There’s a lot to do to get ready for the birth of a child. Furniture has to be purchased, clothes and toys need to be organized, and various other things in your home may have to be discarded or rearranged in order to make room for baby’s buggy, baby’s play pen, baby’s bouncer, etc. In the flurry of activity it can be easy to forget that our dogs notice all the new goings on, and might need a little support in making the leap from family life as it is now, to life when little one is born. So, what are some things we can do to make our dogs more comfortable with their changing family environment?
1 Allow your dog to sniff and familiarize themselves with new objects and furniture
Your life will change dramatically when baby comes home for the first time, but so will your dog’s. Help him start making the transition early by familiarizing him with all your new baby gear. This is particularly important with some of our more modern baby accessories like bouncers, swings, or the like. Your dog may never have encountered some of these objects before, so it can help to introduce them to him before baby enters the picture.
2 Think about boundaries
Consider what things your dog does that already drive you batty. Those things will only become more stressful when you bring your child home. Now might be a good time to work on some of those naughty behaviors, or set some new boundaries that you think may be helpful when baby arrives. For example, your dog may always have been allowed on the bed, but you may feel it would be safer for baby for furniture to be off limits. If that is the case, he will not automatically assume this when you bring your baby home. It is important to communicate any new boundaries to your pup clearly and consistently in the weeks and months leading up to your baby’s homecoming to minimize risk and frustration in that busy newborn stage.
3 Observe your dogs reactions to babies and children in general
If you do not already have small children in your life and the life of your dog, it may be helpful to introduce your dog slowly to the idea of having littles around the place. Is your dog sensitive about his paws, tail, or face being touched? It might be a good idea to work on positive associations with body handling. How does he cope with loud crying or squeals? Does he get overexcited around children and need to work on impulse control? Even if your dog is not around children regularly, you can help him build positive associations with children from a distance in public places such as parks or town centers, and general concepts like body handling and impulse control on your own time at home.
4 Set aside time specifically to play with and cuddle your dog
Just like bringing a new sibling home to your other children, pets can feel a little left out when all of your attention is suddenly devoted to baby. Get some good quality time in with your pet or service dog while you can, and consider when you might be able to work that time into your new life when your little one joins the family. That might look like handing baby over to your partner while you and Fido go out for a walk, cuddling up with your pup beside you while you snuggle or feed your baby, putting your baby in their bouncer or cot for a few minutes while you groom or play with your dog, or, in the earliest weeks, calling your dog to the bathroom with you so that you can pet them in the few seconds you have before your newborn needs you again (haha, I’m not joking. This worked well for me, and my dog started getting very excited every time I had to take a potty break).
5 For those with service dogs, practice working with baby gear before hand
Give your canine partner the opportunity to work with some of the new things you might be using before baby arrives. For example, wear the baby carrier or pull the buggy with a sack of sugar in it while out and about with your dog. You’ll get some strange looks, but at least you won’t be doing it for the first time ever with your tiny fragile newborn. It’s a great opportunity to work out any kinks and do some additional training with your pup if it seems necessary.
6 Consider working with a professional trainer
Sometimes, we just need a little help. If concerns arise for you that you feel are beyond your ability as a pet-owner/handler, don’t forget that you can enlist the aid of a professional. It is hard enough to juggle being a new parent and a pet owner or service dog handler without having extra worries on your plate as you make the transition. Working with a trainer may be one way to ease those concerns. It gives you a structured time to work with your dog on any undesirable behaviors, provides an excellent opportunity for bonding, and may be an important step to ensure the health and safety of your new wee family member.
There’s a lot to do to get ready for the birth of a child, and with a canine pal already part of the family, there may be a few more things to do than usual, but with some forethought, a little bit of effort can go a long way in making for a smoother transition to life with a baby.