6 tips you need to take to prepare your dog for baby's arrival
How to prepare pup for sharp cries, how to handle a scary growl and more.
You're pregnant! Congratulations! Prepare for, well, your family's world to be turned upside down – and that includes your dog!
Pregnancy marks a time of change in any family's life, but for a dog, those changes can be disorienting, stressful and even traumatizing for your pet, say animal behaviour experts. If you want your family to stay intact – Fido included – there are some key things you need to do before and after the baby's arrival to ensure a smooth transition.
We asked Brad Pattison, a dog behaviourist and host of reality TV show, At the End of My Leash, and Lee Niel, an associate professor at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, for their expert tips on things you should know before introducing your dog to your baby.
Take training your dog seriously — now
Don't expect a badly-behaved dog to transform overnight. Pattison said he too often hears of pet owners who've treated their dog like a toy for years, but "now that there's a baby in the house, now they expect the dog to be miraculously well trained." If your dog isn't well trained by the time you get pregnant, you may be on the cusp of being too late to properly train it, he said. The lesson here: train your pup before planning a family.
Test out new routines
To ease the dog into their new life and schedule, Niel suggests giving the pup less attention and cutting back on extra walks. This will minimize the scheduling shock once the baby arrives. You'll need to prepare your once-pampered and attention-showered pup for less affection by the time baby arrives. "Parents are distracted, they're busy, they're exhausted. A lot of the things they would normally do aren't happening," said Niel.
Make your dog the nursery co-decorator
When you're putting together a nursery, involve the dog, said Pattison. By letting the dog get in on the changing environment – new paint, new furniture, new smells – it will feel more comfortable in the new space, he said.
Prepare them for new sensations
If your dog freaks out when the doorbell rings, think of how they're going to react when a baby screams. "Get them used to things that are associated with babies," said Niel. To prepare the dog for loud baby noises, play a recording of a baby crying at a low volume, and give the dog a treat, she said. This trick can help familiarize your dog with new sounds and reassure your dog that the noises are a positive thing, Niel said. As for smells, if you have a friend with a baby, ask if you can borrow a blanket or toys for the dog to sniff test, she said.
Ease into the introductions
When the baby is home, first allow the dog to sniff mom's hand with the baby's scent on it, said Pattison. This will allow for a gradual introduction and help the dog understand that mom – who will likely be interacting with the baby most – is in charge, he said. Then, bring the baby's blanket into the room and let the dog sniff it. Be sure to stay quiet as you don't want to distract the dog as it's sniffing, said Pattison. After those steps are complete, it's time for a formal introduction. Be sure to bring the dog to the baby – not the baby to the dog – to assert control over the situation, said Pattison. "You need to tell dog, I have control, you're going to sit," he said.
Don't discourage warning signs — heed them
You don't want the dog to associate negativity or punishment with being near the baby, said Niel. If the dog growls when in the same room as the baby, take the baby out of the room – not the dog, she said. If you punish the dog, "you're not necessarily teaching them that aggression is inappropriate, you're teaching them that those warning signs are inappropriate," said Niel, noting that the dog may be scared. Punishing warning signs might make them disappear in the future, meaning next time, the dog might go straight for a bite. However, if your dog displays aggressive behaviour towards your baby, keep the dog away from the baby and seek help from an animal behaviour expert.
Katrina Clarke is a Vancouver- and Toronto-based journalist who writes about relationships, health, technology and social trends. Find her on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.