With the surge of baby bump announcements happening around me recently, I thought it would be a good time to look at what we can do to help set our dogs up for the arrival of a new baby.
If you have recently found out that you are expecting, then congratulations to you and your family! I hope you have a safe and healthy delivery.
When babies come into the mix, as much as we like to think that the routine for our dogs is not going to change, it will. There are no two ways about it, but it doesn’t mean that your dog has to miss out either or struggle when their usual routine falls short of their expectations.
What we want to be doing is preparing our dogs for those changes that will inevitably take place, so that it causes little upset to our furry friend. By putting in the work now, ahead of the arrival time, we can help our dogs adjust and thrive in a new routine.
One of the best things that you can do for your dog is to help prepare them for the changes that are going to happen. Don’t leave this to the last minute as adapting to changes takes time.
Here are my 7 top tips to help set your dog up for success when it comes to expecting and introducing a baby.
1 - Reduce the dog's exercise. As much as you want to believe that you will still be able to manage a dog's daily exercise routine, things will happen that can prevent you from fulfilling this. After birth, especially complicated births, there is going to be a recovery period for mum which can prevent you from being able to exercise.
Also, if you don’t know it yet, you will be sleep deprived. In the first few weeks of having a newborn baby it is a case of survival and getting through each day until a routine falls into place with the baby. There will be days where you are simply too tired to want to get up and take the dog out for a walk.
The weather also may not be favourable, and though previously you may have walked the dog in all weathers, you may feel a bit different to taking a newborn out in the snow or when it is raining heavily.
If this change has not been put in place prior to the baby arriving and the dog is in a routine of expecting to go for a walk each day and then that walk doesn’t happen, it can have an affect on the dogs behaviour.
For some dogs a sudden change in routine can cause anxiety, stress and/or over arousal issues. As a result, this may create unwanted behaviours such as destroying something they shouldn't, pacing, whining and jumping all over the place.
And believe me, when you are super tired and have your hands full managing a crying baby, it is going to be hard to deal with the dog's behaviour too. So start reducing the dog's amount of exercise.
This moves me nicely onto my next step.
(We want less of this)
2 - Change up the exercise routine. If your dog expects a walk at a certain time every day or it is used to a certain form of exercise, ie, running, then you want to start varying when the dog is walked, the type of exercise that they are receiving and the length of time the dog is being exercised for.
We want to help get the dog used to the fact that at 5pm everyday they may not get a walk. Start changing the times around and try to be unpredictable with this, as we don’t want to be setting a dog into another set routine. Go for a walk one day in the morning, the next day at night, skip a day of exercise and then do an afternoon walk on the fourth day.
We want to vary the type of walk or exercise the dog gets too. The walks may not always be a trip in the car and down to the beach. Some days may be a simple walk around the block where the dog is kept on the lead, and is not always so fast paced and all about the running.
We also want to vary the length of time the dog is being exercised, especially if your dog is used to walking a certain distance or a set amount of time. Once you have a baby, you may not always be able to fulfil that routine.
I see this a lot with new parents: In the lead up to the birth of the baby, parents want to spend as much time as they can with the dog and tend to go for long walks. Then suddenly the baby is here and that simply isn't possible which creates frustration, stress, anxiety and can lead to behaviour problems in the dog.
So do an hour's walk one day, but the next day it may only be 20 minutes, followed by a rest day. Then the fourth day the dog may get a 40 minute walk.
I know humans like routine, but the unpredictability will help set your dog up for what is to come.
3 - Increase rest, sleep and overall calmness. With reducing exercise sometimes we can fall into the pitfall of providing lots of other ways to keep them busy. As much as we can and should include other forms of enrichment to stimulate our dog, we also want to show them that resting and sleep is ok too.
I always recommend to my clients that they provide their dog with its own space. A space that the dog can take themselves off to and rest when needed. Because when you have a newborn, especially in the first few weeks, it's going to be hectic.
You are more than likely going to be surrounded by friends and families. You will also be surrounded by gifts and food, (if this is your first child and you don’t know yet, everyone likes to make sure the mother is being fed well!). Add on top the baby on your lap, bottles, nappies and clothes being at your side, there is going to be little space around you for the dog at times too.
