Christine Good, CPDT-KA, RVT
There are a million things to plan before your little one greets the world. For most expectant moms, pregnancy symptoms ease up noticeably during the second “honeymoon” trimester. The second trimester is a great time to set your dog up for a successful coexistence with your child for the months and years ahead. Put your game plan into action.
Address behavioral concerns
- Don’t wait another day if you have serious behavioral concerns with your dog. Immediate concerns are fears and phobias; guarding of people, food, spaces or items; difficulties settling down; aggression; and difficulties being separated from you. These issues should be addressed long before your baby greets the world.
- The second trimester is the ideal time to take a manners training class with your dog. Manners classes can help remedy nuisance behaviors such as jumping on people, pulling on leash, or grabbing up dropped items. If you didn’t get a chance to sign up in advance, try to get into a class soon or book private lessons. When you practice manners with your dog at home, include giving cues while sitting or lying down since dogs often stall when you change your position.
A common worry that many parents express is that they feel their dog may be jealous of the baby. Whether or not that is the case, we know that dogs like predictability. They often become stressed or even fearful when habits are disrupted. Life after baby will look very different for both you and your dog. Fearful and stressed dogs may respond aggressively to disruption.
Avoid making all the changes to your dog’s life at once. Here are a few things that you can do now to help your dog have a smoother transition.
Establish dog-free zones in your house
- If you know that you won’t want your dog in certain rooms or on certain furniture once the baby is born, begin to restrict your dog’s access to those areas now.
- Your dog will occasionally have to spend time alone while you care for the baby. You can help your dog by practicing increasingly longer separations from you while you are in the house. Establish baby-free zones for your dog and give him alone times there. Provide a food enrichment item in this baby-free zone and keep your dog confined while you walk away. Come back to release your dog before he becomes upset. Start with very short periods of time and slowly work your way up. If your dog becomes distressed during separations, contact a qualified rewards-based trainer for help.
- When you register items for your baby shower add items for your dog. There are puzzle feeders, calming pheromone diffusers and supplements, dog toys, baby gates, exercise pens, and many other helpful items that could make your life easier. Even a gift certificate for a dog training class can be a great gift idea.
Start desensitizing and counter conditioning your dog to aspects of life with baby
- Start carrying around a baby doll or weighted stuffed animal, wrapped in a blanket. It may sound and feel foolish, however, carrying a baby changes your posture and limits you to using only one hand for daily chores. During the first few months with baby you will discover how many things you can do with just one hand, and your dog will get used to that experience, too.
- Especially for sound sensitive dogs, it may be helpful to find baby sounds on YouTube and play them frequently at a very low volume, while you provide an enrichment activity for your dog. The volume should be so low that your dog hears it, takes note, and then happily ignores it again. Over the coming weeks, slowly increase the volume until you reach real life volume. If your dog seems worried or intensely focused on the sounds at any point go back to a lower volume and stay there for a few more sessions before trying again. Take your time with this. If you feel your dog is reacting fearfully or otherwise very intensely, work with a qualified rewards-based trainer.
- A great exercise to integrate into the daily routine is playing “What Happened?” with your dog. The exercise aims at desensitizing and counter conditioning your dog to accidental scares that the baby or toddler may cause later on. Please refer to our training sheet on teaching “What Happened?”
Enlist outside help
Recruit reliable and trusted people outside your household, with whom your dog is comfortable. They will be able to help when you cannot care for him yourself. Ask a family member, neighbor, or look online to find a professional dog sitter. Your sitter should be familiar with your dog and his care routine, as well as medical issues. They should have a key to your house for emergencies.
- You will need someone to take care of your dog for at least a couple of days after you deliver.
- In an emergency you should not have to worry about your dog’s care. Be sure the people you recruit are able to step in on short notice.
- Make sure you have dog food and all necessary medication in your house. Write down care instructions and keep the note hanging on your refrigerator.
In our third article we will address the last stage of your pregnancy and the time after you bring the baby home from the hospital. You may also visit Familypaws.com for more information on pregnancy with dogs.