Dr. Keri Henderson
In all the preparations for your new bundle of joy it can be easy to forget, that this is not only a big adjustment for you but for your dog as well. With a new baby comes many new sights, sounds, and smells that can overwhelm your furry companion. Your previous routine will be drastically altered and subsequently your pets’ routine will also have to change. Although your pet is and always will be your fur baby, he or she will by necessity receive less attention from you. Without adequate preparation these changes can result in anxiety and behavioral issues.
Below are some things you should do in the months prior to baby’s arrival to ensure that your dog transitions well this new phase of your life:
Basic obedience skills are a must.
Sit, down, and stay are basics that are necessary to keep an excitable dog in check around your infant. Stay and settle are important commands that teach your pet to control their impulses even while new circumstances are occurring. Teaching your dog a simple placing command, where your pet goes to a certain area and sits or lies down on cue, can be useful when you are tending to your infants needs but would like your pet to be present and not in the way. “Leave it” and “drop it” can be important commands in teaching your dog to leave baby’s things alone, such as a dropped pacifier or bottle. If your dog has the tendency to jump, teach them to greet people in a calm and controlled manner. If your dog is not already crate trained then you may consider training him/her as a crate can be your pets’ “safe place” when things get hectic in your household. “Go away” is a good command for your pet to know once baby is a little older and beginning to crawl. This command can remove your pet from any situation where they may become uncomfortable, such as baby crawling towards them or attempting to use them to pull up to stand. If you and your dog have limited experience with obedience training and commands then consider enrolling in behavioral classes. Please note the training resources and links at the end of this blog.
Start introducing your dog to new sites, sounds, and smells associated with an infant.
This can be as simple as letting your dog listen to a recording of a crying baby while continuing to “settle” or stay in their “place” as you have previously taught them. You can also shake a baby rattle, turn on any crib mobile or toy that makes noise that you have purchased for your child, and simulate preparing/microwaving a bottle all while your pet remains calm and responds to basic commands. Use some of baby’s lotions and ointments on yourself so that your pet begins to associate them with someone familiar. You can even practice going through the motions of changing, feeding, etc with a doll so that your pet becomes accustomed to your attention being focused elsewhere.
Begin to make alterations to your routine prior to baby’s arrival.
Get up during the night and go into the nursery and sit in your nursing chair, go into the kitchen frequently to simulate preparing baby’s bottle, etc. Make sure that your pet continues to respond to basic commands during these routine changes. You can also vary your pets’ feeding time if they are used to being fed at a specific time as life with a new baby can be unpredictable and may result in unexpected changes to your pets feeding schedule. If you are worried about your dog not receiving enough playtime then consider doggie day camp and don’t wait until you new baby arrives to begin bringing your pet, as beginning day camp can be an adjustment all its own.
Set up the first interaction to be successful.
Leash your pet upon the very first introducing to your infant, even if you have no reason to believe he/she will act poorly. Remain calm, if your pet senses that you are anxious then they will respond similarly. Ask your dog to respond to some of the obedience cues you have taught and reward your dog for any calm attention he/she may express towards the new baby. If your dog is calm and has positive body language (see below for link on body language) then allow he/she to sniff the new baby. If your pet is too eager and with their interactions then redirect their attention with a placing command followed by a treat reward. Your dog will gradually learn to associate appropriate interactions with your child with treats and praise.
With adequate preparation and training your pet will adjust to your new addition quickly and this will make your adjustment easier as well. As always, the doctors at Animal Medical are happy to help you with any advice regarding your pet’s adjustment to your new child. Please feel free to contact us regarding local training resources, doggie daycare, or behavioral consultation for your pet.
- Kids and Dogs: A Professional’s Guide to Helping Families by Colleen Pelar
- Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar
- Raising Puppies & Kids Together: A Guide for Parents by Pia Silvani and Lynn Eckhardt