For me personally, it’s very over stimulating with all of that going on and it gives me a slight feeling of claustrophobia, and then to have a dog trying to push its way in and be on top of you too, whilst you're tired, can be too much.
If you haven't prepared your dog for this, it can certainly feel like you are pushing your dog out of the picture. So prepare them for it. Give them their own space where all good things happen there. I would recommend a crate or a room with a safety gate where all their favourite things can be given. Food and treats get given in that space, they have a comfy bed and toys, and we really make it their place to be.
If your dog is not crate trained and a crate is new to them, it's important that we spend at least 2 weeks getting them used to the crate before we start shutting the door on the crate.
4 - Set up gated communities and management. Work on making the crate the best place to be with your dog.
A child, especially a young, defenceless baby, should never be left alone with a dog. It doesn't matter if the dog has been brought up with you since a puppy and is used to older children, a dog should never be left alone in the same room as a baby or child.
These are for times when you need to make a bottle for the baby or you need to get a new change of clothes as the baby has been sick - and guess what, you are going to want to wee, get washed and dressed at some point too and you will be unable to supervise the dog with the baby at all times.
So prep your house, have safety gates up or crates in place. This will enable you to separate the dog for those short periods of time when you need to nip to the loo or answer the door or make a bottle for the baby.
I have a safety gate put up in my kitchen, a crate in the living room and a crate in the bedroom. So no matter where I am with a child, I have ways in which I can separate them safely to enable me to disappear from view for a few minutes.
Even 30 seconds from your view is not worth the safety of your baby and dog.
5 - Practise carrying a ‘baby’. I know this may sound silly and the thought of doing it may be cringy to some, but we want the dog to be used to seeing us carrying a baby. We want the dog to practise being calm around us holding something.
What we do not want is a dog that is super excited to see and get to whatever it is you are holding. This can create a dog that is jumping up, trying to grab and potentially nip at what you are holding. And at some stage, that is going to be a baby.
Carrying an object (as if you are carrying a baby) should be pretty normal for the dog and not a new experience. It should also be low key, no excitement and pretty boring for the dog.
When it does come to bringing the baby home, we want to stick to the same process. Where we are not getting the dog super excited to see or greet the baby and we are not setting the baby up to potentially becoming the dog's new exciting toy.
6 - Get the dog used to baby noises. For some dogs they have never experienced the piercing sound of a baby crying and babies can cry for long periods sometimes. Trust me, you cannot just switch it off (I have searched for the off button myself)!
We want to play the sounds of babies in the background at a low level, so the dog can just about hear it but is not phased by it. We want the sound of the baby to become everyday background noise, like the tv or washing machine in the background.
When you are playing these noises you can work with your dog on its calmness and settling in their safe space or crate. You can play games with the dog or give them a chew, Kong or Licki mat. Over the next few weeks you can work on turning up the level of the crying sounds.
What we want to avoid is the dog becoming too excited or aroused over the sound.
7 - Teach the dog an out, back up or to bed cue. There are going to be times that you need the dog to walk away, to get out from under your feet and give you space. If you are not yet in the know, I am going to give you a real life example of why these cues are useful.
There will be times when the baby has what is called an explosion, and if you don't know, this is where poop has leaked from the nappy, potentially going up the baby’s back (real life lessons here ;) ) and you are going to need to be very hands on with the baby and control this situation.
What we don’t need, in this moment of time which is often fuelled with panic and thinking ‘what on earth do I do?’ is a dog added into the picture. We don’t want a dog wanting to be involved and we need to be able to create space.
It’s easy in moments like this to be frustrated or panic and this is a time where we may naturally shout at the dog and in reality, the dog has done nothing wrong. So we should teach the dog a behaviour, which creates a little bit of distance, giving us time to sort things out as ‘stress-free’ as possible.
Have I sold you parenthood yet? Don’t worry, you WILL get through it, like I said, those first few weeks are like playing a survival game but you will come out of it stronger in the end.
If you are expecting a baby or have had a baby and would like help preparing your dog then get in touch with one of our accredited & qualified dog trainers by clicking onto Find a Dog Trainer.
If you have an older child and are wanting ways to ensure you keep your children & dog safe, then please click here to check out my blog on that.