While a new baby brings much joy it’s also a time of big change. This can be daunting for our aging pets, used to a routine and unrivalled attention. It’s possible to reduce stress to a minimum but it takes planning, time and a lot of patience. If you are expecting, you have some warning to get yourself prepared. Your dog needs the same.
Start early with new routines
It’s best to introduce changes to routine over the months before your baby arrives. Consider the following tips:
- If your dog will no longer be allowed in certain rooms, start as soon as possible. Baby gates can be useful. The aim is for your dog to be happy on the other side of the gate.
- If your dog will be alone more, try separating them for parts of the day so they can learn to be happy and confident alone.
- Introduce a safe space for your dog to spend time alone such as a crate or den. When your baby arrives, they will already have somewhere of their own to go when it all gets a bit much.
- If walking and feeding patterns will change, get started early. If there will be no pattern (and that’s really common with a newborn baby in the house!!! – Ed), mix things up, so your dog does not become reliant on something happening at a certain time. If you will use a dog walker or minder, start before your baby arrives so they can get used to other people.
- If your dog will be prevented from using certain furniture, start this as soon as possible. Don’t shout if they jump up. They have always been able to do this before so it will be confusing for them. Provide a comfy and appealing alternative and treats and fusses when they use it.
- If your dog is used to attention on demand it may be hard for them to accept waiting. Try only interacting with them when you call them or use a clear signal when your attention is available. They will learn to not fuss around you when you are busy with your baby.
- Consider brushing up on training by enrolling in classes or search simple commands online such as sit, stay, drop, come and heel. Your dog will enjoy the stimulation and your relationship will be enhanced by better communication.
- Make sure your dog is wormed and flea treated regularly.
It’s a whole new world
With a new baby come new smells, sounds and paraphernalia. To prepare your dog consider:
- sound desensitisation CDs or tracks that help prepare them for new sounds.
- walking your dog with a pram to get them used to not pulling.
- introducing highchairs and cots early so your dog gets used to them.
- bringing baby toys and clothes into the home. Make sure they have plenty of their own toys to play with, giving them praise when playing with them.
- using synthetic versions of airborne hormones known as pheromones (collars or plug-ins) which provide comforting signals to your dog to help reduce stress.
The first few days
- Help your dog understand there’s nothing to be afraid of by giving treats when they behave well around your baby. Keeping calm yourself helps prevent your dog becoming over-excited.
- Never leave your dog alone with your baby, no matter how good they are. Keep them away when your baby is on the floor in case of accidental injury.
- Make sure your dog can escape to their pre-prepared safe space, that they have toys for stimulation, and walks to reduce energy levels.
Getting to know your dog better
It’s rare for a dog to lash out without first attempting to communicate its feelings. It’s up to us to understand their body language. If signs of uneasiness are ignored it may lead to aggression. 98% of parents are unaware of the 20 signs that dogs will show before aggression. A more understood dog is a happier dog. Signs include:
- Moving away. An escape route should always be available.
- Yawning or licking lips which may indicate stress. They may try and appease by lifting a paw and have their tail between their legs.
- Stiffening, cowering, wide eyes, and flat ears which indicates fear. Dogs showing these signs may bite in defence, if pushed.
- Growling. This is a warning that should NEVER be ignored, even if your dog has never bitten before. The next step is a bite.
My dog would never bite
Most bites happen in the home with family or known dogs. A new baby can cause distress to an aging dog. Dogs think, feel and get frightened just like us. They may feel trapped, protective, lonely, over-excited and confused. This may result in uncharacteristic behaviour.
When your baby grows
Growing up with a dog can be very rewarding but as your baby becomes a child, the work isn’t over. Teach them to read your dog’s behaviour. Some bites could be prevented with improved dog training, but improved child training on how to interact with dogs is equally important. Shouting and screaming may scare dogs as they have sensitive hearing, so aim for calm.
Use treats and games like fetch to associate children with positive experiences so they will be more likely to tolerate your child if accidental incidents occur. Don’t allow teasing or disturbing of your dog when they are sleeping or eating. Dogs dislike face-to-face contact. 19% of parents have seen their child kiss a dog’s nose, 18% pull their tail and 14% shout at or hit them. A dog will eventually feel overwhelmed and resort to aggression.
33% of UK children will encounter a dog every day. We should educate all children on how to interact with dogs. Children should ask owners IF and WHERE they can stroke their dog, allowing the dog to come to them. If a dog jumps up, they should fold their arms and turn to the side, or if knocked over, curl into a ball.