baby

"Give them a safe-zone." How to prepare your dog for when you bring home a new baby.

The wild hormones, the sleepless nights, the aching private bits, the scream of a newborn baby… nothing can really prepare you for becoming a first-time parent. Bringing your baby home is daunting on its own, let alone trying to prepare your dog for your new arrival.

In this post, I'll do my best to give you some little tips and advice to help ensure that your dog’s world isn’t entirely flipped upside down when the baby arrives.

Watch: Your dog can tell when you're unhappy. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

The Blanket.

There is a big misconception that getting your dog to smell a blanket from your baby whilst you are in hospital, is EVERYTHING when it comes to preparation for your dog. 

Let your dog sniff the blanket and they are prepared for your baby to come home... How your dog responds to the blanket is how your dog will be when you bring baby home...

But this is NOT the case. Unfortunately, I’m sorry to say, it’s just not as simple as that. Believe it or not, your dog has already smelt so many different changes on you in the lead up to the arrival of your baby, your changes in hormones, possibly your milk production and the amniotic fluid surrounding the baby.

Think about this: when you have new visitors in your house, do you ask each of them to send something prior to coming so you can prepare you dog? Of course not! 

We don’t want to make a big deal about them, nor do we want to make a big deal about the baby coming home. 

In saying that, bringing the blanket home is tangible and people like to do it. 

I’m not going to lie, I did it. BUT, I didn’t make a big deal about it, and that is the important part. If this is something you would like to do, don’t make a big fuss about it, because we want our dogs to be calm around the baby. 

Make it short and sweet. Let them sniff and if they are calm, give them a little treat and move on. There is SO much more that we can do to help our dogs than just a blanket, so please keep reading!

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Communication.

One of the most important messages I hope to get out to parents and expecting parents is that dogs and humans communicate differently.

We are different species'. We humans show affection with hugs and kisses but to a dog that can actually be quite a scary thing. 

A dog will often show this with subtle signs, like a lick lip, a yawn, turning their head, a closed, tense mouth, shaking off or something we call half moon eyes (which is when they really show the whites of their eyes). Or a not-so-subtle sign like a growl or baring its teeth. Although these may seem scary, they are also a form of communication and we should be thankful for them. 

It is our job as the dog's owner and the parent to see these signs, before they turn into a bite, and point them out to our kids. In those moments, we need step back and give the dog some space or time out.

During pregnancy, it’s important to start looking out for these signs. Watch the way your dog responds if you try to hug them or pat them in a certain spot. Watch how your dog is around other dogs. Watch how your dog responds to different sounds and different people. 

Being able to understand the way they communicate and being there to protect them will be an incredibly powerful tool in building and strengthening your relationship with your dog and down the track, your children’s relationship with your dog.

Basic Manners.

Positive reinforcement is key to training a happy dog to have a great bond with both you and (in time) your kids. 

In your early stages of pregnancy, one of the first things I tell parents is to get to work on teaching your dog basic manners. 

Have a handful of really sound skills up your sleeve. Never use punishment. Punishing a dog or using force doesn’t teach a dog what to do in a given situation and can actually make them become fearful. 

Teaching them skills using positive reinforcement does teach them what to do. It gives us behaviours that we can ask our dogs to do in those moments where they feel unsure.

The main ones I suggest you work on teaching your dog are to “sit”, “down”, “stay”, “on your bed”, “leave it” and loose leash walking. You want your dog to be able to do all of these skills, no matter where you are and what distractions are around. 

So start simple and build up to that. Ultimately, you want to know that if you were holding a screaming baby and your dog was feeling stressed and trying to jump on you, you could ask them to go to their bed and they would listen. 

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The Change. 

From being your only child, your dog will very quickly move down the ranks when you bring that baby home. 

Dogs love routine. So before the baby arrives, start to think about some of the changes that might occur to your dog’s world and start to introduce them before the bub arrives.

So if your dog lies on your lap when you are on the couch, but you know that when you are breastfeeding/bottle feeding, you will not want your dog on your lap. I suggest changing things now. 

You can teach your dog that when you lie on the couch, they get to have their own special spot on a bed on the floor or a special place on the couch and when they go there, good things happen, like yummy treats or a favourite toy! 

Or, if you don’t want the dog going into the baby’s room, you could put the baby gate up now. Get them used to it so it’s not new when the baby comes. 

If you don’t think you will be able to walk your dog at 8am every day like you do now, start mixing it up. 

Start to drip feed the changes to your dog a little bit at a time, rather than making all the changes at once which can be a lot for the dog to handle. 

If you do this before the baby arrives, your dog will be more relaxed and prepared when the baby comes home.

