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If you’re adding a new member to your family, it’s important to include the existing furry members. Preparing your pet for your bundle of joy can make new parenthood go much smoother for humans and animals. Consistency is key for pets, who can develop anxiety or destructive behaviors during times of transition. Remember to pay attention to your pet, making time for one-on-one activities like a morning walk or game of fetch. With a little TLC and time to acclimate, your dog will soon become your baby’s BFF.
Baby-Proofing Doubles as Dog-Proofing
A rite of passage for new parents is baby-proofing the home. Existing pet parents may not have much to do, especially if they’ve already experienced puppyhood. The following items are hazards for both babies and pets:
- Household chemicals, adhesives and cleaning products
- Sharp objects, like knives and tools
- Garbage cans
- Unsecured bookshelves, dressers, etc
- Electrical plugs, cords and outlets
- Dangling curtain ties or blind cords
- Toxic plants and flowers
Covering sharp corners can also be beneficial for puppies and senior dogs (and pet parents’ shins). Baby gates, child locks, and outlet covers do double duty keeping kids and pets out of dangerous situations.
Prep Your Dog for Baby, Too
You have nine months to prepare for your new bundle of joy, so get Fido in on the action. Practice makes perfect for basic commands, and consider taking an obedience refresher class.
It’s important to make sure the dog has a safe space to go to, which involves crate training and teaching your dog to settle. Since puppy toys look very similar to children’s toys, “leave it” and “drop” are necessary commands for your dog to know. You can also practice aggressive handling, such as patting the dog on the head or pulling it lightly on the tail and giving them treats afterwards. You may even try playing baby sounds because dogs have some sound sensitivities. And if your friends have kids, it can help to get your dog around other kids, babies and strollers.
If you have baby furniture or gadgets, set them up ahead of time; your dog can sniff to his heart’s content, while you can set the boundaries now, when you’re not stressed. Schedule your pet’s vet appointment(s) beforehand as well, especially for puppies, who require monthly visits until four months old, then a spay/neuter at six months. If your pet has a chronic medical condition, make sure you have it well managed and a full stock of medications. Finances can be tight with a newborn as well; consider pet insurance as a backup plan for unexpected veterinary bills.
Keep Calm and Carry On
A household is in upheaval both before and after a baby’s birth, with lots of visitors and new noises. Try to maintain some consistency in your dog’s routine, keeping meal and potty times at the same time of day. Regular exercise is also key to keeping things calm for both you and your dog, also a great opportunity for some bonding time.
Allow your pet to become comfortable with the baby’s nursery, toys and other objects so he feels included and not replaced. Avoid moving furniture or making other sudden environmental changes; too much can overwhelm a dog and cause anxiety, manifesting in destructive behaviors or excessive whining. Provide Fido with a space of his own, whether it’s a dog crate, bed or backyard.
Learn Useful Dog Tricks
While you’re refreshing your dog’s training, considering adding some new tricks to her repertoire. Being able to control your pet is essential with a small child around, both for safety and sanity reasons. Teach your dog the “shoo” or “out” command to avoid him being constantly underfoot:
- Point or herd your dog out of the kitchen (or other forbidden room), accompanied by a firm “out” or “shoo.”
- If all you get is a blank stare, toss a treat where you want your pet to go.
- When your dog starts creeping back in, give a firm “stay.”
- Repeat until he obeys without the treats!
If you’ve got some time on your hands before the baby is born, try teaching more complex tricks like retrieving specific objects. Other useful dog tricks include ringing a bell to go outside, stopping barking, and turning lights off.
(Some) Germs Are Good
The most common concern among new parents is germs. Newborn babies’ immune systems aren’t fully developed, especially the non-breastfeeding, who don’t have the benefit of their mother’s antibodies. However, recent studies have found that pets are actually good for children’s immune systems. “It’s kind of exposing the immune system at an early age to all kinds of proteins the dogs would be exposed to in the environment, which somehow leads to a tolerance of the environment versus being more allergic to it,” said Dr. Mary Tobin, an allergist at Rush University Medical Center. Still, always wash your hands before handling a baby, especially if you’ve been playing with pets.
More good news for germaphobes – most pets’ diseases are not zoonotic, meaning they cannot be passed from human to animal. Do take some sanitary precautions, though; What to Expect advises new parents to keep kids away from pets’ leftovers – like feces and half-eaten food or treats – as well as toys, dog beds and bowls. These objects are breeding grounds for germs, as are any wet, moist areas or those contaminated by feces, saliva, garbage or dirt.
Here are some best health care practices to keep in mind:
- De-worm your dog on a regular basis if you are worried about worms (especially if your dog is a “poop eater”).
- Keep your baby away from feces. If your dog poops in your yard, get in the habit of picking up your dog’s poop immediately.
- Don’t let your dog (or baby!) drink standing water.
- Keep your dog healthy and free of fleas and mites. Feed your dog high-quality food, keep him bathed and brushed.
- Keep your dog’s nails trimmed and filed. Long nails can easily scratch a baby.
Exercise Out Energy
We can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain your dog’s daily routine. In addition to preventing anxiety or jealousy, which can lead to destructive behaviors, a regimen with exercise can help pet parents keep some sanity during stressful times.
- The standard recommendation for a young, active dog is 30-60 minutes of exercise twice a day, preferably one leashed walk and one free play (dog park, fetch etc.). Some dogs need more, some less.
- Increase mental stimulation with food-stuffable toys, puzzles, and an easy scavenger hunt. We are just beginning to discover the importance of mental enrichment for our dogs. Creative feeding (through toys, finding food in boxes, in the back yard etc.) is a simple way to provide enrichment.
- Cash in your favors! You can only fit so many lasagnas in your freezer, so when people ask what they can do for you, have them walk your dog, take him to the park or toss a ball in the backyard.
- If your dog doesn’t walk well on the leash before the baby arrives, work on teaching your dog to walk on a loose leash now! If you need to, add a dog training class to your list of pre-baby classes you need to take.
Exercise is essential even for senior dogs, whose aging joints are prone to arthritis and hip dysplasia. Providing puppies with exercise can be trickier, as their growing bones should not be exercised on hard surfaces like asphalt. Using a flirt pole, playing fetch, swimming (with a life vest!) or simply teaching tricks are all great workouts for growing pups.
No matter how trustworthy the pet, never leave your baby unattended with a dog. Young children often pull pets’ ears or tails, leading to aggression from the animal. Dogs and kids can get into all kinds of trouble unsupervised – better safe than sorry.
- Dogs do not bite “out of nowhere.” There are always signs prior. Dog bites most commonly occur when the dog is sleeping, eating or cornered. Any dog pushed or cornered can lash out.
- Keep an eye out for your dog’s body language and signs of stress, including: a closed mouth, turning away, lip licking, shaking off, yawning, half-moon eye, and breathing changes (panting or holding breath).
- Resource guarding can sometimes emerge with toys. Baby and dog toys are similar! Resource guarding can be a serious issue so if your dog is already hoarding his toys and does not easily do a “drop” cue, get help from a professional. If your dog does not have a guarding issue but just wants all the toys, have a toy box for your dog and get him used to retrieving from that box early on. This toy box method helps him differentiate between his toys and the baby’s toys.