Getting Ready For Baby
How to Prepare Your Dog for a Baby's Arrival
Getting Ready for Baby
You’re expecting a baby! Congratulations, that’s wonderful news! Call your dog trainer. Right now. Ok, you can call your family and friends first. But then, call your dog trainer. Too many expectant parents wait until the baby has almost arrived only to find out that Fido may not be the best four-legged brother or sister. Once the baby arrives you won’t have time to start from scratch. So, start the clock now on preparing your dog for a new family member. (If you’re about to become a grandparent this advice applies to you, too.)
Start by assessing what you have. Yes, you have a wonderful dog. He’s been your loyal companion. If he’s perfect, no need to read further. But is he? Look at him through a new parent’s eyes. That 50-pound bundle of love jumping all over you when you get home may make you feel warm and fuzzy, but how will that go over when you’re carrying a newborn? Sure, it’s a little annoying when Fido snatches food off the table or out of your hands, but how will that work with a toddler in a highchair?
Does your dog listen to you? If you told him to leave something alone, would he do it right away? If you take the baby for a stroll with your dog by your side, will he drag you both down the street?
If this now has you worried, your dog may need a review of basic manners. Some helpful basics are to come when called, leave tempting things alone, walk nicely on a leash, hold a “Sit” or “Down Stay,” and not jump up on you or others.
“Set up the baby stuff now and use it so your dog isn’t overwhelmed/overstimulated by the baby gadgets once they’re actually in use.”
The important thing is to start now, well before your baby arrives. This isn’t just for your convenience, it’s also for your dog’s peace of mind. For example, right now you may not care if your four-legged buddy jumps up on the couch with no warning. For years even, this may have been ok. But what if your baby is on the couch? Your dog leaping on top of Junior may not be ok, and you may get angry and yell at him. This won’t be fair. For years, it’s been ok for him to just jump on the couch whenever he wants, and now the rules have changed. This can be stressful for your dog. By teaching him your new rules well ahead of baby’s arrival, you’re doing him a service and preparing him for the changes to come.
Helping your dog accept your baby takes effort. This will be a new adventure for all of you, so work together to ensure a smooth transition. Help your dog understand the new little person in his life is a wonderful addition, and you’ll set the framework for the unbeatable “best friend” combo of dog + kid.
One Big, Happy Family: Baby’s Arrival Timeline
Months 1 – 3
Assess your dog’s manners. Does he listen to you the first time you ask him to do something? Does he jump on people? Does he have a rock-solid stay? Start (re)training the basics now.
How about his temperament? Does he growl over his food or toys? Has he ever snapped at anyone or bitten them? Is your dog fearful or skittish? Get professional help asap. Be sure to use a reward-based trainer who has a background in science. (If the trainer spouts on about “dominance,” this is a red flag.)
Months 4 – 6
Continue to practice your obedience. You want your dog to be reliably trained by the time the baby arrives.
Start introducing your dog to baby sounds. You can get a CD with baby sounds (crying, shrieks of joy, giggling, splashing) and play it throughout the day. A great resource is the book and audio CD, Tell Your Dog You’re Pregnant. Give your dog treats while listening to create a positive association.
If you’d like to block access to some areas once baby arrives, such as the nursery, start accustoming your dog to these off-limit areas now. If you’re going to use gates, put them up now so your dog knows the drill once baby arrives.
Set up the baby stuff now and use it (wheel that stroller around, turn on the baby swing) so your dog isn’t overwhelmed/overstimulated by the baby gadgets once they’re actually in use.
Accustom your dog to children. When and where possible, safely (with supervision and on leash) introduce your dog to kids and babies and assess how he responds. The ideal here is calm indifference.
Months 7 – 8
Polish up your obedience cues. Gradually make exercises harder to challenge your dog, working so he succeeds at each level. For example, work up to a 30-minute “Place” cue, during which he holds a “Down Stay” on his mat for 30 minutes while you sit in a rocking chair.
If your dog exhibits fear or aggression, now is the time to make some hard decisions. Will your baby be safe around your dog? Will your dog feel comfortable around your baby?
Much like you pack a bag for the hospital, have a plan in place for who will come over and take care of your dog or where he will stay while you’re at the hospital. Ideally your dog will be looked after by someone he already knows and trusts.
Once your little one arrives, you will have no choice but to devote your attention to your new family member. As much as you love your dog, he will need to share you. So do your dog a favour and get him used to a varied schedule now. Start varying times of walks and outings, as well as who takes your dog on those walks.
Consider hiring a dog walker or enrolling your dog in daycare so you have a plan in case it’s all too much.
Let your dog get used to the baby’s smell before you bring the baby home. While you’re in the hospital, send home a blanket that has the baby’s smell on it. While your dog is sitting calmly, let them sniff the blanket.
Before you bring the new baby home, make sure someone has taken your dog out for a dog walk so your dog is tired and relaxed.
Be prepared with tasty, high value treats so your dog’s first impression is a good one. Baby’s arrival = yummy things!
Greet your dog as usual when you arrive home.
Provide your dog with a calm quiet space to escape the baby.
Set aside some quality time to spend with your dog every day.
The Do’s and Don’ts
- DO get started preparing as soon as you find out you’re expecting.
- DON’T wait until your third trimester to train your dog.
- DO introduce your dog to baby noises, sounds, strollers, and ideally other children before your baby’s arrival.
- DON’T assume just because your dog loves you he will automatically love your baby.
- DO settle on rules—perhaps no longer allowed on the furniture, sleeping in your bed or jumping on people—and start teaching them to your dog.
- DON’T introduce new rules only after the baby arrives.
Does your dog growl over bones, toys or other objects? Does he growl when someone approaches you? Does he bark and lunge at strangers, or get easily startled? A new baby will just add to your dog’s anxiety, so get help to address this as soon as possible. Treating anxiety and aggression is much more complicated than teaching basic family manners, so get professional help now.
Choose a trainer or veterinary behaviourist who uses modern methods. For example, in the old days, if a dog growled, he was simply punished. This may have stopped the dog from growling, but it treated the symptom. It did not fix the problem: the reason why the dog was growling in the first place. So, if you have a dog who is afraid of a crawling baby, he may growl at the baby. If you yell at your dog, he may learn not to growl anymore. This doesn’t mean he suddenly loves the crawling baby. He is still upset about that, so he may escalate his warning. Instead of growling, he’ll just skip straight to snapping or biting. We don’t want that! We want to teach this frightened dog that crawling babies, for example, are wonderful. So, find a professional who understands canine behaviour and how to appropriately change your dog’s outlook.