purchase a recording of babies crying and play it at various times to get your dog used to the sound. Pair the crying sound with tasty treats and attention, so your dog learns to anticipate good things when babies screech.
As much as we love being with our dogs, the truth is, you’ll be spending less time with him once the baby comes home. Get him used to spending time alone each day. Set up a confinement area, crate or dog bed, and practice having him spend time there during the day when you’re at home. Put him in his area and give him something to chew on to help him settle in.
A doggie space also gives your dog an appropriate place to be while you’re feeding or holding the baby. With practice you can teach your dog to automatically go to his place when the baby starts to cry, or when you have the baby in your arms. You can also use the doggie space as a permanent sleeping location if you’re going to prohibit him from sleeping on your bed or the sofa once the baby comes.
Some dogs become stressed with a sudden change of routine, so think now about how the daily schedule will change. Will you be walking the dog or feeding him at different times once the baby comes? Will you need to hire a dog walker to ensure your dog is getting enough exercise? Start shifting to new routines now, so it’s normal when the baby arrives.
With a bit of practice and prep work, your dog will be ready for the big changes that come with a new baby. Next month we’ll look at what do once the baby comes home.