Bringing Home Baby

It’s the best news in the whole world – you’ll soon hear the pitter patter of tiny feet around your home! But is your dog going to think those tiny feet are stepping on his toes? Here’s some tips on how to integrate your new pink baby with your older furry one.



Firstly… congratulations! You’re either expecting or hoping to be soon enough and there’s nothing more exciting in this world! If you’re reading this however, you’re likely a dog owner, or at the very least a dog lover thinking of getting a dog in the future, and as such I’ll bet some part of you is probably wondering… how will my dog react to this new little bundle of smell and noise?

My husband and I already had our furry kids – our two Basset Hounds – before we had our daughter. I fell pregnant when they were about 18 months old, so still in the area of ‘wayward teen’… and I have to say, I was an anxious mess when I found out I was expecting. Not only was there the stretch marks to think about, the birth itself, the sleepless nights, the whole KEEPING A HUMAN ALIVE thing… not to mention learning how to think of myself as, and actually BE a ‘mother’…. There was also this worry of how my 2 existing ‘kids’ would welcome the third one… especially when the two existing ones have big teeth and claws, and themselves were only just coming to the end of their teenage idiot phase. On the flip side of that, however, there was the worry I wouldn’t be able to care for them like I used to because I’d have so little free time with a baby…. Would they resent me for that? Will I fail as a mother… AND an owner?


I know what you’re thinking… Wow. That’s a lot to fret about. But worry is born out of love and care… And if you are a caring owner it’s only natural to worry about your pup and how they are going to respond to their new, strange, pink, hairless sibling. So how can you ensure bringing home baby is a wonderful an experience for everyone… even the dog?


Well, the fact is you cannot be sure how a dog is going to react to such a big change in their life as a new baby in the family. But there are some things you can try and put in place before baby arrives that can really help make that transition easier for your four-legged friend.


Pre-Baby Bootcamp

Ok, so there’s the nursery to paint, the cot to put together (why oh WHY did we get an Ikea flatpack???), and like… a bizillion things to buy. Chances are, you’re going to have a LOT to do in the weeks and months running up to your little one’s arrival. But, if you can find any spare time it’s great to work on and really hone the training your dog already has. Work on those commands and cues, perhaps think of introducing other ones that might help down the line such as “back,” or “settling” to a mat or bed, so you can reliably send your dog somewhere safe out of the way when you are coming down the hall with baby in one hand, laundry in the other and trying to turn the light switch on with your nose.


Set baby boundaries now

If you think you’re going to have certain rules in place when baby is here, for example that your dog is not allowed in the baby’s room, try to set them in place now so your dog has time to get used to them and learn what you’re expecting of him… and, more importantly, so you don’t have to worry about training something new in your dog whilst you’re trying to remember how many scoops of formula you already put in the bottle, whether or not you put clean underwear on this morning or what day of the week it is.

Training a good “Sit-Stay” or “Down-Stay” can be a useful for keeping pup at the threshold until you say its ok to enter. Alternatively, installing baby gates around the house to block off ‘baby-only’ places from your dog is the absolute easiest way to get your dog used to where they are and are not allowed. Ok, so your house won’t be oozing chic and style for a little while but… you’re having a kid, so it wasn’t going to anyway, I’m afraid. (…For about 18 years!)



A Matter of Routine

If this is your first baby then it’s likely you won’t quite know what to expect when he or she arrives, but if you ARE able to gain an idea of what your new routine (for want of a better word, as let’s be honest, there’s no such thing as ‘routine’ with a newborn after all!) will look like then it can help to try to introduce elements of this to your dog now. For example, it’s recommended that mums of newborns sleep when their baby sleeps… You might want to try doing this a bit before baby is born – your dog will get used to Mum disappearing upstairs for a bit and I’ll bet your poor baby-carrying back will thank you no end too.

Perhaps you can also try varying the time you feed your dog a tiny bit, as there’ll no doubt be times when you’re changing a nappy, having to do an emergency bath (I’m thinking after a ‘Code Brown’ situation…) and pup’s dinner time just naturally gets later than it used to be. Alternatively, if your dog really does thrive on routine and gets upset without it, perhaps consider getting one of those automated feeders – one less thing for you to worry about. Frankly, anything that will make your new parenting life easier can only be a good thing!


What on earth is THAT noise?

