Congratulations! Welcoming a new little one into your family is very exciting! However, you might be worried about how your dog will adapt to new family dynamics. The good news is, you can start helping them prepare even before baby comes home!
There are many changes that will occur once your new baby comes home. First, and most obviously, there will be a new person in your home. That baby comes with new smells, new sounds, and possibly a lot of new furniture and baby things around your home. As well, your schedule and the attention you are able to give your dog may also change. You may have more, or less, people coming into your home. These are a lot of changes for your dog.
Here are some things you can do to help prepare your dog:
1. Manners & Obedience
Having basic obedience skills and manners with your dog before baby comes along is very helpful. You want to make sure that your dog can reliably sit, lay down, settle, stay, and leave something on the ground/or give something up on command. Learning not to jump up on people or objects, as well as loose leash walking if you think you might be walking your dog with baby in tow, are very useful. You can work on this at home or attend a class that uses positive reinforcement to help you prepare.
2. Think about your schedule
Do you have a routine that you stick to? Can you predict how it might change once baby comes along? Start making those adjustments now to help prepare your dog. If you have strict feeding times, start making those a little bit more variable as you may not be able to stick to as strict a schedule when your baby comes. So if your dog gets fed at 8am, try feeding between 7:30 and 8:30 over a period of time (unless there is a medical reason for strict feeding times). If you go for a walk every day at 7am, try to vary that by a little bit. You don’t want to make a huge overhaul of their schedule, but start preparing them for some changes.
3. Decide on rules
Will you be changing any household rules once the baby comes? Think carefully about this now and start to implement those changes gradually so they won’t all come at once when the baby comes home and confuse your dog even more. Will your dog be allowed in your room or in the room where your baby will be staying (this should ALWAYS be supervised if you are allowing it)? Do you want your dog to stop getting up on the couch once baby arrives? Start setting those rules in place now.
4. Baby noises
Noises that babies make can be very strange for dogs that haven’t heard them before. Baby noises can also sound like prey to a dog. Helping your dog get used to some of these sounds can be very helpful. Look online for video or audio of young babies and play the sound on quite low for your dog while giving them treats or feeding them. You can gradually increase the volume while ensuring your dog is eating over a period of time, however you want to watch them carefully to make sure they aren’t stressed.
Teaching your dog self-control is REALLY helpful when you have a baby or young children in your home. Self-control exercises get your dog to essentially stop and think for a moment before reacting. A simple exercise to work on to help your dog with this is to have them sit before receiving anything they want. You can start by asking for a sit, but the goal is to work up to them sitting without you saying anything.
6. Consider a dog walker
If you think that you might have difficulty giving your dog enough exercise when baby comes, or even if you’re having more difficulty walking your dog as your pregnancy progresses, having a dog walker could be a good solution. Make sure that you have the dog-walker come in several times before your baby comes so that your dog can get used to him/her.
Interested in learning more about dogs and babies? An online course is now available at wagsandgiggles.com to help you get your dog prepared as well as create a plan to keep your baby and dog safe.
Janet Cutler, MSc, PhD, CPDT-KA
Janet Cutler has a PhD in animal behaviour and epidemiology and is a certified professional dog trainer. She is a behavior consultant with Landmark Behaviour Inc., helping people create and maintain great relationships with their pets and helping families prepare for life with babies and toddlers. She lives in the country with her husband, two young children, and Australian Shepherd puppy.