The arrival of a baby is a wonderful event that, like any important milestone in life, involves a great deal of stress. Pets are part of our family, and they are affected by everything that happens in our everyday life. They sense happy or sad situations sometimes even before their humans counterparts do. Any routine change such as moving, traveling, marriage, divorce, could have a different impact on our pets’ physical and emotional well being.
Dogs are wonderful creatures who can perfectly adapt to any family structure. Furthermore, children benefit physically, mentally, and emotionally from coexisting with pets. A child who grows up interacting with dogs not only is at a lower risk of illness such as respiratory problems, but also develops a bond and acquires a sense of responsibility and respect for animals.
Dogs have, like their ancestor, the wolf, a social structure called pack, which plays a key role in the inclusion of new members to the family, whether it is a baby or another pet. Babies claim most of their parents’ energy and time, something the pet used to formerly monopolize, making rivalry an important issue to avoid. The arrival of a new member to the family might negatively impact the dog’s behavior, mainly when the hierarchy is not clearly established and the pooch perceives himself as the leader of the pack. This negative repercussion can also arise when the baby capitalizes all family time and dogs feel left out.
Dr. Gregory Bern’s in his book “How Dogs Love Us”and studies regarding dogs’ emotions using MRI scanners showed that dogs experience love and positive emotions at a similar level than children. Therefore, the feelings of a dog facing the arrival of a baby are not far from those of a child who deals with that of a new sibling. Reducing the risk of dangerous behavior ensures the success of early interactions between the baby and dog, which will forge a strong bond between them as well as a wonderful friendship.
Whether it is a well trained pooch or a spoiled four-legged baby, many modifications should be made to ensure an absolutely safe environment for the new family member. This might mean getting used to nail trimming or to learning good manners. The period of pregnancy is perfect for preparing the dog for the great upcoming event.
Although it is not possible to predict with perfect accuracy a dog’s reaction to this new situation, there are some tips that could help ensure a safer and more pleasant experience for all:
During the months preceding the new baby’s arrival, obedience training should focus on getting an automatic and consistent response to basic commands such as sit, stay, wait, do not jump on people, go away, relax and lie down. These actions will be essential in obtaining an absolute control of any behavior that could jeopardize the baby’s safety. A professional trainer or a training program can be of great help, however, it is important that the dog recognizes you as the main leader. This period is also perfect for adjusting a walking and playing schedule to match the expected routine that will take place after the baby’s arrival.
Moreover, if the plan is to use the services of a dog walker or a dog daycare, the behavioral adaptation will be smoother if the program starts a few months in advance. This interspecies socialization is a must regarding this new life stage. Some pooches are afraid of children while others adore them and consider them playmates. In either case, an extreme reaction is undesirable since fear could lead to a violent behavior and an excessively enthusiastic dog might accidentally injure a child. If children’s presence leads a dog to feel uncomfortable or become aggressive, seek professional help.
Baby objects such as strollers, car seats and cribs should be introduced to the dog during this period to help the pooch differentiate between his toys and the baby’s. Moreover, in order to adapt the dog senses, it’s recommended to make use of baby shampoos and lotions in order to help dogs to associate the baby smell with a family member. Playing recorded baby cries and noises will also allow the dog to be prepared to future circumstances by learning to deal with these new sounds without fear or stress. On the other hand, bark control contributes to setting a peaceful ambiance that will help establish and maintain the baby’s resting and sleeping routine.
It is important to train the dog to respect an established area of the house of restricted access where you can be sure the baby will be safe and relaxed. There must be also a specific dog-zone where the pooch can rest without being disturbed by a playful toddler. A removable gate is a simple way to create a restricted zone while avoiding isolation.
A baby’s arrival marks the beginning of a new life stage. It is a challenge that demands commitment and sacrifice, but that also offers unique experiences as a reward for those who dare embark on the wonderful adventure that is starting a family.