It’s a simple fact – babies are noisy! For the first year or so of our lives, the only way we can communicate with anyone around us who will listen is to cry, and for most dogs this will be a sound they have never heard before in their lives. It may be intriguing... for some it may be distressing. And unfortunately, you won’t know which of those stances your dog will take until they hear it. However, if you’re super organised, you can start to introduce your dog to this alien sound long before baby’s even here to make it. Playing the sound of a baby’s cry – or laugh, or general gurglings – at home through your phone, laptop or stereo system (for those of you who like me still have not fully embraced the 21st century) for the few weeks leading up to your due date can really help your dog ‘desensitise’ to (i.e. really get used to and accept) the noise. There are a tonne of places online where you can find these sorts of resources all ready-made for you to download and crack on with – Dogs Trust in particular has a great online library of sounds for just this purpose and a great guide for using them (find them at https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/dog-behaviour-health/sound-therapy-for-pets). The idea is that you start early on by playing these sounds at very low volume just to introduce your dog to them being there as a sort of background noise, then as time progresses you gradually increase the volume so they become accustomed to hearing it in the house. If at any point your dog begins to show signs of anxiety or distress, you simply take a little step back by lowering the volume again and reward them with treats and praise when they are calm. It’s important not to overwhelm your dog’s senses… give them time.


Remember… No parent is an island

Support bubbles are a brilliant thing… especially when big life events such as new babies happen. If you have them… use them! Call on friends, neighbours and relatives (thank you again, Mum….) to help walk your dog if they can, giving you a breather and more time with your new bubba. Alternatively, getting a dog walker or a day care service set up for your dog can be invaluable. Spend some time researching and vetting dog walkers and/or daycare services before your baby arrives as, although an extra bit of expense, this can be really invaluable in the early days when you first bring baby home and won’t want to be taking them out into the elements to walk the dog.­ You can check out our dog walking services here.


Practice with Props… (yes, you may look crazy)

Getting your dog used to the idea of you now coming with a ‘plus one’ is the ultimate end goal and as such, some behaviourists even recommend walking around the house carrying a doll for a time before your due date. Yes, you will look crazy. Sorry about that. And it won’t take your dog long to realise the doll baby is not a real live thing. However, doing this can actually be really valuable as it will help gauge your dog’s initial reaction to you carrying a baby and help you anticipate any potential challenges. For example, if your dog jumps up when you stand up with the ‘baby’, ask them for a “Sit” or “Down” when you handle the doll, or, if your dog goes to mouth the doll (realising it's not real and thinking it’s a toy), redirect their attention to an appropriate doggy toy and really praise them when they play with that instead and ignore the ‘baby’. It will help your dog get used to the idea of you walking around carrying a small human-shaped thing… and it can also help YOU practice carrying and caring for a baby whilst interacting with your dog. (And doing everything else one-handedly at the same time!)


The Big Homecoming

So you’ve laboured for goodness knows how many hours… you’re tired, sore and aching for your own bed or sofa, a nice cup of tea and cuddles from your furry ‘first born’. Dads, you may not be so sore (unless she crushed your hand during the big push… ‘cause yeah… THAT’S the same…. *raises eyebrow....*) but you’re still knackered and just want to get home and learn how to be a family with your gorgeous new bundle. But your dog has MISSED. YOU. MORE. THAN. LIFE. ITSELF. They’re going to be SO excited to see you, so make sure everyone goes into the house to receive their proper royal doggy welcome BEFORE you bring baby in. Give them a few minutes to blow off some steam before having someone (support bubble again, or parent not holding the baby) pop them on a lead. Even if you have no reason to believe they’ll react badly to the baby, it’s just a matter of better safe than sorry. The person ‘handling’ should have some treats at the ready to distract when you bring baby into the house and then reward your dog for any time they show calm interest towards the baby. If your dog’s body language seems happy, relaxed and friendly, get your handler to allow your dog to approach the baby on a short but loose lead. Try to remain chilled out and calm. Have the telly or radio on quietly in the background while you’re doing this if that’s what you have at home… just like it’s no big thing. And, even if your dog is as cool as a cucumber, you yourself might be a little nervous about them being close to the baby… that’s perfectly fine and your prerogative as a parent… Just let your dog sniff the baby then interrupt their investigation by asking for a 'Sit' or 'Down' perhaps and rewarding them with a stuffed kong, chew or puzzle toy. Ultimately, praise your dog for remaining calm and importantly, try to avoid scolding your dog at any point as you really want them to associate being around their new pink brother or sister with only good feelings, not bad ones.


The fact is, only you know your dog. Some of these things may be completely unnecessary for some, some may need more. As it turned out, MY anxieties were born out of hormones and completely unfounded – the Bassets were exemplary examples of doggy brother and sister from the day we brought my daughter home. They were caring, attentive, quiet and so laid back you might have thought they’d expired… because we approached the situation with a little bit of forethought, gave them time and had some things in place to make everyone’s lives easier. Winner!


Now to figure out that whole ‘parenting’ thing, though….

(.....I still haven't....)



 

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