Your dog is a member of the family, right? So when that family expands to include a new little human member, your pup is one of the many "loved ones" you'll need to prepare for the arrival of a baby.
Expectant parents can take heart from the multitudes of social media compilations featuring gentle dogs playing with their angelic baby companions, but don't expect to start snapping similar videos right away.
"You may sleep with your pet, travel with your pet, make homemade food for your pet and spend your weekends at the park with your pet," noted Parenting. "It makes sense, then, that the introduction of a human baby rocks your pet's world. His daily life is drastically disrupted (animals are creatures of habit), he doesn't get nearly as much attention and he may be fearful of the new screaming beast in his home (his territory)."
But while scrapbook moments may not be immediate, you can almost always create a situation where the family dog and the new baby can start by safely co-existing and then work towards the ultimate goal of becoming lifelong best friends.
To get a balanced, complete perspective on the issue, follow these tips from both baby and family experts and the behaviorialist, who are more focused on animal welfare:
Don't count on the best reaction. "Dogs don't know how to interact with babies, and some may not even know what a baby is," advised one of the nation's leading animal welfare organizations, the Twin Cities-based Animal Humane Society. "A dog who gets along with small children will not necessarily recognize a baby as a smaller child, and could even view him as prey. To avoid injury to your child, assume that your dog will react unpredictably towards them and plan for this." And it bears repeating: Never leave a baby unattended with the dog, even one who is the sweetest.
Start early, really early. Taking gradual steps to get your dog used to the routine that will be put into place when the new baby comes home can go a long way in minimizing stress and preventing negative behaviors, Melissa Bain, assistant professor of clinical animal behavior at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, told Parenting. She went so far as to recommend that all dog owners should prepare their pet to be around a baby or small children from the very beginning of pet ownership to make sure they'll be safe around all children. But don't worry if you haven't done this yet; now is a great time to get moving.
Bain's recommended first step was to take your dog for a veterinary checkup to make sure he's up-to-date on vaccinations and otherwise healthy. "During the checkup, take the opportunity to ask your veterinarian any questions you might have about your pet's behavior as it might relate to your baby, particularly if your pet has anxious or aggressive tendencies," Bain noted. "Your veterinarian may have suggestions helpful to your particular pet or she may be able to refer you to a veterinary behaviorist or dog trainer for additional help."
Work on your pup's basic manners. While it may have been okay before if Bowser practically bowls you over in greeting after work or claimed anything that dropped on the floor as toys, post-baby, you'll need him to mind his manners. "Having good verbal control of your dog can really help when it comes to juggling her needs and the baby's care," the ASPCA advised. It listed these skills as being particularly important for a canine who would be welcoming a new baby to the household:
Come when called, sit and down, stay, wait at doors and settle: "These skills can help your dog learn to control her impulses, and they'll prove useful in many situations," ASPCA added. "For example, you can teach your dog to lie down and stay whenever you sit in your nursing chair."
The command, "Leave it and drop it," will help you teach your dog to leave the baby's things alone.
Greet people politely: "A jumping dog can be annoying at best—and dangerous at worst—when you're holding the baby," ASPCA noted.
Relax in a crate: This gives your pup a cozy place to relax when things get hectic (with a new baby, that's a frequent occurrence) and also lets you know that the family dog is safe when you can't supervise her.
If possible, begin to expose your dog to real babies. Friends or extended family might let you "practice" having your dog around a baby, AHS suggested. "Don't let your dog approach the baby: simply reward him for calm behavior in the baby's presence," it advised. "If your dog shows discomfort (growling, barking, etc.), don't punish him. This won't teach him that aggression is bad, but that babies are bad news. Calmly remove him and repeat the exercise at a later time and at greater distance from the baby."
Arrange a couple of visits at your home with a willing friend who has a baby, Stephanie LaFarge, an ASPCA psychologist, advised in Parenting. "Some animals are just gaga over babies, some are curious but guarded and watchful, and some are absolutely terrified," she says. "You should know that [about your pet] before the baby is born."
Prepare your dog for baby sounds. Yes, it seems a little goofy, but you'll be glad you did when your pup can suffer through a full-blown crying bout without a flicker. AHS advised playing recorded baby sounds, like gurgles, babbling and crying, at an extremely low volume while feeding your dog treats. "With each session, increase the volume a little bit," it added. "The goal is for your dog to be relaxed even in the presence of loud crying. You won't want to deal with a barking dog and screaming baby during 2 a.m. diaper changes."
Practice the impending schedule in advance. You want your dog to already be familiar with the routine before the baby causes disruption. In general, life with a new baby can be hectic and sometimes unpredictable, so it may also be helpful to prepare your pet for a less consistent schedule by varying her feeding times, Parents noted. And if you know that once baby comes, Fido won't be allowed to join you in bed or jump up on the couch or you won't be letting him in certain rooms, start that process right away and it will be automatic after the baby arrives.
Teach your dog to "please go away." This is a super-handy skill for new parents who own a dog. "For example, you can use this cue to tell your dog to move away from the baby if he's crawling toward her and she seems uncomfortable," the ASPCA advised. "Many dogs don't realize that moving away is an option!" Dogs who know they can simply walk away won't get that trapped feeling in stressful situations and are far less likely to express that anxiety by growling or snapping. To teach the skill, follow these steps:
Show your dog a treat, say, "Go away" and toss the treat four or five feet from you. Repeat many times.
Refrain from tossing the treat until your dog starts to move away, saying, "Go away" and moving your arm as though you're tossing a treat. When your pup makes even a slight move in the direction of your gesture, say "Yes!" and immediately toss a treat four or five feet away in that same direction.
Repeat the partial gesture many more times, then try waiting until your dog takes several steps away before you say "Yes!" and toss the treat.
Consider practicing with a doll. Yep, this is another step that will make you question your sanity, but it's a good idea to use a baby doll to help prep your pet, Parenting recommended. If you pretend to feed, carry and rock the doll while your pet is paying attention, it will help you gauge your pet's initial response to a baby and let you know which obedience skills you need to reinforce.
Rachel Friedman, a Cleveland-based professional dog trainer, also recommended practicing walking your dog while pushing a stroller. "Some dogs may be scared of the stroller or may be harder to control without both hands," she said in Parenting, "so some advance training with walking next to the stroller may be of use."
Give your pup a little leeway. Your dog probably doesn't entirely grasp why the home life he knew is changing, Parents reminded. "Rather than scold him and say, 'no, no, no,' all the time, teach him another choice. Redirect his behavior toward something that will make him happy," Parents recommended. "Eventually, your infant will go from being the stranger your dog is uncertain about to his favorite playmate and lifelong pal.