Your life is seemingly perfect the way it is. You have a great job where you are successful, you have a loving spouse and a well behaved family dog who is your first born child. You spoil Fluffy like you would a human baby, you talk softly to her so as not to hurt her feelings, you warm up her food so it’s not too cold and on a rainy day you make sure she wears her $150 designer rain slicker. In your mind, nothing could complete your life more than how perfect it is today. Until the day that test reads positive. Congratulations you’re having a baby!
I know from experience that having a child brings you more joy than you ever knew existed. The first time you hold your child you will experience a love that only a mother knows. I will forever cherish the moment I held my daughter for the first time because at that moment I understood how much my mother loved me. Along with the anticipation of becoming a mother you may feel concerned about how things might change for Sparky. I’ve been through this so let me share some wisdom from a mother and a professional dog trainer.
1. Take Action to Avoid a Reaction
My first trimester brought on an exhaustion that I have never experienced before. This stage of pregnancy is an ideal time to put together a plan for preparation for your child’s arrival. Part of your Baby Prep Plan will include training and preparing your dog, and other important events, such as making lists of purchases and building the nursery. You could list some puzzle toys, chews, games and other items you will need to purchase over the next few months to keep your pup busy on days that you can’t get him out. It would also be a great idea to find a professional dog walker in your area to help with dog walks for at least the last couple of weeks of your pregnancy and the first couple of weeks after the baby is born, or until you settle into a new routine with your babe. Be proactive. Once your baby arrives you will be happy you did.
2. Set Realistic Goals
First things first, list out all of the wonderful things your dog can do! I have worked with many different families on a wide variety of training opportunities and I can say that in each case upon my arrival the humans could not wait to list off the undesirable behavior traits their dog exhibited. You are going to be amazed at all the wonderful behaviors your dog knows upon completion of this list and then you can start your new training plan with confidence in knowing your dog can learn.
If this is your first child I am sure you are vibrating with anticipation of this life transition. Maybe you are imagining how tired you will be or how much attention your growing fetus will need. As you set your goals for before and after the baby is born it is best to triple whatever you are imagining right now. That way you are prepared for a hard transition, so if it isn’t so difficult it will be wonderful and if it is you were prepared for it anyway.
As part of your goal setting, put together a post baby exercise plan for your pup. If that means you have a dog walker or if your husband has to get up at 5am to walk the dog before he goes to work that is up to you to decide. You could also plan activities you can do with your dog at home such as placing a comfortable chair under an umbrella outside to play fetch, or loading up on puzzle games and activities for Spot to play with while you are tending to your bundle of joy. Stay tuned to the Release the Hounds blog for a future post detailing games you can play with your dog.
3. Practice Good Leadership
“Leadership is a state of mind, an attitude. It isn’t something that is gained through force, manipulation or compulsion. It is earned with confidence, empathy and capability. True leaders will offer guidance, instruction and influence to their subordinates with understanding and compassion for all no matter size, age, gender, orientation or seniority. A leader inspires, protects, and believes in their cause even when there is great doubt. Leaders are rare and leaders are special.” – Niki Perry, CPDT-KA, KPACTP, CEMT
The 4 main aspects of Leadership are: 1. Control of all Resources including food, toys, and attention. 2. Respect of Personal Space 3. The ability to influence behavior in any situation and 4. Proactive Intervention. To be a good leader you need to be the one who gives the things that your dog wants, to make sure she always respects your personal space and does not enter it without an invitation, train the fundamental behaviors necessary for your dog to be a well mannered and safe dog to have and be around, and lastly you need to be someone your dog can count on.
As part of my leadership program I also made sure that all of my dogs were comfortable with and actually enjoyed confinement. I created a safe and comfortable place for them where I could put them if I needed them to settle in their Doggy Zen Place. I started by throwing cookies into their kennels to have them go in and get them. Once they were going in without problem I increased the duration they were in there by giving them a raw bone or stuffed kong to chew on. Now if we have visitors over I can have my pups all go to their Doggy Zen Place and rest comfortably rather than worrying about our guests.
