As a Mom to only four-legged babies, my life is about to change! My husband and I are expecting our first child this September. While our new normal will be quite the whirlwind, we can’t forget our dogs will be in for a huge change as well.
To help me through my own journey and in an effort to educate others about child and pet safety, I spoke with Emily Coleman, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Canine Solutions in Olathe, KS.
Preparing in Advance
While there is no scientific proof, many experts say dogs can sense when their owner is pregnant. Pets probably don’t understand a new baby will be joining the family in 9 months, but they can notice differences in mood, posture, behavior, and body chemistry. I’ve read it’s common for dogs to either be more overprotective and on high alert or extremely clingy and we’ve seen this in both Abby and Remington’s behavior.
As a Type A, (slightly) obsessive planner, I’ve been preparing well in advance for our baby’s arrival. Since our dogs are the center of our world right now, that means ensuring they are also prepared which will help ease the transition. Coleman explains dogs (like babies) are very routine-oriented and disruptions to their routine can cause stress. “One of the best things to do in advance is to bring in as much new baby gear as early as possible. Let your dog get used to the playpen, bassinet, stroller and other items before the baby arrives.”
Coleman also recommends hiring a pet sitter or arranging for a family member to care for your pups once labor begins and through the first few days that baby is home. This ensures that pets receive adequate care while parents adjust to their new roles. Be sure to invest in a baby gate and an exercise pen to provide a barrier where necessary. She also recommends giving your dog a quiet place to sleep since during infancy, lack of sleep can have a negative effect on a dog’s behavior just as it can the parent’s.
Introducing Babies to Pets
When you bring a new baby home, your dog will face an overwhelming number of different sights, sounds and smells. Some of these may even be upsetting, especially if your pet hasn’t had opportunities to spend time with children before. Coleman cautions to take your time with introductions. “When I first brought my daughter home my female fur baby was very interested in the wiggly bundle. We were careful to keep them separate until the newness diminished and our dog was no longer excited when Alexis was in the area.”
- Before your baby comes home, have someone bring your pet a blanket or item of clothing that smells like the baby.
- Greet your pet first upon arriving home. Once they calm down, let your pet smell the new baby and get acquainted. Slow introductions will allow your pup to see, interact with, and adapt to the new arrival.
- Continue to reinforce basic obedience in close association with the baby.
- Baby wearing’ is a great way to keep your baby safe and still keep your hands free.
- When nursing or bottle feeding, have your partner give your pet treats so they associate feedings with positive reinforcement.
- Include your pet in baby-related activities like changing a diaper and talk to both “babies” during the activity. This will help your pet view your baby as less of a stranger.
- During the first few weeks, your pet may misbehave more than normal due to the extra stimulation. Instead of scolding your pet, redirect them toward something that will make him happy, like a new toy.
Addressing Warning Signs
While I am guilty myself of thinking our dogs would never hurt anyone and aren’t capable of violence or biting, I have to be realistic as well. According to the CDC, more than 4.7 million dog-bite incidents occur in the United States every year. Of those 4.7 million attacks, 800,000 of these Americans will seek medical attention — half of these are children.
“We’d all like to think that our dog would never bite and the reality is that there are so many factors that go into whether or not a dog might bite that it’s impossible to say anything like that with 100% guarantee,” says Coleman.
She also advises if you leave a room, take the baby, take the dog, or take both. Effective supervision frequently means not allowing your dog unrestricted access to your child. “Children often inadvertently hurt dogs in their inquisitive explorations. Never allow your child to interact with the dog when he is eating, chewing a bone, or sleeping.”
Knowing how to read your dog’s body language is crucial. Be aware of subtle gestures like yawns, tongue flicks, lip licking and head turns which can indicate anxiety. You can learn more about reading a dog’s body language here.
- Enroll your dog in basic obedience training as it allows the ability to maintain a certain amount of normalcy even when environmental variables change.
- Teach your child to avoid dogs that are growling, baring their teeth, or whose fur is standing on end. Instruct your child never to stare into a dog’s eyes, which can antagonize it.
- Show your child how to stroke a pup’s back and sides, instead of reaching over their head.
- Never play tug-of-war or wrestle with a dog, as roughhousing can trigger a bite.
Education and Resources
Canine Solutions offers in-home training packages which include topics such as how to prepare your dog for an impending arrival and teaching your dog to recall, relinquish stolen items, and walk nicely beside the stroller.
Another helpful resource for expecting families is Familypaws.com. Good old fashioned books still come highly recommended as well. As you can see in the photo below, our dogs are currently studying “Childproofing Your Dog” and “There’s a Baby in the House!” And finally, Coleman recommends The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell, as it provides insight on why our dogs behave the way they do and how their humans can better relate.
Stay tuned for a follow-up post in September once our daughter is born. I am excited to share with you my experience after introducing her to our dogs – and there will be no shortage of adorable newborn photos featuring our furry duo!