If you are expecting to hear the pitter patter of tiny feet very soon or planning to, first of all congratulations! This is a very exciting time for all the family - a time of joy, adventure and a new journey for everyone. However, if you have already heard the pitter patter of tiny paws around the house, you may have some questions that need answering and some anxieties about how your four legged 'baby' is going to get on with your other new addition.
It is natural to have some concerns when a new baby is going to be entering your world and most probably turning your life upside down! All parents have heard horror stories of dogs which did not adjust to a new infant in his 'territory' from one person or another and it will make you wonder about what the best thing to do is. Of course, it is entirely your decision whether or not you want to take the time and trouble to help your dog meet the changes which will occur. Some parents decide that they do not feel comfortable having a dog and a baby in a house together, but this is a small minority. If you do decide that you cannot keep your dog, then speak to your vet and local charities about the possibility of finding a good, suitable new home for him in plenty of time before baby arrives. It is your responsibility to make sure this is dealt with to minimise the trauma of being separated from a much loved dog and vice versa.
However, with a little pre planning and effort on your part, there is no reason why your dog and baby cannot live harmoniously in the home together and you can train your dog to get along with your child and teach your child to respect and love your dog as much as you do. It is imperative that this plan of action is put into immediate effect, when you know you are pregnant to ensure you have the maximum amount of time to help your dog get used to the new, impending situation. Ask yourself:
- Does your dog currently have 'access all areas?' If so you need to start excluding him from certain rooms, such as the one you intend to use as a nursery, by keeping the door shut at all times. This way, he will not even consider it to be part of his space and learn that even though some action may be happening in there, it is not his place to be involved in it. When you then leave the room, make sure you praise him as you return to the rest of the house.
- What about the noises babies make? Desensitisation is the key word here. The high pitched and distressing sound babies make when they cry is bound to stir up his attention and make him curious. A good idea is to buy (or make) a recording of babies crying, and play it in the house before the baby is born. Start off with low noise levels, gradually increasing it over a number of days and weeks until it reaches a realistic crying 'noise level'. Do not make a fuss or react to your dog at all when he hears the noise, whether he is scared or not. You need to pass the message on that there is nothing to be worried about and fussing over him reinforces the fact that 'weird noise' + attention from you = be scared/react/ bark etc.
- How is his general obedience? Spend some quality time with your dog before baby makes an appearance by investing in some training and obedience classes. Dealing with unruly behaviour from a dog with a baby in your arms or pushchair will be very difficult and you need to maximise your chances of being able to control any situations when or if they arise. A training class with other dogs and people is a good idea to help your dog get used to different situations as is taking him to a variety of environments with (preferably) other children who understand how to behave around dogs.
- What about babies first few days at home? When you finally bring your baby home, you are bound to be tired. Make life as easy as you can for yourself by limiting the contact your dog has with the baby. Place some worn baby clothes or blanket with your dog in his bed, so he can get used to the new smell of your little one. When baby has gone to bed, it is important to make sure you fuss your dog and let him know that he is still part of the family. After a day or two when it is time for introductions, make sure you dog is on a short leash and reinforce the fact that baby is a positive thing by rewarding him, stroking him and talking gently to him. Do not let him sniff baby's face, but maybe let him sniff the well wrapped up foot area of baby. Ask your partner or friend to hold baby while you play with your dog in the same room, remembering to reward him all the time. This way, your dog will make a positive association with baby and increases the chances of a harmonious household. It is imperative that your dog and baby are never left alone together unattended.
- What about crawling? As baby gets bigger they will start to make jerky and quick movements that may startle your dog, as he will be used to baby being carried. Crawling and movements need observation at all times, and your dog is bound to be curious , terrified or see baby as a toy/prey. The key here is knowing that the dog can get used to this new situation just as well as he has done up until now. A good idea is to ask your dog to sit, then place baby on the floor to crawl or sit and move. Sit by your dog and talk gently to him and reward him for good sitting and calm behaviour. It is likely that your dog will adjust in no time at all. Seek professional advice if you have any concerns.
- Remember, never leave your baby or child and dog unattended together at any time.