4. Back to the FUNdamentals
During the second trimester most women are full of energy and this is a great time to really commit time and energy into training their family pet. It’s not enough to desire a prepared and well mannered dog, you have to put the work in to achieve your goals, and trust this is coming from a mother of one with 4 dogs! The work that I put in preparing my dogs helped save the limited sanity I had left after my daughter arrived.
There are definitely some behaviors that you need to master with your dog through your pre-natal training program, but don’t worry — the expectations are not far fetched. Focus on using positive reinforcement to teach him the basic foundation behaviors: Response to a name in ANY situation, Sit, Down, Come and Walk Nicely. I don’t teach a stay because I teach my dogs to hold their positions until I give them a release or another cue so stay is incorporated into every behavior I teach with the increase in duration.
If I had to stress one of these as most important I would say that it would be a long duration down. There will be many times when you will just need your pup to be able to lay calmly on his bed so that you can relax, tend to the baby or whatever it is you need to do. I recommend purchasing Clicker Basics for Dogs & Puppies by Carolyn Barney which can be found in the Karen Pryor Clicker Training Online Store. This book will give you tips and tricks to apply clicker training to your dog training regiment. Included with this purchase is a worksheet to keep track of your progress.
5. Teach GREAT Manners
My “GREAT Manners” program consisted of teaching the personal space bubble, wait for food, wait at the door, down stay and wait at the car and leave it. In essence, a manners program implements really good impulse control and how to “ask permission” by offering an appropriate behavior such as a sit.
The space bubble will show your dog that they cannot invade someone’s personal space without an invitation and this will include your delicate little baby. The space bubble prevents jumping up, accidental pawing and even accidentally laying on a baby. Teaching your dog to wait for food will ensure they don’t eat something they shouldn’t if it is accidentally dropped on the floor by a sleep deprived mommy or daddy. Soon after baby comes home, you will be into your new routine and will be eager to get out on your regular dog walking schedule. If you work on teaching your dog to wait calmly at the door you will not have to worry about an overly excited pup jumping around, crazy with excitement for his walk. The ONLY way he gets to go on his walk is if he sits nicely, and that must continue as you pass through the doorway as well. I took my manners training to the next level by teaching all of my dogs to down stay at my car so I could load my daughter in first. It is extremely gratifying to have four dogs laying down calmly and waiting for me to load them up once the babe is in safe and sound. The last part of the GREAT Manners program is teaching a leave it. The uses of leave it are infinite but in particular I have used it as follows: “leave the diaper,” “leave the soother,” “leave the bottle,” “agh! Leave the bowl of baby food!” I am sure you get the point, teach it and you will thank me for not having to pull a poopy diaper out of your dog’s mouth. Ew.
The key to your success in the great manners program is making sure you control all resources while you are in training mode. Waiting until food drops on the floor to try and teach a leave it is setting your dog up for failure. Furthermore, every time your dog self-rewards by pulling you out the door or jumping up on you for attention, your goals are becoming harder and harder to reach. If we refer to tip #1 — I stated that you have to be proactive in order to be stress-free and prepared for this life change, so plan ahead and teach all of these behaviors before it’s too late. Set up controlled exercises so you can achieve your goals without many hiccups along the way.
6. Practice Walking Beside the Buggy
Many dogs are aroused by things that move and baby buggies are no different. I bought my buggy around the 6 month mark of my pregnancy and I walked it around the neighborhood empty so that I could teach my dogs that it wasn’t a scary thing. I worked with each of my dogs individually and fed them their dinner as we walked. Once each dog was able to walk beside the buggy on their own I started to practice with two at a time, three at a time and once I got my fourth dog, I walked all four at a time.
By packing up some yummy food and treats you can be sure that if you run into a distracting situation, such as another dog nearby, you can keep your dog focused on you, since in order for her to eat her dinner she needs to be walking politely beside you. Many dogs will jump from side to side the first couple of times they walk alongside a buggy. Wouldn’t that be scary if your wee babe was inside? Even if you just practice walking up and down the hallway or around the backyard, that would be enough to get your pup used to the movement of the buggy beside them. I would also recommend teaching a sit when you stop the buggy so that if you need to tend to the baby your pup just sits patiently and waits for the walk to resume.
