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Preparing Fido for Baby

A guide for parents-to-be.

Rosie, a black Labrador retriever mix, has enjoyed being the only child of the Buglio family since they brought her home from Adopt-a-Lab last summer, but big changes to her world are on the horizon. 

Her pet-parents, Arlington residents and business owners, Mike (The Book Rack) and Wendy (Functional Places) are preparing for their first human baby's arrival this November.

As a licensed presenter of the national Dogs & StorksTM program, I'd love to see more families follow in the footsteps of the Buglios, who realize how important it is to begin working right away on helping Rosie through this transition. All too many families feel they have to give up their dog once their baby arrives, but with the right training and preparation, this usually doesn't need to be the case.

Here are my top ten tips to get you started:

  1. Begin working with your dog as soon as you know a baby is on the way--don't wait!  Training takes time, and once your baby arrives, time will likely be scarce.  If you're not sure how to accomplish your goals, seek the help of a professional dog trainer. 
  2. Start a dog journal.  Note things that rile your dog up or make her uncomfortable.  (Noisy toys with wheels?  People's unusual or sudden movements? Sounds of children crying, laughing or shrieking?)  Use management to prevent your dog from coming in contact with these when you aren't in training mode as you systematically work on teaching your dog to remain calm around such triggers.
  3. Brush up on canine body language so that you can better read your dog's feelings.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard parents say, "Our dog loves our child, and let's her do anything to him," when what I've actually seen the dog's body language saying is, "I'm still tolerating this behavior, but I'm not enjoying it." If just the wrong combination of triggers comes together, this tolerant dog may one day snap. Watch for stress signals like the dog's body stiffening up, the dog turning its head away or holding its ears back, the dog showing the whites of it's eyes, licking its lips rapidly and repeatedly or yawning. These are just a few of the canine body language signals that tell us a dog is uncomfortable with a situation. Clearly, a growl, snarl or a snap means that we've entirely missed the early warnings!  For help in training your eye for canine body language, check out the DVD by Sarah Kalnajs, "The Language of Dogs."
  4. Make a list of habits and behaviors that need to change before the baby arrives.  Does your dog jump up for greetings? Bounce enthusiastically across the sofa or bed?  Refuse to give up objects? Demand your attention, or do "naughty" things to get your attention? 
  5. Now make a list of behaviors you'd like your dog to do instead of these, and get to work! Also think of new routines your dog should learn: "This is what you do when the baby is eating, getting a diaper change, sitting on my lap, playing, crying, napping" and so on.
  6. Never turn your back on a child and a dog together, even for a moment. Plan ahead for even mundane tasks. How will you make sure your dog and child won't be together unsupervised even if you just need to answer the door or the phone? 
  7. Introduce your dog to new scents, sounds and baby equipment now, making sure your dog has positive first experiences with these. You might choose a baby lotion you like now, and have your dog perform calm yet fun behaviors each time the new scent is around. Perhaps you'll hand-feed your dog tasty treats on a daily basis as you play a CD of baby sounds like that in Legacy Canine's "Sounds Good" series. Although you won't need all of this for a while, get your stroller, baby swing, walker and other new baby equipment set up now so you can teach your dog not to be frightened of it, and what behaviors to perform around it. You can get a long way with a well-trained "heel" and a rock-solid "stay."
  8. Plan ahead for the big day. You may wish to choose a pet sitter for your dog to stay with while mom is in the hospital, and it's a good idea to practice at least one or two overnights ahead of time. To delete one more source of stress from your list, be sure you've stocked up on everything you'll need for your dog (food, medicine, flea & tick preventative, heartworm pills and of course, an array of tantalizing chewies and canine puzzle toys for busy work.)
  9. Rely on family and friends to help you manage your baby's homecoming. You may want dad, or another family member to hold the baby so mom can greet the dog, who has missed her while she was away. We don't want the dog's first experience with the new baby to come with scoldings for being too exuberant. Once your dog has calmed down, you may wish to introduce the baby carefully. Having a friend or family member hold onto your dog's leash as you let the dog sniff the baby's foot through the shield of your cupped hand might be one option for a safe first introduction. Know your own dog, and take it slowly. There will be plenty of time for your dog to get to know your baby.
  10. Finally, take all canine warnings seriously. At the first sign of a growl, snap or any other potentially dangerous behavior, seek professional dog training help.

Certainly, all of this takes planning, time, patience and devotion. For those of us whose furkids have been our first babies, though, the effort will pay off in the form of a harmonious pack as our family grows to include our human children.

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