By Jodi Hartley

For many people your dog is the first “baby” in the household. The addition of a human baby to the family makes significant changes to your family dynamic and can cause stress and anxiety for your furry family member. Preparing your dog before baby arrives will help to lessen the stress and make the new addition a joyful experience for your dog.

Make sure your pet is healthy and has all the medications he needs

Your life will be quite hectic when baby arrives so take your dog to the vet for a well check before baby arrives. Make sure he is up to date on vaccinations and has several months’ supply of flea and heartworm preventative and any other medications he needs regularly. If not already, spay or neuter your dog. Spaying and neutering prevents several health issues and contribute to a calmer, gentler dog by eliminating hormones that cause aggressive and territorial behavior.

Work on his training

If your dog hasn’t done any obedience training, now is the time to enroll in a training class. Basic obedience training enables you to communicate with your dog and teaches him important manners for interacting with your baby. If your dog has had obedience training, brush up on his commands and work to resolve any issues such as jumping up, mouthing, barking or possessiveness. Dogs who are on the anxious side may benefit from learning “targeting” to channel their nervousness.

Introduce him to the sights, sounds and smells of a baby

A dog’s sense of smell and sound is far superior to ours so all the new smells and sounds that come with a baby can be frightening or intensify curiosity. Babies come with a lot of “stuff” that will invade your dog’s space like cribs, vibrating bouncy chairs, squeaky toys, swings, playpens, etc. Try to set up these things and let your dog get used to new scents such as baby powder, diapers, wipes and baby wash well before baby arrives to give your dog a chance to get used to them. Purchase a CD with baby sounds or play videos of babies on the computer to familiarize your dog with the sounds babies make. Carry a doll around with you and go through some of the activities you’ll be doing with the baby such feeding, diaper changes and baths. Hold the baby while you’re sitting on the furniture as this will be a big change for lap dogs. Make every introduction positive by offering treats and positive reinforcement.

Implement household and schedule changes

Set up the baby’s room as soon as possible and decide if your dog will be allowed in the baby’s room once she arrives. Allow your dog to check out the room and it’s contents. If you don’t want the dog in the room after baby arrives, implement that now after he gets to see what is in there. You can keep the door closed or install a screen door or baby gate if you want him to be able to see you but not be in the room. If your dog will be allowed in the room, make a special place for him to lie in the room and train him to go there when in the room. The same goes for furniture and your bed. If your dog is permitted on the furniture or your bed, and you think you may not want him there after the baby arrives, begin that change now so it’s not negatively associated with the baby.

If your dog is especially bonded to mom, begin having dad or another family member spend more time with him and feeding, walking and playing with him. Mom won’t be able to spend as much time with him once baby arrives so it is important for your dog to be used to someone else and get used to not having as much attention. Think about how your schedule may change once baby arrives and begin implementing it with your dog. You may want to vary feeding and walking times in case you can’t stick with an exact schedule once the baby comes home. Start taking your walks while pushing a stroller or wearing your doll in a baby carrier. Also consider how and where your dog rides in the car. You may need to implement a change there to keep both him and the baby safe.

Provide him with a quiet, safe place to retreat

Consider crate training if your dog isn’t already. It is especially helpful for your dog to have the comfort and safety of his own space when baby arrives. He can go there to escape the activity of a new baby, and it provides a secure space for him as you have visitors coming and going. If a crate isn’t an option, make sure your dog has a quiet space in the house where he can retreat.

Outside sources of pet care during the first few weeks

If you plan to hire a pet sitter or dog walker to help out while you’re having the baby and for the first few weeks home, interview and make a selection well before your due date. This gives the sitter or walker time to get to know your dog and vice versa. Begin having the sitter/walker visit a month or more before your due date.

If you plan to board your dog, have him stay a night or two before the baby arrives so he is used to it. Day camp is a great option as well to make sure your dog gets to burn off energy and have fun. If he’s not already attending day camp, enroll him now and make sure he continues after the baby arrives.

The next article will address bringing home baby.

Article References:

ASPCA: Preparing Your Dog for a New Baby

Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, Cornell University: Preparing your pet for the arrival of a new baby