By Victoria Shade, CPDT
Everything changes when your new baby comes home, and your dog is probably going to feel confused by the upheaval at first. Your daily routines, level of attentiveness and availability are greatly impacted, which can be confusing for your pooch. Here are some tips to help smooth the transition for you and your dog when welcoming your newest family member.
Before you get too close to your due date, take the time to polish up your dog’s basic obedience skills, and if you’ve never done any basic training get to work right away. Your dog should be able to do a basic “sit,” hold a down-stay, understand a casual “wait” cue (which is less formal than a “stay” and just means to hold position and not surge forward), and a “place” cue (which is a way to send your dog to a specific spot, like his bed). Each cue is very helpful in making sure that your dog is not underfoot, and if you practice enough, can help with your dog’s impulse control.
You’ve probably done a ton of baby shopping, but make sure you have the appropriate equipment for your dog as well. It helps to have a fixed length lead (4 – 6 feet long) rather than a retractable leash, as you can use the lead to tether your dog to a heavy piece of furniture if his “stay” needs help. Baby gates won’t be necessary for your child right away, but your dog might benefit from having boundaries during the transition. Invest in a quality bed if you don’t have one already, preferably the type that has bolsters that your dog can lean on. You want your dog’s bed to be a comfortable home base. Finally, purchase a variety of treat-stuffable rubber toys. These activity toys will become your dog’s “babysitter” when you can’t pay attention to him. Providing him with a busy toy is a great way to keep him constructively occupied.
Consider doing some “stroller training” with your dog. Some dogs might be frightened by the size and movement of a stroller, so take your time introducing your dog to it. Bring the stroller out, let him sniff it, and then push it slowly. Drop treats for him a few steps away from the stroller so he associates it with good things. Then try taking a walk with your dog, giving him treats for trotting along beside the stroller. If your dog seems afraid during this step, go back to the initial acclimation steps and take your time working up to walking outside with a stroller.
Of course, you can’t predict a newborn’s daily patterns, but do your best to mimic what your new schedule will be like. This will help your dog adjust to what might happen soon. If your dog is accustomed to being fed exactly at 7:30 AM and 5:30 PM every day, start to play with feeding times so that a delayed meal won’t be stressful for your dog. Vary your walk times and duration as well. Finally, try not to smother your dog with extra love in anticipation of the potential dearth of attention to come. The shock to your dog’s system will be that much greater if he goes from daily over-the-top love-fests to being the forgotten citizen overnight.
Your dog will be very curious about his new family member, so it makes sense that he will try to get close to investigate the baby. Watch for and praise appropriate behaviors like backing off when you ask him to and sitting politely instead of jumping up to see the baby. In addition, make sure that your dog’s flea and tick preventative is safe for close contact around newborns. Your vet will be able to provide advice if you have any concerns.
Kids that grow up with dogs form special bonds with their best canine friend, and even though the initial adjustment to living with a baby and a dog can be challenging, taking the appropriate steps right from the beginning can make the process a lot less stressful.