If you have a furry friend already in your life then bringing home a new baby is an enormous life change for them (as well as you!) If you’re a dog owner then your pooch is probably used to their position at the centre of your world…until that is they’re, not! Especially in those hazy fourth trimester days, introducing a baby to your dog can mean a dramatic change in their routine which can be a problem as often dogs tend to like routine to help them feel secure. Walks can often be a little shorter and at different times. They may also not receive as much attention initially or be allowed into certain rooms anymore…and that’s all on top of the brand new sounds and smells about to take over your home! Basically, you need to prepare your dog for a new baby.
- Start to prepare your dog for a new baby early in your pregnancy
The earlier you start to prepare your dog for a new baby, the more time they’ll have to adjust. Giving your family as much time as possible also allows you to go at a pace your dog feels comfortable with and spot any potential problems that arise with time to fix them.
You absolutely can teach an old dog new tricks, so sit down with your partner and discuss what life is going to look like with a dog and a baby. Can they go in the nursery? What about on the sofa? Who is going to look after the dog if you’re in hospital? Can someone walk them for the first few weeks? Where can you safely place baby on the floor, away from your loveable but potentially suffocating furry friend? Decide all these things early on to make introducing baby to your dog much smoother.
- Prepare your dog for new sights
Assembling items like the cot and pushchair in the hall earlier than you might usually gives your dog plenty of time to become used to them.
Decide how you want your dog to react to them and train accordingly. Do they need to avoid the bedside cot completely? Teach a firm ‘leave it’ command. They probably need to walk nicely alongside the buggy but are not allowed to jump up at it, so build plenty of positive associations with lots of treats and cuddles when they behave well around it. Perhaps some walks with an empty pram are on the cards so your pooch gets used to trotting along calmly beside it?
- Carry around a fake baby and teach your dog not to react
Something they might not have seen before is you or your partner physically carrying a baby in your arms. The last thing you want is your dog jumping up at the baby.
Carrying and interacting with a doll, teddy, or bundle of towels wrapped in a blanket either in your arms or a baby carrier allows your dog to see you holding and talking to a ‘baby’. This can be particularly useful for high-spirited furry friends who tend to be reactive towards new things.
Consistently rewarding them for keeping their paws on the ground means that when the dress rehearsal is over, there’s hopefully no need to tell them off for jumping, scrabbling or behaving jealousy when you’re holding your little one.
- Prepare your dog for the sounds of a new baby
Babies are LOUD. Your dog might feel startled or anxious by the crying, babbling, squarks and screams that come out of a newborn! Help to prepare your dog for a new baby by desensitising them to these sounds.
If your dog is crate trained, their crate is a great place to do this. Settle them in comfortably and then play sounds of a crying baby, building up to a loud volume. Reward them for responding calmly. You can also place your phone in the cot or pushchair with the sound playing.
You may want to train your dog to automatically go to their bed when the baby cries, so you can just focus on one needy being at a time!
Dogs Trust have a fantastic Sounds App (available here) which contains a host of new sounds associated with babies.
- Prepare your dog for the smells of a new baby
Often, new parents think all they have to do is bring home a blanket from the hospital and hey presto, you’ve begun introducing baby to your dog. Actually, it’s recommended that you skip this step and instead focus on the associated synthetic smells while you’re still pregnant.
Let your dog regularly sniff a (clean) nappy, packet of wipes, baby lotion on your hands etc. Reward them for reacting calmly: the last thing you want is a dog who shreds the expensive Pampers you just bought!
- Prepare your dog for a new baby by relaxing their routines
It can be really useful to think about how your dog’s current routine might change once your little arrives. Some dogs are like clockwork: they’ve been fed breakfast at 7am on the dot for the last 4 years and then walked at 8am. But what if 7am is when you’ve finally just got back to sleep after a long night? It can help to start shifting these rigid routines into flexible ones by creating ‘windows’.
Make small changes, 10-15 minutes at a time. Make breakfast a window of 6-8am, the walk between 8-11am and so on. This can be a great tip for dog owners just generally so you don’t end up with your day dictated to by pups body clock but is especially important for introducing baby to your dog.
Gradually introducing any changes long in advance of your due date gives your dog the maximum amount of time to get used to this new structure (or lack thereof). This might mean shorter walks some days, different routes, and a different way of walking. Bringing your buggy along on a number of walks before the baby arrives can encourage your dog to walk nicely and calmly alongside it.
- Prepare your dog for more visitors to the house
The birth of your baby will initially mean many more visitors! Don’t forget that these visitors won’t always be people your dog knows. Health visitors and midwives might frequently visit you at home after the birth of your baby so getting your dog comfortable with having strangers coming and going in their space is invaluable.
- Prepare your dog for less physical attention from you
A new baby is likely to mean your dog needs to get used to receiving less attention from you, or in some cases a different type of attention. Depending on your recovery from birth, it may well be that you’re unable to get down on the floor for a big cuddle as you normally would, or you might just be too tired, so try introducing other forms of affection like a head scratch or verbal affection to ensure your dog still feels loved by you.
- Decide what you want to do about having your dog on the sofa or bed when the new baby arrives
When you got your dog, you likely had a discussion about what they were and weren’t allowed to do. Some owners let their dogs on the sofa, others don’t. The same goes for up the stairs and on the bed. You’re going to need to have that conversation again!
If you do allow your furry companion on the sofa or bed, it’s a good idea to prepare your dog for a new baby by training them to ask permission if they don’t already. There are going to be times when you just don’t want a dog up and on you, like when you’re feeding the baby. Perhaps you teach them to sit at the other end, or not come up at all without your permission. This is a safety risk as much as it is a comfort one.
- Buy your dog some puzzles and toys that give them mental stimulation and exercise
Hey pooch, it’s present time! Things that engage your dog will give them the stimulation they crave and buy you a bit of peace too. Things like puzzle games and snuffle mats are a great exercise for them and treat dispensers like Kongs and licky mats have a calming effect too.
You can also buy toys that allow you to play with your dog from the sofa. Things you can throw indoors if they’re a good retriever, or a toy like this on a long stick which allows them to stretch their legs whilst you rest yours!
- Prepare your dog for a baby being on floor level
At some point you’re going to want to place your baby in a bouncer, under a play gym or on a mat. As they grow (which happens alarmingly fast!) they’ll start rolling, sitting, crawling and pulling up…All at the dogs face height.
If your dog is calm, you can start by introducing your doll or ‘towel’ baby in a bouncer or on a mat. Do you wish to allow them to sniff, or simply ask them to “leave it” or offer a “bed” command whenever baby is on the floor.
This is where you need to be incredibly honest with yourself about your dogs temperament and if you think they’ve got the potential to be reactive, enlist the help of an experienced trainer.
The LAST thing you will ever want is any kind of accident that involves the baby getting injured; this is a risk to the life of not just your new baby, but your dog too.
- Make a plan for your dogs care in the early weeks of having a new baby
Prepare your dog for a new baby by deciding who is going to look after them when you go into the hospital and ensuring they’re used to this person and their home and routines. Consider all eventualities: what if you have to stay in for a week?
If you have someone who can help with walks, day care or just some fun play in the early weeks of introducing baby to your dog it may make the pressures on you easier and help to alleviate your dog mum guilt as you know they’re still having lots of fuss and fun!
If you don’t have someone who can help, look into local dog daycare companies and individuals, dog sitters and dog walkers in your area.
With the right preparation, your dog and baby can grow up to be the best of friends.