Getting dogs ready for the arrival of a newborn is imperative. Preparation helps to reduce and prevent the chances of avoidable incidences happening in the all-important transition phase for both you and your dog. The crucial thing is that a lot of this groundwork needs to happen long before your baby has been born.
A good place to start is acclimatising your dog to the strange new equipment that will appear in their home. This can be achieved by introducing the carrier, safety gates, changing station etc. by setting them up in their new positions when your dog is out of the house. If certain parts of the home are now going to be out of bounds for your dog, the restriction to these areas needs to start as early as possible. Dogs can find the change of routine that accompanies the arrival of a newborn difficult to handle, so making sure that they are comfortable with as many of the adjustments as possible before the baby comes is key.
Rachael Claire – Institute of Modern Dog Trainers (IMDT) accredited canine Behaviourist and Separation Anxiety specialist. BSc (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare. With over 10 years experience training dogs, here Rachael advises the best way to introduce your dog to your newborn without all the fuss.
Getting your dog used to walking with a pram is important, as especially for noise sensitive dogs the sound of the wheels can be worrying. Start by rewarding them with treats for investigating the empty pram and then pushing it a little indoors. Once they are comfortable with the movement inside, you are ready to start going for walks. Ensure that you keep pram walks up regularly throughout the pregnancy so that exercising alongside a buggy becomes the new norm for your dog.
Dogs see the world through their nose, so mixing up formula milk and using the baby’s lotions, creams and powders on yourself so that your dog associates them with a familiar person is a fantastic exercise. If you can, borrow clothes and blankets that smell like a baby to get them used to that scent, too.
New noises can also be worrying for dogs, so start ‘desensitising’ them to the sounds of crying and of any equipment as early as you can. Use mobiles, toys and machines frequently so that they become part of everyday background noise. For vocalisations, find a baby crying and gurgling soundtrack and play on a very low volume whilst your dog is busy eating or playing. The volume can be increased incrementally over several exercises until it reaches that of a real baby.
When it is finally time to bring your baby home, ensure that your dog has had a good walk and is sleepy to reduce the chances of them being frantic when you come through the door. Putting your dog on a lead while another person holds the baby ensures a safe first interaction. Reward your dog with treats for calm behaviour around your baby and also when they choose to move away and occupy themselves. Avoid chastising for any inappropriate behaviours around the baby. Remember, this is completely new to them, and they do not know how they are supposed to act. Any adverse experiences around interactions with the baby only serves to build negative associations.
Most important of all is that your dog is never put into a position where they could harm the baby or is left unsupervised. Dogs can feel protective over their possessions which is a perfectly ‘normal’ emotion for canines. Their bed, toys, chews and food bowls should all be kept in a private, safe space to avoid feeling anxious around the new arrival taking their resources.
Babies should not be allowed to rough handle dogs in any manner as it is unfair of us to expect a dog to tolerate interactions which make them uncomfortable. Particularly if your dog is already of an anxious disposition, it is essential that they are given space in which to retreat and be alone if they choose. Almost all dog bites are avoidable and are caused by humans not reading their dog’s signs of discomfort and rising anxiety. Lip licking, yawning, turning away and showing the whites of the eyes are all communication methods in the dog world used to convey unease with a social interaction. So, it is imperative that we listen to them to avoid escalations.