Preparing Dogs for Baby!
by Wendy DeCarlo and Dennis Damon of the Dog Obedience Group in Chicago
Here is an outline/discussion of how to prepare your dog(s) for the arrival of a new baby in the household. We have used this information with young married couples, older married couples who have established careers first, domestic partners, single parents-to-be and adoptees, all with great success. The common denominator is that the dog has been a surrogate or child substitute, and the arrival of a new party represents change, which can be stressful, and needs to be addressed and successfully designed far well in advance of the baby's arrival.
Young puppies, adolescent and adult dogs should gain exposure to children in a positive manner long before the baby arrives. Take walks with children present, have kids help train your dog in the basics under your supervision at home. Make sure they reward the dog for listening and learning from them. This should be a positive experience for both. If your dog has never been around children, you may wish to engage the help of an experienced dog trainer or behaviorist who utilizes positive training methods.
As soon as possible, set up the nursery. Furniture: Crib, changing table, diaper pail, etc. Dogs need to see and smell what this room will be like. Encourage them to explore. Do some training in this room. Just the basics (sit, down, go to your place, stay) reward well. Depending on your household's physical characteristics, you may have other needs. For stairs, you may wish to teach cues for "wait" - wait at the bottom or top until I call you or "go ahead" - move ahead of me to the top or bottom of the stairs. Again, if you need help with this, contact humane, positive, operant dog trainers.
Purchase baby supplies and have them in the nursery or in other areas of the house where the baby will be. Baby powder, lotion, clean diapers, etx. Have supplies on the floor for the dog's inspection. Dirty/soiled diapers: This may sound strange, but your dog will be very inquisitive when the baby arrives. Ask new mothers to give you dirty diapers on occasion. Have these in the daper pail so your dog gets used to what this new scent is all about. You can use a weak mixture of ammonia and water on the diapers as a substitute, but whenever possible the real deal works best. Ask a new mother to tape record baby sounds. Cooing, crying, screaming, gurgling, etc. Play the tape at low levels to adjust your dog to the new sounds of the baby.
Purchase or borrow a life-like baby doll. Carry it around in ways a baby will be carried (arms, carrier, carriage, stroller, etc.) Talk to the doll, pretend changing diapers, sit on the couch or in a rocker and sing. You are presenting a visual picture to your dog. Better to get them used to what you will look like with a doll, than for the first time with your baby. Let you dog sniff and investigate, and reward all good/calm behavior well. This will also enable you to become accustomed to holding the baby and having the dog nearby as well. If jumping up is a problem, this is the perfect time to work on substituting a preferred behavior. Have other bring babies over to familiarize your dog with babies (you hold, they hold, use nursery, etc.) Reward your dog and habituate to this experiences. Have your dog vet-checked and examined for state of health, parasites, etc.
Finally, make arrangements for the care of your dog at the time of delivery. You (and maybe everyone else) may be away from home base for a day or more. Hanve someone your dog likes come in for walks, feeding, play, etc. If that isn't possible, have a friend or relative take the dog to their home until your schedule stabilizes. Make sure this person likes and has walked, fed or otherwise hosted your dog previously. This should all be rehearsed long before the baby arrives.
Part Two:At Time of Delivery
Take a baby blanket or similar cloth in a plastic bag to the hospital. Remove the cloth and wrap the baby in it to transfer the baby's scent. After the visit, put the blanket back in the plastic bag to keep the scent from contamination. At home, remove the blanket and put it down for your dog to investigate. Feed treats while the dog investigates - this will be your dog's olfactory introduction to the baby. Also bring home dirty diaper when available and put them in the diaper pail.
If this scenario involves the birth mother, someone else should hold the baby, and the mother should go in first and have a joyous reunion with the dog. If the mother hold the baby, she will likely instinctively pull away, giving a negative message. The dog may also associate her absence with the bundle she is carrying and resent it. After a full and heartfelt greeting is the time for the infant to be brought in. If your dog has been socialized with children and you have been successfully doing the pre-baby program, when the baby comes home, allow you dog to sniff. Keeping you dog away will only increase his inquisitiveness and can sometimes build undesireable behavior due to not being able to see what is so special to you.
Make sure your dog gets positive attention from each household member each day (brushing, grooming, play, walks, etc.). When visitors come to see the baby, have them meet and acknowledge the dog first. Do not change the routine that has already been in place. Let the dog see his status is not diminished. As a general rule, dogs and babies are never left unattended. Some dogs are naturals with children, others take some time to adjust. Allow yourself lead time to practice the pre-baby program. Sooner is always better. If any problems or concerns occur during this process, please contact an experienced positive dog trainer or behaviorist. If you have specific questions or concerns, plase send them to us.