Preparing your dog for your baby's arrival
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There are lots of big changes when you’re expecting a baby – from new furniture and routine, to the behaviour and needs of the parent-to-be. Whilst this is an exciting time, it can be unsettling for our dogs as they don’t understand what’s going on.
Luckily, there are several ways we can prepare our dogs for all these changes, as well as your baby's arrival.
Having a dog around a new baby
- If your dog is older or has an ongoing health condition, we recommend you get a vet check a month or two before your baby arrives, to ensure they’re on the correct treatment plan and have no developing health conditions that could be affected by the changes associated with a baby.
- Never leave your baby or young child unsupervised with any dog.
- Don’t put your baby’s face near to your dog's face for photos.
Changes around the home
Changes in your home may include decorating, moving rooms around, introducing new furniture and packing things away.
To help prepare your dog for your new arrival, make these changes around the home in advance. It can also be helpful to let your dog watch while you’re making them so that the changes are more gradual for them.
Baby gates can also be useful to put up around your home as a safety feature for when your baby arrives. You can put them up in areas where your dog would usually have access so that you can separate your dog and baby when you can't supervise. Being behind a baby gate is also a great way to get your dog used to being around you but not with you, which may be useful if you have visitors who are uncomfortable around dogs.
If you’re worried about fur getting onto your baby’s things, you could cover some pieces of furniture with plastic (such as putting a rain cover on the pram).
As your routine changes, it’s inevitable that your dog’s will too. This could happen from early on in pregnancy, such as changes to the length of dog walks due to tiredness and sickness. To help your dog adjust to these changes, you could try:
- Asking someone you're comfortable with to regularly walk your dog from early on in your pregnancy, so that they can bond with your dog. This can help give your dog a predictable routine when other changes start to happen around them.
- Building in some flexibility into your dog’s routine. For example, add in extra walks, make normal walks shorter or longer, make feeding times slightly earlier or later.
- Finding some time in your daily routine to spend one-on-one time with your dog doing something they enjoy; this can be a grooming session, playing with their favourite toy, or visiting a dog park. These activities only need to last for five to ten minutes each day and can be done by other people in the house as well. This short activity will give your dog something to enjoy and can help reduce anxiety.
Dog training and enrichment
Whilst your attention is focussed on your new family member, it’s important to give your dog something to do to prevent undesirable behaviours due to boredom, such as chewing, barking, or scratching.
Giving your dog toys and things to focus on and keeping their brain active is known as enrichment. This could include giving your dog food enrichment games, such as puzzles and snuffle mats. These types of activities can help relieve some energy levels as well as create positive associations when your dog is separated from you.
Some useful additional behaviours you can teach your dog, if they don’t already know them, could be:
- Loose lead walking next to a pram.
- 'Sit to greet' – to help avoid your dog jumping up at visitors.
- Teaching a reliable drop cue – it’s likely your dog will get confused with what they can and cannot pick up, such as your baby’s soft toys. Training your dog, a reliable drop cue or swap game can help avoid this confusion.
- 'Place' or 'on your bed' – a useful behaviour to teach to encourage your dog to lie on their bed when you may have your hands full.
There will be many new noises in your dog’s environment, including baby noises and crying, as well as loud toys. It’s important to introduce these types of noises early to help prevent your dog from being startled by them.
Start playing baby noises, such as crying and cooing, at a very low volume for one to two minutes at a time whilst you’re getting on with normal day-to-day activities. You can find noises such as these on many phone apps or online.
Monitor your dog for any changes in behaviour or body language whilst these noises are played, such as hiding from the noise, or panting. If you notice unusual behaviour, or are concerned about your dog's reaction to a noise, you should contact your vet for advice.
If your dog is comfortable while you’re playing the noises, you can gradually increase the volume. You can also create a positive association with these noises by giving your dog rewards while these noises are played. However, avoid doing this this every time the sound plays as your dog may then expect food whenever your baby cries!
It's also useful to think about where you're planning on having the birth and where your dog will be when this happens.
If you’re having the birth in the hospital, then it’s important to plan who will look after your dog. That way, if labour takes longer than expected, you can avoid your birth partner needing to return home to feed your dog or and let them out.
If you’re a guide dog owner, you may wish to speak to the maternity unit before the delivery date. Most hospitals offer you the opportunity to visit beforehand. You can let them know you intend to bring your guide dog and discuss how they can support you, practice routes around the hospital and get yourself and your guide dog familiar with the surroundings. If you’re taking your dog, you'll also need to pack them a hospital bag that includes their food, bedding, any medication, and bowls. It would be best to have this prepared and ready to go in plenty of time.
If you’re planning to have a home birth, then having someone to look after your dog is still recommended. Your dog may find a home birth a distressing experience, and it’s best that first introductions between your dog and new-born are positive.
For more tips on dog welfare, training and enrichment, why not sign-up to Good Dog!, our 12-month subscription for pet dogs!
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