7. Set Up the Nursery in Advance
Around the 7 month mark, we painted and built our nursery. I brought my dogs in one by one to check out the room and then I taught an invisible barrier at the door to keep them out of the room unless they were invited. I also did the same thing with my cats as I was afraid that my cats would want to lay in the crib with the baby once she arrived.
Although I still don’t let my cats in my nursery, I did allow the dogs in, one at a time, but they had to lay down and be calm. While I was active in my Baby Preparation Plan, I would take the time to sit in my rocking chair with the lights out and allowed one of my dogs to rest at my feet. I wanted them to see the nursery as a relaxing place that they are welcome to explore but only when invited and they must always be calm. You could even hold a doll like you would your baby to get your dog used to you giving attention to someone else.
8. Desensitize Your Dog to Baby Noises
I will be honest, this is one area that I failed my dogs in my Baby Prep Plan. I have included it so you don’t do the same thing. I still remember the day when my Saint Bernard, Gunnar, climbed in the bath tub and hid from the sound of my daughter crying. Gunnar is a sensitive dog and I could have helped his transition if I had purchased a CD called Preparing Fido, a “comprehensive collection of baby sounds” to help you prepare your pet(s) for the arrival of a newborn.
Desensitization refers to presenting a stimulus in a reduced intensity so as not to cause a fear response and gradually increasing the intensity as the dog adjusts and becomes comfortable with it. If at any time the dog shows signs of fear or stress while the CD is playing, the volume should be turned down or turned off completely until she calms. I suggest starting to play the CD at meal times at a low level and turning the sound off once the food is all gone. Then as your dog gains experience listening to the sounds and shows no signs of stress you can play it louder and throughout the day. Just remember that if something should upset her that you back off the intensity of the sound and pair it with a yummy treat with a slow and gradual climb back to the original level.
9. Prepare Your Vehicle and Dog for Safe Transport
Perhaps your best friend sits happily in the back seat during your car rides or has the option of jumping from the cargo area to the seat in front. Well, all this will change once Baby arrives. Safe transportation involves car barriers, seat belt harness, and crates placed in vehicles to keep a dog from moving around while driving. This should be common practice even without a baby on the way, but sadly many dogs are not transported safely by their humans. Set your car up for the new and safe transportation routine and get your dog used to it so that you don’t have a baby and a dog crying in the car.
10. Bringing Home Baby
The day has finally come, your bundle has arrived! Have Daddy come home with a blanket from the hospital that has baby’s scent on it. Let your dog sniff and explore it while Daddy holds it in his hands. On the day that Baby comes home, one of you will need to enter your home first to greet your dog and place him on a leash. If he is too excited to greet the baby right away, take him to his special Doggy Zen Place and wait until later to introduce him to Baby. If he is sitting or laying nicely, bring the baby to him and lower the carrier down to a level that your dog can sniff the toes, not face, and be sure to make it a non-event, like this is completely normal. Keep the first meeting quick to make sure that it’s not too overwhelming for both the baby and the dog.
The next 4-6 weeks will be about transitioning, settling, and growing. The advice in this post gives you tips on teaching basic behaviors necessary for a well mannered and safe dog. But I cannot stress the importance of always remembering that your dog is an animal and may behave unpredictably at any moment. No dog should ever be left unattended with a child under any circumstances. If you fear at any time that your dog is not adjusting well to the baby, call a professional dog trainer immediately. Both the Karen Pryor Academy and Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers list qualified dog trainers by area, so you can find someone who abides by a code of ethics and will use pain-free training methods based on the scientific principles of learning theory to help you teach appropriate behaviors to your dog.
If you have referred to the tips in this post, then everything is ready. Just enjoy this time. It goes by so quickly. And remember one phrase on those really tough days: “this too, shall pass.” The days that your child is a newborn are so limited and will be gone before you know it.
So live each moment.
by Niki Perry, CPDT-KA, Release the Hounds Board Member
Niki’s website: The Beloved Beast