This month I asked Dr. Alger to write a blog about a topic near and dear to her at the moment. Please read on for more information about what to expect when you’re expecting and already have a fur child!
August is due date month for me and seemed fitting to write a blog to discuss introducing a new baby to your dog. My household consists of my husband, myself, and our 10 month old Bernese Mountain Dog, Walter, who currently weighs in at a whopping 100 pounds.
We adopted Walter just before Christmas and found out I was pregnant about a week later. It is natural to worry a bit about how your pet(s) will transition to your new life and I immediately wanted to know how to prepare Walter for a baby so that I could start the process as early as possible. So, the question I will focus on this blog is: What are the appropriate steps to take to prepare a dog for the new baby? I will touch on some of the important things I found and have implemented into training and preparing my own pup for the new addition to our family.
First and foremost, determine what kind of relationship you want your dog to have with your little one. Ask yourself, is your dog calm in nature or have more fearful, excitable, or aggressive tendencies? Is your dog known to be protective, possessive, predator driven, timid, overly-friendly? Is the baby’s room going to be off limits? It is important to determine these things prior to the arrival of your baby to ensure that you are doing the proper preparation that fits your dog. Some dogs may need formal training in order to transition properly.
One of the most important steps is to take the time to implement changes and training before the baby arrives. The arrival of the baby will create a lot of changes in the household related and unrelated to your dog, and he will pick up on most, if not all of them. In order to avoid your dog feeling displaced or like it needs to compete, plan to start training them for the baby as early as you can.
If you haven’t already, teach your dog to sit or lie down on command and to stay until it is permitted to get up. I will be honest, Walter is still working on ‘staying’ when things get exciting. These commands should never be associated with punishment because they will be used a lot with the baby and it is important to avoid punishment of the dog in association with the baby. With these skills, you will have better control when it comes to initial introduction and other moments of excitement and you will be able to avoid injury to yourself, your baby, or your dog.
You can expect your schedule to change with an infant in the house, and when your schedule changes, so does your dog’s. Try to figure out a schedule that works with your pet and a new baby and implement that schedule at least a few months prior to the baby’s arrival. This includes a feeding schedule, a walk or two, individual attention that you will be giving to each pet, and any other scheduled events you may have in your day. It is important to maintain this schedule no matter what, and therefore it is important to make it a schedule that you can see fitting into your new life with an infant.
Your dog will likely be receiving or feel like it’s receiving less attention than it did before the new baby entered your life, and it will definitely recognize this and maybe even feel that the attention has been transferred to another individual, which can promote attention seeking behavior. One thing that may help avoid this is including the baby and your dog in positive things together, like exercise. This may help allow the dog to associate positive attention with the baby. The more exercise you can do with both your pet and the baby, the better everyone’s relationship will be.
The Baby’s Room
If you are not going to allow your pet into your baby’s room, you can train them to sit outside the door with the door open (assuming you’ve trained them to stay until told otherwise), or put a gate up. This way, they can still feel included and don’t feel the need to figure out what’s going on in there. If you do not need to put a gate up, be sure to shut the door when you are not using the room so they cannot enter the room when you’re not paying attention.
If you plan to allow your dog into the baby’s room, like we do with Walter, allow him in there prior to the baby’s arrival. Give him a chance to sniff around, seek out spots, and feel free to set boundaries for what your pet can and cannot do in there. For instance, we have a basket full of stuffed animals and Walter has mistaken them for his own in the past. After much training, he now knows that he has his own basket of toys and he leaves those alone.
This is where you put all of your training to the test. One way that may make it slightly easier is letting your dog stay home while you are at the hospital with someone watching him instead of an unfamiliar space. This way, there aren’t too many changes or negative emotions associated with the baby. Prior to coming home, have someone bring an item that smells like the baby (a blanket, hat, clothing, etc.). When you finally come home, you will have been gone for a few days so it is a good idea to greet your dog like you normally would without the baby. It is best if you can have an extra hand can hold the baby while you greet your dog. Most dogs get pretty excited to see their owners, try to allow enough time for the excitement to settle before bringing in the baby. When you finally introduce your new bundle to the dog, it is best to have the dog controlled on a leash. The goal is to have gradual, pleasant and supervised initial exposure. If he is interested and calm enough, let your dog sniff the baby. If he gets a little too excited, take a break from the introduction and try again once he has settled down again.
Sometimes, your dog may need a little extra help, whether its in the training process of after you’ve introduced the baby. There is nothing wrong with having a professional behavioralist help you and your dog through this transition.
Regardless of how great your dog does with the baby and the transition into a new lifestyle, accidents happen and it is not ever recommended to leave your baby and dog in a room unsupervised.
Lastly, enjoy your new life and the new relationship that is about to blossom between your baby and your fur baby!