One thing that is very hard to predict is when your baby is actually going to decide to make his or her grand appearance. With my first son, we had zero warning: we were out, my water broke, and all we had time to do was stop by the house to pick up the suitcase and head straight to the hospital. With our second one, we had a little more warning, but since he was a week and a half late, it was definitely not on a day we could predict. So, what will you do with your dog when your baby decides the time has come? That is up to you, but I encourage you to sort it out well ahead of time. Is there a neighbor, family member, or dog walker who can be available at the drop of a hat? Do they already have your key? If your dog hasn’t ever been left alone overnight, is your helper available to stay over or take the dog to their house without too much warning? You should have a very definite plan in mind, and make sure you have a couple of people designated as backups to at least let your dog out to pee or feed them – just in case your first person loses their phone or something (for example, our dog walker was unexpectedly out of state for a funeral when our first son arrived).
- Meeting the baby
- When you first arrive home with the baby, leave them outside with someone while you go in to greet your dog. Let your dog get over their excitement about seeing you. Let them smell the new smells and settle back down before bringing in the baby. I found it helpful to leave my baby in his car seat so he was enclosed and quiet when the dogs first investigated him. If you’re very unsure how your dog will react, you can also put the car seat up on a table so they can just smell the baby. You can pair that initial meeting with treats if you think it is appropriate. Try to find an opportunity (IF you think it’s safe) to let the dog see the baby and sniff him or her politely for a few seconds. Then tell your dog, “That’s enough,” and remove the baby. Give the dog a cookie if they leave the baby alone when you say, “That’s enough”. The first few times, you may need to physically move in between them to convince the dog to stop sniffing. Babies smell very interesting! Keep things very light and positive. If you’re not comfortable with your dog’s level of excitement, crate them and try again later or contact a positive-reinforcement-based trainer to work with your dog. It is important at some point to let the dog safely see and sniff your baby- curiosity is a powerful force, and it’s better for them to investigate the baby when you’re ready for them, not when they find an opening.
- The First Few Weeks
- Beyond planning for the actual birth, it is also important to consider how your dog’s needs will be met in those first few weeks. I love my dogs dearly and interact with them constantly. As a dog trainer, you would think I could stay on top of their needs even with a newborn, but I will tell you that we hired a dog walker during both of our sons’ newborn stages. There is just so much else to worry about – and if mom gave birth, she probably will not be up for walking the dogs in the first couple of weeks anyway. Rather than having an unexercised dog in the house, pay someone to make sure they get out at least once a day (or find a friend or relative who can do it). This will also help mitigate the guilt you might feel for ignoring your dog more than usual!
- Giving Your Dog Attention
- Besides exercise, your dog will still need some attention. Try to keep some dry treats (my dogs like these) in your pocket and give them one every so often when they’re hanging out with you and being calm (especially when the baby’s around!). Prepare and freeze some Kongs ahead of the birth and/or try to make one per day for your dog to chew on and get some mental stimulation. When you feed them their breakfast and dinner, ask them for a sit/stay to keep some training up. You won’t have the time or energy your dog really needs, and that’s fine for a couple weeks, but try to be aware of them and give them some attention every day!
Sometimes, having a dog at that moment in your life can seem like one more thing you don’t want to deal with, but it only lasts a short time and then the benefits of dog ownership and the love you have for your pet will quickly reassert themselves! Once you get through this rough patch, you’ll remember the excitement you felt about your child growing up with your dog in their life.