By Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB, San Francisco SPCA
A new baby in your home is an exciting, yet challenging time for everyone, including your dog. The time to prepare your pet for the arrival of your new little one is as soon as you know you are expecting. If your dog has several months to learn the new rules and routines, the chances for a peaceful transition are better.
Before the Baby Arrives
• If you have behavioral concerns of any kind, it’s important to address them now with a behavior professional. It is especially important to use a non-confrontational training approach when you are laying a foundation that will include children in the dog’s future as confrontational approaches have scientifically been shown to increase aggression. The San Francisco SPCA offers many different options of behavior support including courses, private training or an evaluation by our board certified veterinary behavior specialist. Also, please reach out to your veterinarian for support.
• Ensure that your dog is comfortable in the presence of (small) children. Now is the time to design a plan with your behavior professional to acclimate your dog, in a controlled and safe environment, to being around (small) children. Your dog might have to be desensitized and counter-conditioned to being around children, which can take some time.
• Establish a routine of being in certain locations in the home, including possible introduction to new restrictions such as baby gates or crates. Place a dog bed in the nursery, and practice with your dog to ‘stay’ for extended periods of time. This will help him later to stay at a safe distance, while still being part of the action. Reward him with treats for remaining tranquil and calm. The MannersMinder (aka Treat & Train) is a great tool to help your dog learn an extended ‘stay’ while allowing you to reward remotely.
• Develop a routine for interactions and daily routines that will match the new life style of the future.
• Allow your dog to become familiar with the items and smells of the nursery, as well as the new baby equipment; for example, going on walks with a stroller or traveling in the car in a crate.
After the Baby Comes Home
• Establish boundaries from the beginning to keep the baby safe at all times, 100% supervision is needed with all dogs.
• Give your dog time to get gradually acquainted with your baby’s new scent and noises.
• Continue a regular routine of daily exercise. It provides both mental and physical stability. If it seems too overwhelming in the beginning, think of hiring a dog walker, or take him to a doggy day care for a few hours per day.
• Give your dog attention when your baby is awake, and have him relax when the baby is sleeping. This way you will get some rest as well and your dog will learn that when the baby is around he is getting his attention and love as well.