Aww you’re having a baby, congratulations!
So having a baby is a huge life change, right? Sure, you’ll still be having plenty of late nights, but these ones will probably be filled with crying, vomiting and grotesque toilet accidents that are not your own.
Everything pretty much turns upside down when you bring home your little bundle of joy/chaos. Routines are more likely to involve three-hourly feeding, nappy changes, baths, settling, and working in rest for yourself somehow somewhere, and less likely to involve popping down to the local cafe for a latte or a lazy Sunday breakfast. I liken newborn babies to tiny, tyrannical dictators, who control your life in every way and essentially turn parents into sleep-deprived zombies.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE babies… My son is nearly two years old now and we have another on the way. They are special, magical, breathtaking little creatures that steal your heart and never give it back – but they are also damn hard work.
So what does this all mean for four-legged family members?
Well, dogs love predictability. They love routines, and consistency makes them feel relaxed and secure. More sensitive dogs will pick up that something’s going on way before baby arrives. Mum’s getting fat and doesn’t want to take them running anymore, and their favorite room has been filled with strange new furniture and is off limits now. Just when Fido starts to get used to this gross injustice, out of nowhere appears a very small loud thing that smells, sounds, and moves differently than anything he’s ever seen before, and it doesn’t go away. This can be downright terrifying for dogs.
It’s really important to understand that your dog may not immediately ‘love’ the baby, or comprehend that he or she is part of the family. Another very common mistake people make is thinking that their dog is jealous of the baby. Jealousy is a very human emotion, and it is much more likely that the dog is experiencing anxiety. That predictability she loves has gone out the window. Forget about the daily walks and nights sitting up on mum’s lap being petted in front of the tv, she’s lucky if she even gets her dinner on time.
For this reason, the more time and effort you can spend preparing your dog for baby’s arrival the more likely you are to have a smooth transition where everyone’s happy and no one tries to eat anyone else.
So what can you do to ease the transition for your pooch?
Play with your dog… LESS
This sounds horribly mean and counter-intuitive, but what we really want to do is work out how much time and attention the canine member(s) of the household will realistically be able to have from you when bub comes home and start to work towards this gradually. What we absolutely 100% do not want is a dog who gets to spend hours inside on the couch every day, who abruptly gets kicked out permanently the SAME DAY as baby arrives.
This is asking for trouble, and leads on to our next point…
Make the baby a good thing!
The best thing you can do for dogs and babies alike is to create positive associations with the bubba for the dog. This may mean nice doggy treats on hand for when baby is present, or mom having a nice cuddle or play with the dog while dad holds baby. After proper preparation going for walks together with baby in pram can be great too.
Do not punish the dog around the baby (or ever, punishment is a very ineffective training tool that rarely works and can increase anxiety). If doggy does something you don’t like, the best option in most cases is to redirect him to an appropriate behavior then reward it. An example of this is hanging around under the highchair waiting to catch some dropped tasty morsel. If you don’t mind that, no problem. If you do, shouting at the dog to get lost may work temporarily, but is a poor solution. Instead ask her to sit on her mat and then reward with a delicious treat. Otherwise you end up yelling at her every single meal time, and ain’t nobody got time for that!
Training and comfort with basic commands is hugely beneficial preparation for home where dogs and babies must coexist. Before bubs is born make sure Mr Barkalot knows how to sit, stay, come, drop it and go to their mat or bed reliably on command. When you have a baby in your arms you need your dog to be able to respond to verbal commands.
Reward calm, quiet behavior
This is how you want your dog to act around the small alien one, so now is the time to stop the crazy, rough, out-of-control games (I’m mainly talking to you, dad). At the very least restrict that sort of play to the great outdoors. Reward your dog when they are calm and quiet – start now. You could do this by offering him a special treat now and again when he is chilling on his bean bag and minding his own business.
For safety we also need to be aware of early warning signs that you might have a problem. You need to be able to read your dog’s body language and assess whether he is relaxed, a little anxious, or shit scared and ready to bite. This is beyond the scope of this short article, but you may be surprised. Things such as yawning, lip-licking, looking sideways so you can see the whites of his eyes and staying very still are some of the signs that your dog may be quite anxious and uncomfortable with the situation. Did you know that a wagging tail, if held very high and moving stiffly, can be a warning sign that a dog is about the become aggressive?
Do yourself a favor and check out this youtube video showing canine body language and facial expressions.
Now I’m gonna put something in bold cos this bit’s crucial – please repeat this mantra 31 times whenever you think of your baby/peanut/jelly bean/Cletus the fetus/insert random name here.
NEVER, EVER, LEAVE DOGS AND BABIES ALONE TOGETHER
CONSTANT adult supervision of baby and dog is required, and you should be within arms reach of one if not both of them if they are in the same space together. It doesn’t matter how much you trust your dog, it is simply not worth the risk. ANY dog can bite. The fact is, the majority of all dog bites occur in and around the home from a dog familiar to the child, and it may be from something as innocent as a toddler reaching out to cuddle a dog in a way it finds threatening.
For further information about dogs and babies I recommend the book Tell Your Dog You’re Pregnant: An Essential Guide for Dog Owners Who Are Expecting a Baby by Dr Lewis Kirkham. I have ready this book cover to cover and it also includes audio of baby sounds and nice clear instructions on how they can be used to prepare your dog for baby’s arrival. Please also visit Dr Kirkham’s excellent website, babyandpet.com.au