How Can We Prepare Our Dogs For Baby?

QUESTION

Dear Pet Expert,
My husband and I have 2 adorable labs that are both 1 1/2 years old. We've had them since they were puppies and absolutely love them to death. We our expecting our first child soon and we want to do whatever we can to prepare them for the baby.

Our dogs are both very well behaved around small children, however we're worried they won't know what to think since they have gotten all the attention thus far. Any advice would be much appreciated.

Thank you kindly,

Jennifer

ANSWER

Hi Jennifer,
Congratulations to you at this exciting time!

There is so much to consider so let me help you with the pet aspect of things. Here are several simple things to consider:

  1. What do your dogs do to get your attention? Paw, lick, bark, whine, etc? Now think...will this be appreciated once the baby arrives? How might you react to them when they do these things if you are sleep deprived or just latching a baby on and your dog paws at you? Not so pleasant I imagine.

NOW is the time to begin addressing the attention seeking behavior patterns that have worked for you and your dogs thus far. Write a list down of the top 5 things your dogs do to each of you for attention. If you are not initiating this response from them, then they are leading you and you are reacting. Ignoring several of their attention seeking behaviors helps a great bit. This means no talking to them, no eye contact...just ignore, look away, turn away, etc. Then call them over to you and tell them to sit and now you can pet and greet.

It is important that you and your husband are the ones to initiate all the fun and good things the dogs need and crave. I refer to a program called Nothing in Life is Free has great information to help you get started.

  • All that baby stufff! Toys, swings, bottles, etc. Teach your dogs what you want instead of what you do not want. With new equipment in the home teach them how to behave and practice this before the baby arrives. Where do you want the dog/s to be when the baby is sleeping in the basinet? While in the swing? Visualize this and make a list of options. Trust me, lists pay off on tired days and this will help.
  • Carry a doll around and notice your posture change. I suggest Dads add 10 pounds of flour and try walking around and getting up off the floor to see how it will feel will extra weight. Can you give your dogs commands while on the floor? If not, this is something to work on. Carrying a doll changes your posture and many people are not as effective with their dogs when their hands are not free, just like when they are sitting on the floor. Practice.
  • Refresh your obedience. Your two labs will be full of energy and will need outlets. Be sure to have play time set up for them. Hide and seek, 20 minutes of fetch is great but give them something to do -- retrieve diapers or whatever. Keep them busy.
  • Do not stress about less time with your dogs. It is different, not less. Your time with them will change and now they have a new buddy to play with them as he grows. This is a good thing!
  • Everyone wants to know exactly how to bring the baby and dog together when they first come home. Well, my thought on this, having done so several times is this. "Go at your own pace." As with all birthing plans, things change and that is ok. Your comfort is most important. Some Moms are not physically ready to meet with their dogs following a difficult birth, others are fine. Some Moms struggle with the feeling that all of a sudden their dog is A HUGE ANIMAL and feel afraid and vulnerable. All of these feelings are normal and valid. It is important to go at your comfortable pace and trust your gut feelings. That is your first lesson in Motherhood...listen to your gut.
  • Ok, so when you are ready. Have the dog tired out by someone prior to the meeting. Someone can be holding the baby while you greet the dogs in a calm manner. Don't forget their sits for you to pet them. Leadership from here on is quite important. You want them to not have any reason to question your strength now. I always want the baby on a lap or in arms. Dogs must be gentle and can be offered clothing of baby to sniff. I may hold the baby's foot in my hand and let the dog lick and sniff it and then have him move along. There are many wasy to do this.

    My only advice here that is a MUST -- do not put the baby on the floor and allow the dog to sniff the baby. This is not safe and should never be done. Keep the baby in a persons arms and elevated.

  • The CD mentioned has in details all of the many exercises and activities and photos to guide you through. That might be helpful. You can get the "Dogs & Storks CD" at Family Paws and the "Sounds of Baby CD" at DogMom.

    I hope you find this useful.
    -- Jennifer Shryock B.A. MPH, CDBC

    Jennifer Shryock

    Jennifer Shryock, is the founder/Director of Family Paws Parent Education which offers two international programs, Dogs & Storks and The Dog & Baby Connection, in over 40 states and 8 countries. Jennifer is a stay-at-home Mother of four and a certified dog behavior consultant, specializing in safe dog and baby/toddler interaction. Believing the relationship between dogs and their family is precious, Jennifer created her business, Family Paws LLC to offer opportunities to families to enhance their relationship with their dog(s). Jennifer uses only positive dog and kid friendly techniques that anyone can perform in their own home. Jennifer's combination of passion and experience as a parent, special education teacher and certified dog behavior consultant allows her to connect and support families in a unique way.

    Jennifer is certified through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and maintains professional membership with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Jennifer is also the U.S. representative for Doggone Safe, a nonprofit organization dedicated to dog safety. Jennifer has been featured in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Martha Stewart LIVING and Dog Fancy, as well as has been a popular guest on various radio programs.

    Jennifer and family share their home with their 3 dogs and 3 cats.