by Jessica J. Lehr, KPA CTP
Congratulations! Your're expecting a new baby. But what about your four-legged baby?
When my husband and I welcomed our new puppy into our lives (and hearts) he quickly became our focal point. Our evening and weekend activities included trips to our local dog park, a racing club, lure coursing, community dog-friendly events, and even doggie swim lessons! He was our furry prince, and we were so proud.
The addition of a newborn can be a traumatic experience for your dog. His once quiet evenings curled next to you on the couch will soon be interrupted by a noisy and demanding newborn. Those regularly scheduled morning walks soon to replaced by exhaustive diaper changes and feedings. From your dog’s perspective, the parents that once adored him are now focused on someone else.
So, when I found out we were expecting our first child, I knew a proactive approach to training was necessary. But where do I start?
1) Brush up on manners and self-control
Basic manners (e.g. polite greetings, mine/take it, wait, recall, polite walking, etc.) are important behaviors for your dog to know well before your baby arrives. However, teaching your dog to settle on a mat or rug can be the one of the most valuable pre-baby behaviors for your dog to learn. This behavior can be extremely useful to cue your dog to settle quietly while you are cradling your newborn and is an incompatible behavior to other undesirable behaviors such as jumping on family and friends who stop by to meet your newborn.
2) Desensitize to baby sounds and smells
We’ve all heard the generic advice of bringing the baby blanket home from the hospital for your dog to smell. But olfactory and auditory desensitization should start long before your trip to the delivery room. Apps and CDs such as, "Babies” by Terry Ryan along with clicker training in small approximations can be used to influence your dog’s emotional state when hearing baby noises (e.g. crying, cooing, babbling, etc.) Use baby lotions and soaps periodically to introduce your dog to the smell.
3) Introduce equipment
Feed two birds with one seed by preparing for the arrival of your newborn by setting up needed equipment (e.g. crib, car seat, and stroller) - all while helping your dog form positive associations with it. Set up the car seat and drive your pooch to the park, walk him with that empty stroller, and let him explore that newly decorated nursery for opportunities to earn delicious treats – all while simultaneously providing your dog with positive associations with the crib, changing table, rocking chair, etc.
4) Safe Zone Designation
Just like we need a place and plan to retreat from stressful situations, so do canines. Teaching your dog to "walk away "and go to their “safe zone" (e.g. a crate) when a newborn or other stressor emerges can help circumvent aggressive behavior.
5) Have a plan.
You’ve planned for just about everything – your birth plan is written and ready to go, you’ve packed the hospital bag, the diapers are fully stocked and neatly arranged. You’ve even planned for a dog sitter for your hospital stay, or maybe your partner will pop in for head pats and kibble refills. But what about a plan for that oh’ so important new human to canine introduction?
And if you are thinking “Oh, it will be ok.” – Think again. Consult a certified dog trainer, with experience in newborn/canine integration to get started on preparing your dog for your new arrival!