Christine Good, CPDT-KA, RVT
You’ve done your planning. You have started putting the game plan into action. Now it’s time to prepare for that third trimester of pregnancy and the moment you bring your newborn home.
In the third trimester you may be getting quite uncomfortable and doctor visits are becoming more and more frequent. Everything becomes a chore: bending down, riding in a car, sleeping. This is definitely the time to hand over some responsibilities and slow things down.
Take care of the basics first
- Make sure your dog is up to date on all preventative care. If your dog’s annual exam falls in the first three months of the baby’s life, talk to your vet about having the annual exam and any needed vaccinations a little earlier. Include a parasite check, as pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to parasites. Buy enough heartworm and flea/tick prevention to last at least through the first three months of your baby’s life.
- If your dog has chronic conditions which require regular veterinary care, ask someone to take your dog to the vet. Familiarize that person with your dog’s history so that they can answer any questions the vet may have.
- If you haven’t done so already, this is the time when you really need to find a dog sitter. Make sure your dog is comfortable with this person. Supply the sitter with a key to your house since most women go into labor at night.
- Be sure to have enough dog food and medication on hand to last for several days, as you may have to stay in the hospital that long.
Condition your dog to strange objects, noises, and activities
- Most moms have a baby shower during the last trimester. That means lots of new items that move and blink and play music. Set up swings, bouncers, and strollers right away. Initially leave them sitting out and let your dog explore. After several days, start turning them on occasionally or moving them — one at a time and on the lowest setting. Don’t force your dog to interact with the items. Instead, sprinkle some treats around them or offer food treats when your dog shows curiosity. If your dog reacts fearfully or intensely, consult a qualified rewards-based trainer.
- Extend the duration of your dog’s alone time. Once you come home with baby, that baby will occupy all your waking (and many of your sleeping) moments. Alone time for your dog will be unavoidable. To that end stock up on enrichment items. Refer to our blog posts on enrichment for numerous ideas. Offering your dog some enrichment activities can be a wonderful way to buy yourself a few minutes of stress-free alone time.
- Keep playing “What Happened?” with your dog to further desensitize him to startling moments that may come his way once the baby starts moving about.
- Start using some of the baby lotions on your hands or arms occasionally, so your dog gets familiar with the scents. This step is not crucial since most dogs don’t react fearfully to scents. However, they are usually very curious when something smells different.
- Begin using a calming pheromone diffuser (DAP: Dog Appeasing Pheromone) in the house when you get closer to your due date. We want to give your dog every chance to be calm and relaxed by the time you deliver. You can find links to DAP products on the Cold Nose Companions Shop web page.
When baby comes home
When the big day arrives, you should feel as well prepared as possible. Set yourself up for success when you come home with your bundle of joy.
- Ask your dog sitter to go for a walk or play outside with your dog before you arrive at home. We want your dog to get some energy out of his system.
- Ask somebody else to hold your baby when you enter the house. Greet your dog in a friendly, but not too excited, manner. Act as if you had just come home from a trip to the store or work. You can then send your dog outside or into his baby-free area and give him something to do while you get your bags into the house and get settled in.
- When it is time to make the introduction, hold your calm baby in your arms while you are standing up or sitting on a chair. You want to be able to move baby up and away quickly if your dog responds unexpectedly. Chances are everything will be fine, but don’t take it for granted.
- Avoid face to face contact between newborn and dog. Let your dog sniff baby’s feet and legs. Have somebody else in the room who can call the dog away from you and reward him with a delicious treat after just three seconds (count the seconds in your head). Repeat this procedure several times daily over the next days. At some point your dog should start showing markedly less interest in the baby than in a treat. You are looking for friendly and relaxed indifference. If you have more than one dog, introduce them separately.
- You may have heard the suggestion of having someone bring a blanket home from the hospital to your dog before your baby comes home. Although there is no harm in it, it may not be as helpful as you think. New scents alone usually don’t prompt much response from dogs. Your dog may be interested in the smell but still react fearfully to the baby.
- Never scold or punish your dog in the baby’s presence. This is very important. We don’t want your dog to associate your baby with anything negative. Give your dog cues for alternative behaviors, such as “Sit” or “Off,” rather than yelling “No!” Send your dog out of the room if he can’t settle.
- Continue playing “What Happened?” with your dog as unexpected events unfold.
NEVER leave the baby and the dog together alone
All together times must be ACTIVELY supervised. Even if both of them are sleeping. All of these rules also apply to toddlers and preschoolers.
- Make sure there is another adult in the room to supervise. When you get tired — and you will, a lot — move baby to the dog-free room, or your dog to the baby-free room
- If you want to watch TV, read or work on a project, it is safest for the sleeping baby to be in a crib or playpen behind a closed door. You can also use the dog-free and baby-free zones that you established to keep everybody safe.
- If you want to use the baby’s nap time to finally take that shower you’ve been craving use a monitor and keep the nursery door closed.
- Take one of them with you if you are sitting with dog and baby and just need to quickly answer the phone or get yourself a glass of water.
We hope you have found this series helpful to you. Other great sources for information on child and dog safety are Familypaws.com and Doggonesafe.com/bite-prevention. Consult a qualified rewards-based trainer if you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s behavior.