Preparing Your Dog for the New Baby

You’ve treated your dog like he’s your baby for as long as he’s been with you, but now you are expecting a baby for real and are unsure how this will affect your canine friend. Here’s how you can prepare him for the new arrival, and help ensure that baby and dog grow into lifelong friends.

To give your dog (and cats too) as much time as possible to adapt, begin preparing them for the new arrival as soon as you start trying to conceive or adopt.

Get your dog used to less attention from you.  Caring for baby will take up a lot of your time, and a dog used to your undivided attention can become jealous.

Put some distance between you and your dog by slowly spending less time with him. This may sound cruel but by doing it gradually, you give him the chance to adjust. Encourage other family members to spend more time with your dog to help compensate for some of your absence.

Provide positive experiences with children. Take your dog on walks with children and have them help you with obedience training sessions, letting the child reward your dog for good behavior.

Consider seeking guidance from a behaviorist or trainer if your dog has never been exposed to children, or has come to associate negativity with them. Remember, it will just take time.

Give your dog time to adjust to new surroundings. Set up and fully outfit your nursery as soon as possible so your dog can see and smell it.

If you plan to let him have access to the nursery, allow him to explore it. Make a special space in the nursery for your dog and train him to sit and stay there. Practice obedience in the nursery and reward your pet for good behavior.

If you plan to keep your dog out of the nursery, install a baby gate immediately so the dog gets used to the room being off limits and does not feel suddenly shut out when the baby comes.

Introduce your dog to new smells and sounds. Place baby supplies around the house where you are going to be using them, and let your dog inspect them.

Put on baby lotion and powder to allow your dog to adjust to the scent. If possible, expose your animals to soiled diapers from a friend’s child. When the baby arrives, pets are going to curious; it’s much easier to work with them on getting used to these new scents before you have the distraction of the baby.

Ask your friends to record baby sounds (or download them from the internet). Play them back for your dog, starting at a low volume, to help him adjust to the sounds.

Give your dog a preview of his new family member. Find a life-like baby doll to carry around as you would a new baby. Talk to it like you would to an infant and practice your routine of changing diapers, giving bottles, singing, etc. You want your dog to visualize the child in the home.

Let your dog sniff and investigate the “baby” and reward him for good behavior. If your dog is a jumper, this is the time for corrective behavior modification. Obedience is always the key and you can never work too much on obedience training.

Arrange your dog’s care for while you are away. This could be for several days, so plan ahead. Having a friend the animal trusts come over regularly to play with him, take him for walks, feed him, etc. will ease adjustment to his caregiver when you go away.

Let your dog “smell” the new baby as soon as possible. Have someone take something worn by baby and mom (e.g. blanket, sock) home from the hospital for your dog to sniff. Place it in a plastic zip-lock bag to keep the scent fresh and prevent contamination. Feed the dog treats and let him investigate this new smell. Return the item to the plastic bag and repeat throughout the day. Also take home some of baby’s dirty diapers and put them in the diaper pail.

Make new mom’s “reunion” with the dog a positive experience. When you bring the baby home, have someone else hold him or her so the new mother can go in first to reunite with the dog.

A new mom holding her baby may understandably shy away from an eager dog, but this creates a negative experience. You also do not want the dog to associate her absence with the new baby.

After the dog quiets down, bring the baby into the home. If you have been successful with your pre-baby preparations, your dog will be calm, relaxed and gentle. You can allow him to sniff the infant; you do not want to discourage his interest but do correct undesirable behavior and reward good behavior.

Going forward:

Make sure your dog gets lots of love and attention from everyone in the household every day. Ask visitors to greet the dog first and then come to see the baby. Try to keep your routine as close as you can to what it was like before the baby came, and let your pets see they have the same status as before. However, never leave your child alone with any animal, no matter how trustworthy.

Some animals are naturally drawn to children and some take time to adjust to the new environment, but with a bit of work and a lot of patience, you can make it work. There is no need to get rid of your beloved pets just because you are expecting a baby. If you have any difficulties along the way, contact a positive reinforcement animal behaviorist/trainer or speak with your veterinarian or pediatrician.

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** Article contributed by CAAWS volunteer Julie A.

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