For many people, a “fur baby” offers a lot of hands-on experience, companionship, and a strong sense of what it’s like to be responsible for another living thing.
But when you’re expecting a baby of the human variety, there’s an endless list of things to prepare for, like night feedings, constant diaper changes, lack of sleep, and just generally turning your whole life upside down. .
And of course, a new baby will change your relationship with your pup, as the baby will occupy most of your undying attention for a long time.
Fortunately, there are plenty of proven tips from professionals and parents on how to prepare your pet for the new addition to the family. Gambit spoke with Janette Rael, a certified dog trainer with R+Dog Training, who has a lot of experience helping people adjust to parenthood while keeping their dogs healthy and happy, despite, perhaps, initial competition for attention. And if you do it right, the human baby and the fur baby will soon be living in harmony, in one big happy mixed-species family.
Practice makes perfect
Rael says it’s important to start preparing your canine companion “as soon as possible” for the new human member of the household.
It may seem silly at first, but disguised parenthood pays off in the first few months.
As you prepare for the arrival of the baby, she suggests getting a newborn-sized doll or stuffed animal and wrapping it in a blanket in your arms and carrying it around the house, so the dog can get used to the new strange “object.” that will soon require your full attention. (This also helps parents-to-be get used to having their arms full all the time.)
“Practice as if you already have the baby,” says Rael. “Get a doll, wrap it in a blanket and teach the dog not to jump when he sees it.”
This is also a good time to go over basic commands like “leave it,” “come down,” or “go home” as you direct them to a crate, bed, or other safe space in the house where they won’t be disturbed. you or the baby.
Rael says many dog owners take their hounds to training courses at their facility to learn these simple commands and then practice at home. A fun bonus: this can also help dog owners get used to the idea of dropping the kids off at school one day and then helping them with homework.
Pregnancy can also be a good time to help your dog develop a positive association with the idea of a baby.
Rael, who emphasizes positive reinforcement in his training courses, recommends having treats, toys, and other enrichment devices around to not only distract the dog and give him something to do (in addition to following you), but also to acknowledge that the new member of the family is going to be a positive addition to the home.
Physical barriers help
Dog owners are likely already familiar with their pet’s comfort zone, or safe space, whether it’s a crate, bed, or playpen. But if the dog is used to taking up all the space in the house, install new barriers like baby gates or playpens ahead of time so the dog can get used to new confines and tighter spaces.
Having barriers like gates and playpens can also make life easier once the baby is born. It will give the dog a safe boundary so that he can tend to the baby without wondering if the pet is somewhere he shouldn’t be.
To emphasize that these areas are positive places, get enrichment toys, puzzles, or other activities to keep the pet busy and engaged while you’re out of sight tending to the newborn.
the age factor
The period of adjustment to a new baby can vary depending on the age of the dog.
For some, especially younger dogs, it could be a pretty quick transition.
“Puppies and adolescent dogs are also in a great stage of development,” says Rael. “So they’re going to be a little more flexible with learning and new things. The changes are not that important to them.”
The biggest challenge with younger, more enthusiastic dogs is managing their impulse control, and again, making sure they can obey verbal commands and are trained not to jump when you’re holding the baby.
But older dogs can have some challenges getting used to the new family member, so Rael recommends patience. This may also mean paying attention to their body language and facial expressions and calming them down if they seem anxious.
“An older dog with a routine, who has never had to deal with a crying, screaming little human, it might be a lot at first,” she says.
get outside help
The good thing about new babies is that loved ones are especially eager to help. But maybe they can help better by tending to the dog, not the baby.
It’s a good idea to have a trusted family member, friend, or professional help walk and feed your dog when he’s too tired or busy. They can also help ensure that the dog can maintain a routine and receive plenty of attention when yours is elsewhere.
Rael says it’s extremely important that the dog and the new baby are never left unsupervised in the same room, especially in the first few months.
“When you’re not available to work with the dog, it should be behind a baby gate or in a crate, or on a leash with another person if someone else is there to help handle the dog,” she says.
Prepare the pup or dog with refresher lessons on commands and take them outside to burn off energy when you know they’ll be busy throughout the day later.
If you’re too busy to walk the dog, and you probably are, ask a friend, family member, or professional dog walker for help. In some cases, it may be wise to board the dog for the first few days, get him into a doggy daycare program, or send him over to a friend’s house for care—”whatever makes the most sense for your home,” Rael says.
Another helpful tip: If you’re in the hospital with the new baby, send someone home with a piece of cloth or blanket that has been near the baby, so the dog can get used to the smell. That way, the dog won’t be entirely unfamiliar when you bring the baby home.
Above all, he says, “The most important thing is to be proactive and make sure you have a plan, like where the dog will be and where the baby will be. Have a plan for the birth, and for the first two months, make sure they are walking and exercising regularly.”