Preparing for a baby is an exciting and often anxious time, full of big emotions, physical changes and planning. But while you’re sprucing up that extra room, stocking up on onesies and swaddle blankets and shopping for a stroller with all the bells and whistles, don’t forget your first baby: your dog.
Remember, your dog is used to receiving all of your attention and love, and now she will have to share. Your pup will suddenly be exposed to a barrage of new smells, sounds, and objects, and her daily routine of walks, play, cuddles and naps will change. Dogs thrive on routine. A new baby in the house will disrupt everything in your dog’s life – and you can’t really explain these changes to your dog. Even worse, lots of dogs are terrified of babies. They smell funny, they make loud, often weird noises, they move unpredictably.
To prepare your four-legged fur baby for a new human in the home, plan early; start working with your pooch months before the baby’s arrival.
Here’s a plan to ensure things go as smoothly as possible.
Brush Up on Training
The best time to begin preparing your dog for a baby is as soon as you discover you’re pregnant. The first step is to reinforce your dog’s basic obedience training. Practice those all-important commands, like sit, stay, down, drop it, leave it and come.
Observe your dog’s overall behavior around the house. Something that’s cute now, like jumping all over you when you come home, may not be so cute — or safe — when you’re heavily pregnant or carrying a baby.
Consider enrolling your dog in an obedience class, especially if she’s never been to one before. If that’s not convenient, many dog trainers will come to your home for a session. (There are even ones that specialize in training your dog for a new baby.) A one-on-one session is very effective for addressing problem behaviors.
Expose Your Dog to Babies and Children
Maybe your dog already loves kids. Or maybe you have a dog who’s extremely uncomfortable, or even frightened around little ones. In either case, begin exposing your dog to babies and children and provide plenty of positive experiences as soon as you know you’re expecting. Even if your dog seems to love kids, she’s not used to a baby living in her territory.
Start by taking your dog to areas where there are babies, toddlers and children. Sit on a bench or in the grass out their reach, and see how your dog reacts. Do not yell at your dog if he’s skittish or barks! This will create negativity around children, which is the opposite of what you need. If your dog seems curious and friendly, ask a calm, gentle child give him a treat. See how your dog reacts when someone walks by with a stroller or baby carriage; if your dog remains calm, try walking alongside. If you have a friend with a baby, invite her over, but don’t let your dog get too close. You want to ensure the whole experience is safe for everyone. Go slowly, and soon your dog will be accustomed to the sights, smells, and sounds of a baby.
Introduce Your Dog to Baby Equipment
Around four months before the baby is due, get your dog used to baby gear. Bring her into the baby’s room, and let her see and smell the crib, toys, clothes, baby bathtub, bottles, baby bouncer, baby lotion and powder and even diapers. Throw a few toys around, let your dog sniff it, and practice the “leave it” command if your dog tries to pick it up.
It may sound crazy, but consider going all-out and get a doll that makes realistic baby sounds. Or get a baby sounds ringtone and play it frequently. Offer your dog a treat when you play these sounds so she associates it with something positive.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It’s a good idea to practice walking your dog while pushing a baby carriage. Neighbors might think you’re a bit weird, but it will be worth it later on. It will keep your baby safe.
I once watched a new mother pushing the carriage with the dog’s leash tied to the handle. Her dog spotted my dogs and lurched across the street to say hello, and…well, you can guess what happened. Figure it out before your baby is onboard.
Walk around the house carrying something (maybe that creepy doll) to practice your dog’s down. Use the baby’s room or area to work on the “stay” and “back” command — stand in front of your dog, hold out your hand and move slowly forward; your dog will naturally back up. Time for a treat!
Shake Up the Schedule
Around three to four months before your due date, start thinking about walking and feeding your dog at slightly different times (but don’t change the number of walks or feedings). Considering middle of the night feedings, you may not be able to walk your dog at the crack of dawn. Just be sure to walk her at night so she isn’t uncomfortable.
Now is the time to line up a dog walker you trust, and arrange for a schedule of walks that start before baby comes home. This gives your dog time to get used to a new person and for you to observe your dog’s behavior around the walker. If your dog appears frightened or aggressive after a walk, get another walker.
Work out arrangements with someone you trust to care for your dog while you’re in the hospital. A friend or relative that won’t mind a middle of the night call to pick up the dog will save you a lot of stress when you go into labor. If you have a trustworthy BFF, ask if she can come to your house when you go into labor and stay until you return. Don’t enlist a stranger; your dog will already be stressed, especially if you go into labor at home.
In the weeks before your due date, give you dog sitter instructions on food, walks and emergency contacts, including the closest animal hospital. Unless the sitter is your dog walker, have them walk and feed your dogs at least one or two times before the big day.
Set Up Your Dog’s Space
Create a safe space for your dog to get away from the noise and chaos of a newborn. If your dog loves her crate, make it super comfy; buy a new crate pad and a crate cover to provide extra privacy. Put the crate in a favorite place.
If you have a dog who does not love a crate, set up a plush bed in her go-to hiding place. If that’s under the bed, put down a crate pad. Whatever space you choose, just make sure your dog doesn’t feel like you are exiling her. Dogs need their pack, especially in times of stress.
While welcoming a baby is a wonderful time in your life, you want to make sure your dog is comfortable with the transition, too. Be patient; don’t yell at your dog if she is needy. This is a huge deal for her. Don’t treat her like she is a burden, neglect her, force her outside or give up that special one-on-one time with your dog. Also, don’t dump your dog in a shelter. If you prepare correctly, the big change will be an exciting one; not a stressful one.