Equipment.

Set up your baby stuff before bringing your baby home and slowly, positively, expose your dog to it. 

From the cot to the bassinet, pram, play mat, bouncers, swings, change table, feeding chairs – there’s so much “stuff” when it comes to babies. 

And lots of it comes with movement, flashing lights, music - things that might be a little frightening or even a little exciting for your dog. 

Bring them out - let your dog sniff them out and get comfortable before turning on the sounds or movement. Do it slowly, and watch how your dog responds. 

Doing this before your baby is here will be a great way to get your pet to feel comfortable around these new items before a baby is in or on them.

The Walk.

Safety comes first. If you have a dog that is reactive when out walking or pulls on the lead, then it might not be something you will do alone with your baby and dog. 

You might walk with your partner, so one of you can have the baby and the other has the dog. 

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Taking your dog out when someone else is looking after your baby can also be really nice bonding time for you and your dog.

For those whose dogs are good walking on the lead and are not reactive when out walking, you can actually start practising getting your dog used to walking beside the pram before the baby arrives. 

The pram is generally a purchase that is made before the baby’s arrival, so it’s a good idea to get the dog comfortable around the pram without the baby in it to start with.

A little embarrassing yes – but so worth it! My dog Cooper learnt to walk so well with the pram and it’s really paid off as now we walk every day with no issues. 

If you are having difficulties walking your dog and this is something you really want to be able to do when the baby arrives, I suggest getting a positive trainer out straight away so you can start working on this.

The Touch.

Babies and kids are curious beings and like to explore with touch and feel – and despite constant supervision, your dog still might accidentally get in the firing line to some roaming baby fingers. 

So you need to get your dog used to being touched everywhere. Sit down every night with your dog and give them a rub down, make it nice but also throw in a couple of tugs followed by a treat. 

Touch every part of their body – paw pads, tail, inside the ears, mouth, everywhere. 

Not only does this help when going to the vet and being examined, but it also means that if your child or another child does pull on your dog's tail or step on a paw accidentally, your dog should hopefully not be as reactive to it as they have learnt that when this happens they usually receive a treat. 

In saying this, never ever leave your dog and baby together unattended.

Bec Judd and Monique Bowley discuss the final weeks, days and hours of pregnancy. Post continues below.

The Attention.

I know this may be super difficult for some, but a big pitfall is to give your dog extra attention in the lead up to having the baby. 

Some fur parents think this is a good idea because they feel bad that the baby is coming and they won’t have time for the dog. 

But if anything, it works the other way. If you start getting them used to having not as much attention in the lead up, then it will be easier for them when baby comes and hopeful they won’t be as needy. 

It’s also a good idea to make sure they have some great toys to entertain themselves on their own.

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Safe Zone.

Make sure your dog knows it has a safe kid-free area in your house. A crate, a playpen, an area sectioned off with baby-gates. 

Think about this now and start getting your dog used to being ok with separation in their safe zone. It will be a very important management tool for you with baby/toddlers when you are unable to have full supervision. 

For us, Cooper had a doggy door in those early baby days, and we would regularly find Cooper outside around 5.30-7pm (mad time in our house). More often than not, I wished I could have joined him for some peace and quiet.

Toys and Play.

Cooper loves squeaky toys! So very early on, my partner Jase and I made the decision that squeaky toys would be for the dog and not for the baby. 

He just gets so excited by them that we didn’t want to risk him bowling the baby over with excitement if a baby toy squeaked. The trade-off was that the baby would have soft toys and Cooper wouldn’t. 

So in the months before our daughter Harper was born, we removed all of Cooper’s soft toys and gave him different ropes and chew toys that looked different to the soft toys. 

That way he didn’t associate the removal of his soft toys with the arrival of baby Harper. So have a think about the toys you give your dog and if they will get confused with the baby's toys.

Also, start thinking about how you play with your dog. Babies from very early on mirror our behaviours. So we need to be mindful of this and not play too rough with our dogs in front of our children. 

If you sit on the floor and this is the start of rough play for your dog, start thinking how you might change this. 

When the baby is here, they spend a lot of time on the floor, doing tummy time in particular. So we need our dog to learn to be calm when we are on the floor.

Preparing to become a new parent is daunting and exciting all at the same time. There is so much you can do to help your dog before the baby arrives. Set yourself and your dog up for success and get started now.

Don’t take risks. Be safe and get in touch. And please, no matter how much you trust your dog, always ensure the dog and child are supervised.

Mel is a certified dog trainer, wife, and mother of two humans and one Golden Retriever. For more about the dos and don’ts of living with kids and dogs, visit her blog Cooper and Kids. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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