Pregnancy can be a time for feelings of awe, exhaustion, excitement, being overwhelmed and also the fear of the unknown… and that is just for us humans! We understand the new furniture arriving into the house, the change in routines, the physical and behavioural changes in mum-to-be and that’s all before the arrival of a tiny new baby. Often, we forget that although we understand (for the most part) these changes, the dogs we live with do not and this can be a very unsettling time for them.

Luckily, there are a number of ways we can prepare our furry family members for all of these events, as well as the exciting new arrival;

Changes within the house

Changes in the home can include decorating, moving rooms around, introducing new furniture and packing things away.  All of these changes can worry your furry family member, however there are ways these changes can be managed to help reduce potential anxiety;

  • Begin introducing new furniture gradually to your home and allow your dogs to investigate, you can give verbal praise or treats for them approaching new furniture calmly.  
  • If you make any changes in the bedrooms or rooms to the house such as decorating, dismantling/making furniture, allow your dogs to see the changes gradually occurring. For this you can use baby gates.
  • It’s a good idea to use baby gates in the home early so that your furry family members can see changes occurring without getting paint on their tails. Baby gates will also be a good safety feature when baby arrives to separate dogs and baby when you are unable to actively supervise, so think early about where you may need to put them.

Routine changes

It’s inevitable that changes in your dog’s routine will occur and changes in routine can cause some anxiety or frustration due to a lack of control over their usual predictable day. Some of these routines are likely to change very early on in pregnancy, such as length of dog walks due to tiredness and sickness.

  • Try getting in touch with a local dog walker you feel comfortable with and begin using them early in your pregnancy to ensure they can get to know your dog and your dog can build a bond with them. This can give another predictable routine for your dog later on which will be very beneficial whilst other changes happen around them.
  • Build in some flexibility in your dog’s routine, throw in extra walks, make normal walks shorter or longer, make feeding times slightly earlier or later etc.
  • Make the effort to spend one on one time with your furry family member doing something they enjoy and incorporate this into your daily routine; this can be a grooming session, throwing a ball in the garden or playing tug of war. Try to make this a habit which you can keep up with once baby arrives. This only needs to be for 5-10 mins each day and can be done by either ‘parent’. Again, this will be a further routine which your dog will be able to predict and help reduce anxiety.

Enrichment

  • Enrichment such as stuffed Kongs, chews and snuffle mats can give your dog something to focus on and provide some mental stimulation. Increased mental stimulation can help relieve some energy levels as well as create positive associations when your dog is separated from you behind a baby gate or when you have to be upstairs tending to your precious newborn baby.
  • Find a local dog trainer who uses force free methods to help give your dog more skills to cope with the changes going on around them. Training may include;
    • Loose lead walking which will enable your dog to walk on a loose lead next to you or a pram.
    • Sit to greet – To help avoid your dog jumping up at the many visitors you will inevitably get.
    • Teaching a reliable drop cue – It is likely your dog may get confused with what they can and cannot pick up in relation to soft toys and teaching your dog a reliable drop cue or swap game can help avoid this confusion.
    • ‘On your bed’ – A useful behaviour to teach to encourage your dog to lie on its bed when you may have your hands full.

Noises

There will be many new noises in your dog’s environment which can include baby crying and noisy toys. It’s important to introduce these types of noises early to avoid fear responses to them;

  • Start playing baby noises which should include crying and cooing at a very low level for 1 to 2 minutes at a time whilst you are getting on with normal day to day activities. You can find noises such as these on many phone apps or CDs such as “Sounds Scary” CD.
  • Watch for any changes in body language whilst these noises are played, it is fine to see ear movement, but you should not see any signs of anxiety such as lip licking or moving away/hiding. If you do see any of these signs, seek help from a professional dog trainer or behaviourist.
  • Gradually increase the level of noise over time. You can also create a positive association with these noises by giving an occasional chew or stuffed Kong. However, ideally you won’t do this every time the sound plays as your dog may then expect food whenever your baby cries… which is likely to be a lot!

There is so much we can do to help prepare our furry family members adjust to life with a newborn baby and the above list is not exhaustive. The more we can prepare dogs for life with babies and children, the more we can encourage a harmonious relationship as well as bite prevention.

For any further support with preparing your dog for life with a baby please contact a local, qualified dog trainer in your area who uses positive and force free training methods.

Sara McIver, MSc DipCABT DipCAS

Training and Behaviour Consultant, Guide Dogs UK.

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