Dogs need the right socialization and tools to adjust to new baby's arrival
Lately, I'm beginning to think that there is something in the water. Over the past few weeks, I've had three acquaintances and clients announce that they are expecting a baby.
What all of these soon-to-be parents have in common is that they have dogs. Each one of them expressed various levels of concern about how their four-legged family members will adjust to the changing dynamics, and as a pet professional, I know that their concern is a positive thing.
As a dog, it can be nothing short of challenging to have a wriggling, crying little person vying for the attention of the human that you've come to rely on for day-to-day care.
Sharing life with dogs has become a mainstay for many couples before they start a family, and establishing that bond with a furry housemate isn't taken lightly.
That's not to say that cats are not affected by the big event; they are. There's just no denying how differently our culture has integrated canines into family life.
While the majority of families with dogs have a plan in place to ease into their new life with a baby, far too many lack resources and knowledge to do so and the end result is all too common: Fido ends up being relinquished to a shelter or re-homed because of "lack of time" and behavioral issues that arise with said dog.
Making life with baby and your pooch work can be done with some mindfulness and preparation.
When should you start preparing? Now.
Chances are, your dog knows that something is up because canines pick up so acutely on our emotions and non-verbal communication. The earlier that you start, the better!
Oh, there's that term again. So what does it mean? So much more than one might think.
Sure it means dogs and other animals, and humans — but think outside of that box. It's the world-at-large that includes sights, smells, auditory input and their humans' engagement with others.
The noise and activity level that accompany having babies and toddlers around is so different than that of one that is a strictly grown-up existence, and that can be daunting for a pooch who's not accustomed to it.
My advice: socialize them with little ones early in their life, regardless of where you're at in yours. Life has a way of taking you by surprise.
Try to look at things from your pet's vantage point. Seeing you share your time, hands-on, with other babies, toddlers — and children of all ages really — won't be such a shock to them if they see you doing it well before your own baby arrives.
To dogs who've not had a lot of experience with babies and toddlers, babies are odd little creatures who smell funny, might move a little too quickly for their liking and are audibly inappropriate! These are all sensory inputs that can make a dog who hasn't spent a lot of time with an infant feel very unsettled.
Dogs really don't understand that you don't have time to walk them or engage in their favorite game, but their needs don't change after the baby's arrival.
It's understandable that, physically, it might be difficult for a new mom to manage in the final weeks before the birth, and then recovery. Post-birth, it's also difficult for both parents, with lack of sleep and demands of an infant and the household.
When you consider having a little help from others before and after your bundle of joy comes home, don't forget your pooch. Ask a pet-loving friend or family member to pitch in and take Fido for a daily walk or engage in some extended playtime, or hire a dog walker or pet sitter to fill in the gaps. Remember, a reasonably tired dog is a well-behaved one!
Having said that, when you're a dog, nothing takes the place of attention from your own people to make you feel good. Even small increments of one-on-one time are beneficial.
Never mind the man-cave; dogs like their own space, too
I always recommend crate training for dogs, regardless of the situation. Crates are the perfect way to offer pooches some respite from the craziness of the family's new life and to have a place in the house that is just theirs.
If your dog hasn't been crated before, keep one thing in mind: keep it positive.
Outfitting the crate with a comfy bed is essential. Too introduce a crate, place the dog's favorite toys and most valued treats inside. Let Fido explore his new doggie cave at his own pace without forcing him to go inside. Offer lots of praise and offer a treat when he goes in on his own. Until he seems comfortable with his crate, keep the door open and let your dog meander in and out as he wishes.
Introducing the crate — hopefully months — before the baby arrives is crucial, but another consideration is key: location.
Place the crate in a quiet spot away from the nursery, Mom and Dad's room and other common areas of the home. (Remember, those first few weeks might include family staying with you to help out and visitors dropping by, and an out-of-the-way area would be ideal.)
Obedience training is a must
Good manners are essential for dogs, and they are even more important when you've got your hands full with a newborn. Skills beyond sit, stay and come need to be mastered, and if you don't know how to communicate these to your dog, learn how. Click here for considerations on choosing the right teacher and classes for your family no matter the age of your dog. Not all classes are created equal.
Behavior problems increase when dogs are stressed. The last thing that a new parent needs is to worry about existing behaviors such as jumping or aggression and other unwanted behaviors like being destructive.
Resolving these problems before baby comes is paramount, and knowing how to find the right professional to help is important. Click here for resources on doing that.
Here's a dog and a baby who have obviously gotten off on the right foot.