Many pet parents dote on their pets long before children enter the picture. But when they do, how do you gracefully make the transition to parenting human babies while making sure your fur baby knows they are loved, too? And how do you make sure your dog and baby start off on the right foot -- or paw? Here are 5 things you can do to make a smooth adjustment from a pet-only parent to one with a baby.
1. Correct behavior issues
As a pet parent, you never imagine you would have to do the unthinkable – find a new home for your dog. But when a baby enters the picture, an undertrained dog could do some serious damage. Many pet parents have had to face this heart-breaking decision.
It’s hard to imagine, yet an unfortunate aspect of pet parenting; many pet parents are surprised to find they don’t have the resources left to deal with an ill-behaved dog when they need to focus on keeping their child well-cared-for, happy, and safe. Training away any behavior problems such as barking, aggression, or jumping before the baby comes will help keep your dog a treasured member of the family.
If you’re having trouble getting your pet’s behavior under control, then consider hiring a professional dog trainer or taking your dog to obedience classes.
2. Prepare your home environment
Bringing a baby into the home will be a big change for your dog. It’s best to set up the nursery and make any other planned changes to your home well in advance of the baby’s arrival so your dog has plenty of time to acclimate.
You may want to choose which areas, if any, will be off-limits to your pet. Conversely, you may want to create a special space for your pet so they can sleep and relax as needed. Consider installing baby or pet gates to cordon off a room or an area so that you will be able to be alone with your baby and so your dog may retreat away from the sounds (loud crying!) and activities (diaper changes!) associated with the baby.
3. Practice walking your dog with a stroller
If you’ll need to take walks with your dog and the baby, it’s best for all concerned if you take a few practice runs with the dog and the empty stroller before the baby comes home. This way you can teach your dog how to behave while you’re pushing the stroller.
You may find you need to do some extra training, especially if your dog tends to pull on the leash or if they are distracted by the presence of the stroller. Keep the training positive and reward based, with lots of praise for following the “heel” command, where your dog keeps his head or shoulder next to your leg. You may also want to have your dog practice “sit” and “stay” at random moments while you fuss with the stroller, as you may need to adjust a blanket or retrieve a pacifier while walking with the baby.
4. Acclimate your dog to baby behavior
While it will be hard to replicate the real deal, you may get your dog used to the idea of what things will be like with a baby in the house and how they’re expected to act. Cradle, rock and jiggle a doll gently in your arms, like you would a baby, in front of your dog to see how they respond. Obviously any jumping or grabbing behavior will need to be corrected.
Sit down while cradling the doll to repeat the exercise. Try walking, burping, and soothing the doll; it may seem a bit ridiculous, but imagine from your pet’s point of view. These actions seem almost like you’re tempting them with a toy. It’s important to show your dog that the baby isn’t for them.
If your dog has never heard a baby’s cries before, consider finding a recording of a baby crying to play for them. If you have a baby swing, leave the swing running so your dog can get used to the motion. However, when the baby comes, don’t plan to leave the baby alone with your pet, especially in the swing, as some otherwise peaceful dogs can get aggressive in this situation.
5. Get your dog accustomed to divided attention
If your dog has been the only show in town and has been doted on by their pet parents without anyone else to steal the spotlight, bringing a baby into the picture can be a rude awakening for your dog. Suddenly, they are no longer cast as the lead and have to settle for a supporting role. Ideally, you have friends, family, or neighbors with children who don’t mind coming over for a visit so that your dog can know what it’s like to share your attention with a baby before it becomes a round-the-clock experience.
Of course, your dog’s needs will still have to be met -- even as a new mom recovers from birth and in the hectic and sleep deprived months after the baby comes. Many families make arrangements to have meals brought to the house or to get help with cleaning, but don’t forget about what might help your dog through the transition as well. Perhaps a friend or a professional dog walker could play or go for walks with your dog, making sure they stay well-exercised. It may seem small, but it can go a long way towards preventing behavior issues.
If you follow these 5 tips, you will be on your way to helping your dog make the transition from solo-act to welcoming their human sibling with open paws.
More on Dog Behavior
5 Steps To Obedience Training
Teaching Your Dogs Basic Commands
20 Dog Commands You Need To Know