Before baby arrives
1. Make changes to your dog’s environment now
If you are planning to move where your dog sleeps, eats, rests or hangs out don’t wait until your baby arrives as your pet may associate this (potentially unwanted) change with the arrival of their new sibling. Rather, get prepared early by moving your pet off your bed, putting up baby gates if you plan to have separate areas, shifting their daytime resting place, whatever changes you want to make, make them early so that your pet has time to adjust. If you’re going to use baby gates to separate the dog from baby, do that now and spend time at home with your dog on one side and you on the other.
2. Introduce associated sounds
Ok really? Yes. There is a baby crying track here: http://www.soundjay.com/baby-crying-sound-effect.html You’d be surprised how some dogs react to the sound if it’s completely alien to them. I just played it now and my 4-year-old old Labrador who is well and truly used to excited screeching, high pitched squeaking and crying from my toddler, tweaked his head to the side and looked at me with wide, wild eyes and pricked up ears… read ‘oh, another one?!’
Getting your dog used to some of the more high-pitched sounds your newborn will make will help them react more calmly when bub settles in and becomes a part of their life.
3. Practice one-handed
Once your newborn is home, you’ll get adept at doing things one-handed, start now with your pet by giving commands and affection one-handed.
Borrow a doll or teddy from someone and hold it in one arm while you give commands to your dog (e.g. sit, wait, come etc). NEVER offer the toy/teddy out to the dog to see what it will do – you would never do this with a baby so don’t do it with a doll. See below section on bringing baby home.
Practice walking the dog with a pram or baby carrier (whichever you plan to use) as the wheels and noises of a pram can be disconcerting so practicing before you have a precious bundle inside is recommended. NB – never tie the lead to the pram in case your dog is startled and does a runner or pulls the pram over. Instead loop the lead over your hand and then hold the pram or clip the lead onto your belt buckle.
4. Sort out the toys
If your dog has fluffy toys it is wise to either: put the fluffy toys away so that there will be a clear distinction between your dog’s toys and baby’s toys. If you don’t want to get rid of your dog’s fluffy toys, introduce some of the baby’s fluffy toys to the dog and don’t allow them to play with them. Use commands like ‘no’, ‘leave’, ‘ah ah’ so that the dog gets used to the idea that there are fluffy toys in the house that they aren’t allowed to touch.
5. Pamper your pooch
Get everything done that you need to before bub arrives e.g. buy dog food in bulk, ensure vet checks are up to date, registration is paid, grooming is done and flea, tick and worm treatments are up to date.
Going to hospital
6. Have a plan in place
If you’re birthing away from home, you don’t want a call from your neighbor in the middle of your birth to say your dog is barking uncontrollably (yes, this happened to me). Work out a plan of who will care for the dog while you’re away (even if it happens in the middle of the night) or whether your dog will be fine at home alone for up to 24 hours. Work out who will care for your pooch while you’re away for a couple of days. NB: this may be disturbing enough for your dog so pick someone who your dog is comfortable with and have a practice run before bub arrives so your dog arrives home calm and not stressed.
7. Introduce baby’s smells first
If you can, have someone take a pooey nappy, spewed on clothes and/or just a blanket or something that smells of the baby to the dog. Wait until the dog is calm and sitting, or lying down and then offer the nappy or clothes to the dog to sniff. Allow sniffing and then put the items away. Bring them out again after a couple of hours and allow the dog to sniff again. This way, your pooch will already be familiar with the new baby’s smells and scent when he or she arrives home.
Bringing baby home
8. The first meeting
Your pooch is going to be ultra-excited to see you, let’s face it they are ultra-excited to see you after a 10 minute trip to the shops let alone a few days away. So here’s the plan for coming home;
If possible, have someone walk/exercise your dog to let them release some energy/excitement before you get home.
Mums, greet your dog first (without the baby) and show them some love.
Wait until the dog is calm before bringing the baby into the house, also wait until the baby is calm.
Bring the baby inside and calmly sit down on the couch or chair. If the dog pays you or the baby no attention, that’s fine, allow the dog space.
Ensure the dog gives you and the baby respectful space (no licking, jumping, barking). This may be enough for your dog for one day.
If your dog is calm and a bit curious, you can allow some gentle sniffing of the air around the baby, or of the baby’s feet if you feel comfortable doing so. NB. Introduce your newborn to your dog slowly, calmly and safely. Reward good behaviour with affection.
Never offer the baby to your dog to sniff or lick, don’t force the baby on your dog if your dog is indifferent, don’t kneel down with the baby on the dog’s level. Just sit on the couch with your baby and allow gentle, respectful sniffing on your terms.
If your dog shows any signs of aggression (baring teeth, ears back with tail between legs, growling, backing away, raising back hair, remaining still but looking at the child from the corner of its eye, appearing ill-at-ease) call a dog behaviour expert to help you work out a plan of action.
Best rule of thumb and advice: never leave your baby, toddler or child alone with any dog.
Above is our 3-week-old newborn with our Labrador (2 years old at the time). We implemented all the above except for number 6 – we’ll remember that one next time.
Photo Credit: http://www.jodyryanphotography.com/