For many of us our dog is our first baby. They have had your undivided attention for probably a few years. They may be used to having the run of the house, cuddles on the sofa and probably know exactly how to get your attention. A new baby not only changes your life but also really affects your dog.
When we were expecting Piglet I was a little worried about how our dog Rodney would react. We took a number of precautions and in the end it turned out we had nothing to worry about. They very quickly became dog and baby best friends, with Rodney often sitting by Piglet in his swing or moses basket right from the start.
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How To Prepare Your Dog To Meet Your Baby
1. Start Early
Start early. If you’re going to make any major changes you should do it as soon as you find out you are pregnant. In our case, we stopped letting Rodney on to the sofa. This way your pooch will not associate the disruption to their routine with a small screaming “thing” thats just come into their house and rocked their world.
This could mean working on things like jumping up, restricting areas of your home that they were previously free to access, altering walking routines to accommodate prams and generally nipping in the bud any unwanted behaviour. When you take your newborn home the dogs life will have the least disruption as you have already done the hard work in the run up.
2. Create A Safe Haven
Rodney had originally been crate trained, but he had come out of it before Piglet was on the scene. We reintroduced the crate while I was pregnant and I’m so glad we did. It is somewhere Rodney is able to go away from the noise and inevitable visitors and get some down time. As we changed the rules around the sofa Rodney now opts to sit in the other room in his crate (with the door open) of an evening rather than sit in the living room with us. He has not been pushed out – it is purely his choice.
This safe haven becomes all the more important as your baby gets older. Older dogs in particular are unlikely to want to be chased and climbed all over all day, so having a special place that they can go to when they need a break is important. They are more likely to feel safe in there if it has been their space for a while, rather than something new, so start establishing that boundary as soon as possible.
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3. Introduce New Objects Before The Baby Arrives
Around a month before I was due to have Piglet we set up his moses basket in the living room. The purpose was to stop it being too much change all at once. Rodney was accustomed to the moses so when Piglet arrived and was placed in it the novelty had already worn off.
This also goes for baby lotions, shampoos etc. Even nappy creams have a distinct smell which may not bother us, but your dog is sure to pick up on it. If these have app been lying around for a period of time your pet will acclimatise to them before the dog meets baby for the first time.
4. Make Care Arrangements.
First of all, labour is not often a quick process, so arrangements will need to be made to make sure your pet is looked after. Its not easy when you don’t know when you’ll go into labour but most people will be willing to be flexible if they’re helping you out. I also had some lovely friends help out with walking Rodney once I was home with Piglet to make my life a little easier and make sure his routine wasn’t disturbed.
It really helps if you have a regular plan in place – and write it down because baby brain and sleep deprivation can make it easy to forget little details when you are asking someone to help out. Having your dog well walked before meeting you newborn will mean they will (hopefully!) be less excitable during that first meeting.
5. Smell Before Meeting
Dogs are lead by their noses, and so having a good sniff is in their nature. We took a muslin that Piglet had been lying on home for Rodney to sniff before Piglet came home from the neonatal unit. It is a bit like humans putting a face to a name, once Piglet was in the door he was able to recognise the smell. If you’re on the ball you can also give treats as they sniff the object, meaning they will associate that scent with good things.
6. Control The Introduction.
Do not let your pet get too close to the baby at first. You should maintain a distance between them so that they learn to respect a boundary around the baby. Be sure not to discourage curiosity though, its ok for them to want to know whats going on. It should just be carried out in a calm and controlled manner.
If you think your dog is getting too excited then remove either them or the baby from the room and try again when things are calmer. For some dogs this might mean repeated tries over a few days but you’ll get there. They need to know that jumping and getting hyper around the baby is not ok.
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7. Don’t forget your pet
In the excitement of a new baby and lots of visitors its easy for them to get lost in the scuffle. We made sure Rodney was receiving lots of praise and extra things to keep him entertained, such as remembering a private label pet treat or a new toy to play with. To avoid over excitement we opted to keep him separated from most of the visitors, only bringing him through to see those we knew he loved.
It is easy to keep them fully occupied in another room with toys and food. We love to fill a Kong or snuffle mat with his favourite things and then hours can be spent slowly working out how to get it out a bit at a time.
8. Enjoy It
A bond between a child and their pet can be incredibly strong. With guidance and supervision they can be great friends. The first meeting should be enjoyable, and as you introduce the newest family member it should be relaxed and happy for everyone.
Child Safety Comes First
No matter how placid you believe your pet to be it is not advised to leave them unattended with a baby or child. Children are unpredictable and can easily frighten a pet, resulting in injury. Always err on the side of caution.