No one wants a beloved family dog to end up in the doghouse over aggression towards a new baby. What can an expecting couple do to ease their pet’s transition from ‘center of attention’ to ‘one of the family’?
Decoded Pregnancy spoke with Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD., a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) about this issue. Her advice? Start early and be consistent.
Pets and Babies: Solid Dog-Owner Communication is Key to a Good Transition
Most people don’t actually communicate well with their dog. They miss clues that their dog is giving them about how they are feeling (see signs of stress below). This can be dangerous if the dog reaches a point of no longer being able to cope. But there are ways to prevent problems.
Dr. Moon’s suggestions:
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- Do some basic training. Really teach your dog to come; not in a few minutes, not when he gets around to it, but when you want him to. The same with sit, stay, or any other basic commands you have been lax about. Dogs are less stressed when they don’t have to guess what you really want, or worse yet, why they are now suddenly in trouble for doing what they have always done. Things like jumping up on you. If you have allowed your dog to do this and are now concerned about protecting your baby, it is important that you start training quickly and the dog understands what you are asking. Suddenly changing from allowing, or even inviting, your dog to jump on you to aggressively disciplining him for that behavior will not help. Begin a training program to positively reshape that behavior. For example, you can reward him for sitting instead of jumping.
- Develop a canine exercise and activity program. Why? Because it will give both you and your dog a routine that ensures he gets some quality time and exercise. You may already take your dog running or walking. That’s great, but if you go at the same time every day, you need to change that routine. After all, babies specialize in disrupting schedules. By varying the time of the exercise but keeping it on a regular schedule, several days a week, your dog will learn that he gets quality time with you (This is a no cell phone time, as talking to someone else during the walk/run is not quality time for your dog.). The exercise plan may also include a couple of half days at a good doggie day care center, if there is one near you. The half-days give you one less responsibility during those hours and your dog gets active, social time, which helps him maintain his mental health. Just be sure that the doggie day care center is well run and the dogs are constantly monitored.
- Create a safe spot for your dog. Things will be hectic once the baby comes. Sometimes you’ll need to be able to send the dog away while you deal with the baby. Sometimes your dog will need a place to go to when he is overwhelmed by the changes or activities around him. This safe spot will later be a place he can go to escape a crawling baby when he needs to. Start teaching the dog that he must go there when you need him to as soon as possible. This will help you in other ways, including when you come home, arms loaded with grocery bags and your dog comes to greet you. Send him to the safe spot until you have put the bags down, then take the time to greet him properly, rewarding him for going to his safe spot. When activities cause your dog stress you may find he automatically goes to his safe spot to escape and decompress.
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