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 mum-to-be. Whilst these can be very exciting for us, for the dogs we live with it can be unsettling as they don’t understand what’s going on.
Luckily, there are several ways we can prepare our dogs for all these events, as well as your baby's arrival.
Tips for having a dog around a new baby
- If your dog is older (for example, over six years) or has an ongoing health condition, then we recommend you get a vet check a month or two before your baby arrives, to ensure they are 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/young child unsupervised with your dog.
- Do not put your baby’s face near to the dog's face for photos.
Changes around the home
Changes in the home can include decorating, moving rooms around, introducing new furniture and packing things away.
To 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 are making them so that the changes are more gradual for them. You can use baby gates for them to look through, for example.
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 maybe be useful if you have health visitors or general visitors who are uncomfortable around dogs.
If you are 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 is 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 to their usual day, 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 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 with your dog doing something they enjoy; this can be a grooming session, throwing a toy in the garden or playing a game of tug. To keep up this new routine when the baby arrives, it only needs to last for 5-10 minutes each day and can be done by other people in the house as well. This short activity will give your dog something to predict and help reduce any anxiety.
Dog training and enrichment
Whilst your attention is focussed on your new family member, it is important to give your dog something to do to prevent undesirable behaviours, such as chewing, barking, scratching.
Giving your dog toys and things to focus on and keep their brain active is known as enrichment. This could include giving your dog stuffed KONGs, chews 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 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 its 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 stop your dog from being scared of them.
- Start playing baby noises, such as crying and cooing, at a very low level (so that you can barely hear it yourself) for one to two minutes at a time whilst you are getting on with normal day-to-day activities. You can find noises such as these on many phone apps or CDs such as “Sounds Scary” CD or some websites, such as the Dog's Trust.
- Be aware of any changes in behaviour or body language whilst these noises are played. This could be anything that is not normal behaviour for your dog, such as hiding from noise, or panting when it's not hot. If you notice some unusual behaviours or are concerned about your dog's reaction to a noise, you can call us on 0800 781 1444.
- Gradually increase the level of noise over time. You can also create a positive association with these noises by giving an occasional chew or stuffed KONG. However, ideally you won’t do this every time the sound plays as your dog may then expect food whenever your baby cries… which is likely to be a lot!
It's also useful to think about where you're having the birth and where the dog will be.
If you are having the birth in the hospital, then planning who will look after your dog at short notice, can be one less thing to worry about. That way, if your labour takes longer than expected, you can avoid your birth partner needing to return home to feed and let the dog out.
If you can't leave your dog at home or with someone else, then speak to the maternity unit before your delivery date. Most hospitals or midwife-led units offer you the opportunity to visit beforehand. You can speak to them when you visit to let them know you intend to bring your dog and discuss how they can support you, find out where you can toilet your dog, practise this route and get your dog familiar with the surroundings. If you are taking your dog, you will 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.
If you are having a home birth then having someone look after your dog is still recommended. Your dog may find a home birth a scary experience and you want any first associations with your newborn to be positive.
For more tips on dog welfare, training and enrichment, why not sign-up to Good Dog!, our 12-month subscription for pet dogs!