In the world of dog lovers, there are many couples whose “firstborn” is their beloved dog. When a two-legged child finally arrives, the family is blended into one that includes the much loved canine as one of the children. This milestone transition can be an emotional one and is different for every dog owner.
In my ten-plus years caring for people’s pets, I have seen many a doting Dog Mom experience feelings of guilt and uncertainty about changes imminent to their family structure. It’s safe to say bringing home a newborn is a big shock to everyone in the home, including the family dog. For families planning on making significant changes to the dog’s routine, steps should be taken well before the birth to make these changes a positive experience for the dog.
CREATING A POSITIVE TRANSITION FOR THE DOG
- Create a safe, comfortable space for the dog.
- Help your dog build a strong “down-stay.”
- If the dog has never been around children, bring in a force-free trainer to work with you and the dog.
- Before the baby arrives, take your time to train the dog to walk alongside the baby stroller.
The connection between dogs and their pregnant Dog Moms is a fascinating one. Stella is a 2-year old Cattledog mix I have cared for since she was very young. She is high energy and rugged yet unexpectedly sweet and cuddly. She is also extraordinarily bonded to her owners and her Dog Mom in particular. For the last nine months there has been no doubt that Stella can smell the changing hormones and fluids that have accompanied the pregnancy of her Dog Mom. Honestly, I have never seen anything quite like it. Stella has already taken to snuggling her baby brother even though he is still In Utero.
When the baby arrives in the next few days, the job of introducing Stella to the scent of her baby brother will fall on me while her family is still in the hospital. Common thinking is that a family member or friend should bring home a swaddling cloth and offer it up to the family dog for familiarity.
According to expert dog trainer Sarah Pennington, owner of Yaletown Dog Training, bringing home the swaddling cloth isn’t enough. Further steps should be taken to help the dog develop a positive association with the scent of the baby.
BUILDING THE FOUNDATION FOR A SUCCESSFUL INTRODUCTION TO BABY
- Store swaddling cloth in a plastic bag for transport.
- At home, remove baby blanket from bag and offer it to the dog for smelling.
- Hand feed the dog high value treats like pieces of chicken, steak or hot dog slices.
- Repeat Steps 1 & 2.
- Store the swaddling cloth in the plastic bag.
- A few hours later, retrieve the baby blanket and offer it to the dog again for smelling. Ply the dog with a smorgasbord of high value treats.
- Repeat this exercise in the days leading up to baby’s arrival home.
Because Stella has been around children and does not have a history of resource guarding or location guarding, where she actually meets the baby for the first time is not critical. With any dog, care should be taken not to put baby’s face in the dog’s face and the two should never be left together unsupervised.
Any day now, Stella will become big four-legged sister to her baby brother. I have no doubt that her family will be a wonderful example of how there is always enough love to around for baby and dog.