The arrival of a new baby is an exciting time – but can also be one of uncertainty and change for your dog. Planning in advance can take a lot of the stress out of those first days and weeks, so it’s worth thinking ahead to ensure a good environment for both your dog and the baby.
Think about your present relationship with your dog
Does your dog follow you from room to room, get on your lap or lie on your feet? Does he sleep with you in bed each night, or by the bed? None of these behaviours are problematic in themselves, but with a new baby comes changes to your routine that may lead to problems. With this in mind, make sure that you take steps to change your routine before your baby arrives so that your dog has time to adjust.
Although your dog’s routine may have changed, it’s important that he or she does still have quality time with you, walks, and set feeding times. Even if you need to enlist help with this, try to make sure that your dog doesn’t feel emotionally neglected as a result of the baby arriving.
Prepare your dog for the change in circumstances
Your dog will need to get used to being on his own in one room while you are tending to the baby in another. While to us the smell of a dirty nappy may not be very appealing, to your dog it will be, and if you are changing your baby’s nappy you do not want your dog literally sticking his nose in! As soon as possible prevent your dog from following you wherever he wishes. Baby gates are great for this, and they are something you will need eventually anyway. Gradually get your dog used to being apart from you by leaving him alone in a room for a few minutes at a time, with you elsewhere in the house. Don’t make a big fuss when leaving or returning to the room – it’s just part of the new routine.
If your dog is normally allowed up on the sofa, think about whether this will be practical once your baby is born. If you choose to change this habit, do it before baby arrives. This will be hard at first, as dogs know the sofa is a very comfortable place to be. Instead spend more time with your dog on he floor, stroking, grooming and playing. Reward him lots for sleeping in his own comfortable bed with praise and treats. If he tries to jump on your lap while you are on the sofa, stand up immediately and ignore him for a few seconds before sitting down again. Keep repeating this until he stops trying. (Another reason why this is good to start sooner rather than later, as all that getting up and down is not as easy for mums‐to‐be with a big bump!) If he does jump on the sofa to sleep, introduce a command such as ‘off’ and lure him off the sofa with a tasty treat, then reward him for being on his own bed instead.
For many dogs the biggest change is not being able to sleep in the bedroom (or on the bed) once a new baby arrives. Hygiene is important here, and of course, so is basic practicality and space. Give your dog a really comfortable bed of his own. Start by putting up a baby gate to your bedroom and the dog’s bed on the landing. This way he can still see you and hear you, and feel part of the family.
Preparation really is the key, so as soon as you know you are expecting a baby, start thinking about your relationship with your dog and what he is really like with children. Many people have no idea how their dog will react to the new baby, because he has never even met a small child, let alone a baby. Be realistic about this. If you have friends with babies and small children, ask if your dog can meet them (obviously in a controlled environment with him on lead). Borrow a life‐like doll and carry this around with you to see your dog’s reaction. Don’t assume just because the baby is ‘your’ baby, your dog will like him or her. If you have any concerns, speak to your vet about being put in touch with a local behaviour specialist, or contact the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. As much as we love our dogs, the safety and welfare of our children must come first.
Associations rather than introductions
Once your baby is home, don’t try to encourage your dog ‘make friends’ with the baby, by showing him or her the child, or encouraging sniffing. Instead, make sure that each time the baby is having attention, you give your dog something enjoyable – such as a chew – that will keep him occupied and form positive associations with the new family member.
Ensure that your dog has an escape route – perhaps to his bed, an indoor crate, or into another room – where he can go if the baby’s crying distresses him, or if he just wants a break. This is particularly important once your child starts to become mobile. Your dog will thank you for it!
And finally. never, ever leave your dog alone with your baby, even if you are confident that he or she is friendly and reliable. Safety first.
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