Congratulations! You're going to be a parent! You've got the crib and the play mat and your mom agreed to come help out a few days a week. You've scoped daycares and downloaded three different "what to expect" books to your Nook. The shower was a success, your friends are eager and your family is supportive. There's only one member of the household unaware that life's about to turn upside down: your dog.
It is easy to overlook how this huge event will affect the animal who, up until now, was your little bundle of joy. Here are a few tips to help a ruff transition.
Adjusting to Change
What many expecting parents miss is preparing their dog for the changes that seem small to us but are huge to him. The fact that Mommy will not be walking him for a few weeks may be confusing, especially since Daddy only walks him around the block quickly (and skips the dog park).
Sudden new rules, like not being aloud up on the couch to snuggle when the baby is present, being scolded for coming to say hi while Mommy is feeding the baby and being chased out of the nursery (which used to be the office where he could hang out all day) can create a great deal of pet stress. Worse still, it may make a negative association with the baby. Many folks say "he is great with kids" but remember other kids don't live in your house, grab at his things and suck up all your time and attention.
So prepare for these life changes. If Mom currently has specific dog duties that she won't be doing when the baby comes, ease them to Dad early. It will be better for everyone if this is done before game time and everyone is sleep deprived. That may be walking, feeding or trips to the dog park. Don't just assume you will squeeze it in. Plan for it, put it on your calendar and be dedicated. Don't skimp out, this is really important to your dog's successful adjustment.
Start teaching your dog that she may not jump up on you when you (or anyone) comes in. Same goes for the couch or bed or chair without being invited. This may be mind-boggling to your dog and will take time. Better to start now than to start while caring for a newborn and worry about accidental scratches or other injuries.
Redirect your dog to sit, then praise him for this opposing behavior. This will teach your dog that your attention is gained not by jumping and insisting, but by sitting and patiently waiting for your acknowledgment. Then, if you want him to come up on the couch for a belly-rub at an appropriate time, you can invite him up. It's that waiting for an invite that's important. As he gets better at this, start holding a doll or pillow as though it was the most important thing in the world. Let him get use to this sight and the idea that something else has your full attention and that this is okay. Be sure to give attention to your dog here and there while he is being good.
Get a dog bed for the corner of the nursery and teach him to sit and wait at the nursery door until he is invited in. Once invited in, teach him that the bed is the place to go. This teaches him that he can still be part of the action but in a calm, controlled way that is more appropriate at this time.
Put some baby toys and objects out for him to investigate but discourage him from laying on them or chewing them. He needs to know that your home will be filled with plush objects that are not his. This is a huge challenge for many dogs. Basic obedience and strong leadership are paramount in this adjustment. If neither is well established, start establishing them now. I can't stress it enough.
Olfactory and Auditory Exposure
To prepare your pooch for the stork's package you will need to desensitize him to the sights, sounds and smells of his new little brother or sister.
Most dog owners will tell me that they know to bring a blanket home from the hospital for the dog to smell. But then what? I encourage people to run through a little obedience routine and feed a few meals (that the dog must sit and wait for) while holding something with the baby's scent on it. This establishes deference to the scent and gets the dog comfortable and familiar with it. This responsibility will probably be Dad's.
When my daughter was born just under two years ago, I went as far as bringing a dirty diaper home from the hospital for my dog, Max. Max was about 16 years old at the time. He was (and still is) essentially blind, deaf and a little senile. Considering his nose drives his life I wanted to leave no stone unturned.
Clear communication and ironclad, consistent non-aggressive leadership made his transition easy. I also encourage expecting parents to play some sounds of babies crying for their dogs in the weeks leading up to the big day.
Technology has made a huge impact on my training business. You can find an array of stressful sounds on YouTube to use in desensitization protocols. Find a screaming baby video and play it quietly during training, belly rubs, playtime, and meals. This will help prepare Fido for the onslaught of new sounds that will be filling the house. Start with the volume down and slowly raise it until it becomes background noise to your dog. Pair that up with you holding a baby doll and it's a double whammy. This may seem silly and like more work then you signed on for, but a few minutes a day will do the trick. I have found this to be a very effective tool and strongly urge you to try it and stick with it.
At last you are bringing your brand new son or daughter home!
After a white-knuckled drive from the hospital, it is time for introductions. Since Mom has been away for a day or two I would be sure she gets to say "hi" first. If she is carrying the baby she will most likely recoil or turn her back when the dog comes to greet her. This can frustrate and upset your dog and start things off on an awkward foot. Once the dog has said hello to you both, you can sit down on the couch and let her sniff the baby. This is, of course, contingent on the dog's temperament and how far you have come in the training, but for most well-adjusted dogs it should be fine.
After you have settled in and Fido is off napping in the corner you are free to stare with horror and elation at the new life you have created. The first three to six months will be the most challenging of your life but I can speak from experience, the payoff is like nothing you will experienced as long as you live. Enjoy!
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