Anticipating the birth of your child is an emotional roller coaster. While you fluctuate between feeling happy and anxious from one moment to the next— sometimes simultaneously— one thing remains consistent: There are a lot of things to do before your new bundle arrives.
Sharon Mear, behavior counselor and owner of Training Cats and Dogs in New York City, recommends prepping your pooch before your baby’s arrival. As you already have a lot on your plate with a baby on the way, the idea of getting your dog ready for the baby likely seems overwhelming. Fearful of dog bites and accidents, some expecting families even consider giving up their dogs. But, according to Mear, with the proper steps you can maintain a happy and safe home for both dog and baby.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the 4.7 million people who have experienced dog bites close to 800,000 receive medical attention. About half of those people are children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends immediately restraining your dog if it bites someone. The best thing you can do is to separate the dog from the scene to prevent any other accidents.
At Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, Shannon Alley, a pediatric nurse, advises parents that if their child is bitten by a dog, they should clean the wound right away with soap and water. For wounds that are “large enough to stitch,” she says, parents should take their child to a local hospital’s emergency room.
Mear states that while any bite is unfortunate, statistically speaking dog bites are rare. But, most expectant parents Mear encounters are frightened, especially by things they hear on the news regarding dogs attacking children. And she says, “If it’s a dog that you’ve never had a problem with, why would you expect it?” In order to get your pooch R.E.A.D.Y. for the family’s newest addition, here’s what Mear suggests.
Mear finds that most people seek her counsel after something has gone wrong in the home regarding a pet. Other parents may just panic and send the disobedient dog to a shelter. None of this has to happen if parents tweak Rover’s training before the baby comes home.
What to do: Get your canine accustomed to a new walking and feeding schedule that anticipates changes of the baby’s arrival. Try bringing the baby stroller along on walks. If your dog likes to pull or lunge, Mear suggests using a halter or no-pull harness. Before the baby, it may have been fine for the dog to jump on the bed or couch. That’s going to be a no-no with your infant around. Create a unique space and retrain your pet to sleep there from now on.
What’s the lesson: By gradually retraining your dog, you’re slowly preparing him for an imminent change before the baby comes home. That way, he is less likely to associate the baby with the changes.
Babies don’t receive their vaccinations until they’re 2 months of age. And for some time their ability to fight off infections is minimal.
What to do: The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that dogs get vaccinated against rabies and other preventable diseases. It’s also important to stay on top of your dog’s health, because it may affect how he behaves. Even the most docile animal can be easily provoked if he isn’t feeling well. And while visiting your vet is crucial, don’t neglect grooming issues such as trimming Fido’s nails.
What’s the lesson: A clean bill of health for your pet— and a cleanly groomed pet— gets him off to a good start with your baby.
Your four-legged friend has been the baby in your life so far, something that changes with the birth of your actual baby. Thus, ensure your pooch doesn’t get left in the cold. “Set aside playtime and attention time for you and your dog,” says Mear, “uninterrupted if possible.”
What to do: Allow your dog to explore the baby’s room and play areas. Let the pet sniff baby lotion or baby powder. Perhaps play tapes with baby sounds. Do not allow your dog to pick up any of the baby’s toys and correct the behavior immediately by saying “no” or “drop it.” If your canine’s toys resemble the baby’s toys, Mear advises that you purchase something like Kong Toys. Such toys are rubber and you can stuff a tasty treat in them for your dog. Most importantly, spend time with your dog before and after the baby is born. Allow for private time with your pooch whether it involves cuddling, petting or playing. These shared moments reinforce the dog’s place in the family and keep you two connected.
What’s the lesson: Spend quality time with your dog and he’ll be less apt to compete for your affections when the baby comes home.
If your pet isn’t used to children, slowly introduce him to other children you know. If you don’t know anyone with children, Mear suggests using a doll.
What to do: Applying baby lotion and powder, make the doll smell like a baby. Observe your dog’s behavior when you’re cradling or rocking the doll. As always, use the appropriate commands like “no” when your dog isn’t behaving correctly and give him a treat as positive reinforcement when he’s putting his best paw forward.
What’s the lesson: Get your dog ready for his new “sibling” by exposing him to children early.
Your new arrival
Congratulations! You’ve just had a baby. Now your little bundle of joy is on the way home. Remember, you’ve been away for a few days. Before you enter your home, let someone else hold the baby and greet your pet excitedly. This shows your pooch that you missed him.
What to do: Never leave the baby unattended with the dog. Slowly introduce your baby to your canine and don’t feel pressed to rush everything. If your dog seems nervous, reassure him soothingly and confidently. Mear warns never to say, “Don’t worry, it’s OK,” because it sends the wrong message that snarling or growling is acceptable around the baby.
“Just make sure that you’re paying attention and you’re not ignoring the animal,” says Mear. “Things pretty much fall into place.”
When you follow these tips, your dog and baby are headed toward a long and beautiful friendship, one paw-fect step at a time.