The arrival of a baby is a huge lifestyle change. In fact, it’s probably one of the most significant life events that we will ever face. Our lives change overnight when our first child is born. And if our lives are about to change dramatically then it’s inevitable that the dogs we share our lives with are also going to experience change and upheaval.
As humans we understand the extent of the change ahead and so we take steps to prepare ourselves for these as best we can. We attend ante natal classes, we read parenting books, we join internet forums, we write birthing plans and spend hours researching products in minute detail. We do all these things because we understand that preparation in advance will help to make our lives easier when our baby arrives. Feeling prepared (or as prepared as we can be) and having a plan gives us the confidence to face the changes and challenges ahead. We don’t wing it and hope for the best.
But do we think of all the things that are likely to change for our dogs with the arrival of a newborn in the same way? They’re almost certainly going to receive less attention, exercise levels are likely to decrease, their access to certain areas of the home may be restricted, new rules may be put in place. Many aspects of their life are likely to change and if all these changes happen simultaneously and overnight then it’s hardly surprising that some dogs may struggle with the transition from being a dog living with a couple to a family dog.
Often our attitude to our dogs themselves, and to their behaviour, changes with the arrival of our child. Behaviours which were tolerable or acceptable (or even enjoyable….your dog snuggling in bed with you, for example) are suddenly re-framed when there is a baby in the picture. From our dog’s perspective nothing has changed but from ours everything has, and our tolerance of some behaviours suddenly changes too.
Fail to Prepare; Prepare to Fail
Sadly, pregnancy and the arrival of a new baby are two common reasons that dogs are surrendered by their owners for re-homing. The reasons new and expectant parents feel they have no option but to surrender their dogs are varied and range from complex behavioural problems to simply feeling that they no longer have sufficient time to devote to their dog. It’s important to acknowledge that sometimes the decision to rehome is absolutely the right one. Not every dog can live safely and happily with young children and some dogs require more attention or care than new parents have to give. In those cases it’s better for everyone – humans and dogs – to find a new, more suitable home for the dog. But in many, many cases some simple preparation and planning in advance could have made the transition from dog parents to parents with a dog less stressful and more successful.
Increase Success, Decrease Stress
So how can we make these inevitable changes easier for our dogs to cope with? Here are six key things which every expectant parent with a dog should do to help make the transition from dog parents to parents with a dog as smooth as possible.
- Start now. Begin to consider the changes ahead for your dog as soon as you know you are pregnant. Behaviour change takes time so don’t leave it ’til the last minute.
- Know your dog. What is likely to worry them? Excite them?
- Know their behaviour. What do they currently do that would be helpful in a house with a new baby? How can we make those behaviours even stronger? And what do they do which might be less than helpful? And how can we teach them something different?
- Begin to introduce changes – routine, equipment, noises etc – in advance so that, by the time baby is here, they are completely normal and your dog is well used to them.
- Brush up on understanding your dog’s body language. Knowing when a dog is feeling uncomfortable or worried is key in keeping kids and dogs safe together.
- Practical planning in advance can really lighten the load in the first few frantic weeks of parenthood. Bulk buying food, planning vet or groomer visits in advance, arranging a dog walker are all practical steps you can take to make life easier for yourself.
My new book, Dogs, Bumps & Babies; Preparing Your Dog For Life With Your Baby, offers simple, practical advice on all of these steps and is essential reading for any dog owner whose dog is about to have a little person in their life.
Don’t wing it. Don’t leave things to chance. A little preparation can go a long way to keeping you, your baby and your much loved dog relaxed, safe and happy together as a family.
Dogs, Bumps & Babies: Preparing Your Dog For Life With Your Baby is available now from Amazon.