For many couples, their beloved dog is their first child. And, like any elder sibling, he or she will have to cope with some changes once a new baby arrives.
Dogs thrive on routine and predictability, so you’ll need to manage the situation carefully. After all, you’ll understand why your world has suddenly been turned upside down – your dog won’t.
While you’re pregnant
Start making changes before your baby arrives – it will make life easier after the birth. You might love how your dog jumps up at you when you come home. Will you feel the same when you’re heavily pregnant or have the baby in your arms? If you need to, sign up for an obedience class to address this kind of issue.
If your dog isn’t used to being around children, it’s time that changed. Start off by taking him to a park so he gets used to seeing babies and toddlers from a distance. You might also have a friend who’ll be happy to walk with you with their baby in a stroller.
Three months to go
It’s time to prepare your dog for the arrival of a ‘sibling’. It might feel ridiculous, but get a doll or other baby-substitute; a rolled-up towel would do. Carry it around, sing and talk to it. When you’ve got your baby’s crib, bath or changing unit, use them with your pretend baby. Let your dog sniff all the new items, as well as get used to scents such as baby powder and nappy cream.
If you’re planning to walk your dog while pushing the pram or stroller, you need to practice this now, too. (You might want to find a quiet place so the neighbours don’t think you’re crazy.) As well as getting your dog used to the new arrangement, you need to make sure you’re in control if he suddenly sees a cat or squirrel.
Six weeks to go
Make arrangements for friends or family to look after your dog when you go to hospital to give birth. It’s important to choose people he knows and likes – he’ll be confused enough when you disappear. You could go into labour at any time, so you’ll need to have someone on standby to cover mornings, evenings and even overnight. Ideally, have a back-up too – just in case.
Two weeks to go
Unless you’re having a planned Caesarian section or induction, you could theoretically go into labour any time now. Make sure you’ve stocked up on your dog’s food, with information about portion sizes if necessary. Put the vet’s phone number somewhere prominent, just in case your doggy-sitter needs it. Make sure your dog’s lead (leash), treats and favourite toys are always around. If you need to rush into hospital suddenly, you want everything to be ready.
One week to go
Hopefully, you’re relaxing. But you’re bound to be emotional and nervous, and your dog is likely to pick up on that. If you feel up to it, a leisurely walk each day will calm you both. Or enjoy some time cuddled up on the sofa.
While you’re in hospital
Get your partner, a friend or family member to check everything is ok with your dog-sitter and your pooch.
Ask someone to take a sleepsuit or blanket that smells of your new baby home, so your dog can get used to their scent before you go home.
Once you’re both home
Your dog will have missed you so you may be in for an overwhelming greeting – best to let someone else hold the baby while you’re reunited. Then sit down with your little one and let them get acquainted. (If your dog recognises your baby’s scent, he won’t sniff as much.)
Amid all the excitement, don’t forget your dog will still need exercising. If your partner or someone else can take him out for a walk to begin with, it will give you some quiet time with your new baby. It also means your pup will burn off his energy and be more likely to settle down once home again.
The early weeks
There’s a lot of coming and going with a new baby to begin with. Health professionals, well-wishers, grandparents – it’s a lot of extra stimulation and may unsettle your dog. If he’s naughty, don’t get cross – try to redirect his behaviour to something that will make him happy, like a new chew-toy.
Include your dog in your new routine, talking to him as well as the baby during nappy (diaper) changes and so on.
Make sure your dog isn’t relegated to second-best; he still needs just as many walks and just as much love and attention as before the baby came along.
As baby grows
Install safety gates in some doorways so you can separate your dog and your baby if necessary, and never leave them alone together. Even the most placid of animals can react if its ears are pulled or a small person screams in its face.
As your baby begins to use her hands to explore, discourage her from grabbing your dog’s tail or fur, and show her how to pet properly. She’ll copy what you do, and your dog will be grateful! Watch out for restless pacing or unusual eye contact from your dog – these are signs of discomfort.
Start them off with a positive relationship, and your dog and your baby will be the most devoted of friends.