Thursday, 21 July 2011
As someone who has been there and learnt the hard way, I wanted to share my experiences and offer some easy to follow tips so that you don't make the same mistakes introducing your dog to a new baby. For me, my dog was my baby until the little pink one with 2 legs instead of 4 arrived. I've always worked in a pet environment so I was lucky enough to have access to first hand advice from veterinary staff and training staff alike on the pitfalls to expect and what measures to take beforehand. Of course plans are great if you follow them but as an excited mum-to-be making the most of what time I had preparing the nursery and waddling round some favourite walks with the dog while I still could, I shamefully didn't take a blind bit of notice of the advice I'd been given and so we fell at the first hurdle.
It is said that many dogs each year are taken in by rescue centres as the introduction of baby to dog didn't run smoothly because the dog exhibited jealousy as the baby naturally takes centre of attention. So taking a few minutes out to read this article should pave the way to a smooth transition, fingers crossed.
Way before the little nipper arrives, it's best to see your vet for an MOT - a health check and to give you the opportunity to protect against fleas and worms, both of which can post a health hazard to your newborn. Assuming the dog gets the all clear, it's time for you to think about routines. Ladies, I'm not flying the GF kite here so please do read on (!). Dogs being creatures of habit will thank you for keeping their routine as normal as possible once baby comes home, so if you anticipate problems getting the dog out for 7am, then plan for that now. For us the biggest challenge was stopping the dog from sleeping in our bedroom as of course this is where we planned for our baby to be. Ignoring advice of the dog trainer I work with, we made no alterations to the routine and the dog slept in our bedroom until I went into labour and we shipped her off to kennels. The dog trainer had told me several months prior to start to modify those habits, for example moving her slowly to sleeping at the doorway, sleeping on the landing, sleeping in the spare bedroom etc. If we'd made those little gradual tweaks, it wouldn't have been such a shock to the system for the poor confused dog on the night we brought baby home when we expected her to sleep quietly on her own behind the childgate to our room.
If you expect other changes are necessary then introduce them slowly so as not to confuse the dog with too many changes at once. It's important to allow your dog to sniff and explore the new baby areas of your house and new belongings in order for the dog to get used to the idea that baby will be part of the family. It's worthwhile having zero tolerance on letting your dog play with baby's toys from the offset as your dog should know not to take toys from baby's hand - it's not fair to risk the dog inadvertently injuring the child in play.
Another worthwhile exercise is to acclimatise your dog to children and watch how she reacts. For instance, our dog was always very wary of small children in as much as she would bark, cower or worse still chase them if they ran. The dog trainer advised we acquired a plastic baby doll before our baby was born so the dog could begin to learn that these little things aren't to be scared of. We didn't, nor did we try to introduce the dog to children of friends of ours (well we did it once and it didn't go well so we figured we'd cross the bridge when we came to it).
Some trainers advocate the use of noise CD's to desensitise the dog to baby noises beforehand, but I can't say I have any experience of these (although I have used the noise CD for fireworks and this did reduce the anxiety at New Year). Other advice comes in the form of bringing things smelling of your newborn home from hospital before you get discharged so that Dad can introduce the dog to the smell.
When the baby does come home, a third person is best to hold the baby while you greet the dog. She will have missed you while you have been away and it's important to pay attention to her when you first get home. Maybe bring your dog a new toy and a treat for when you arrive so she can associate the baby with something positive. After the initial excitement, you can start to introduce your baby to the dog. It may be safer to restrain the dog on lead while you do this. Talk to your dog, pet her and encourage her to get a good look and sniff of the babys hands and feet. Do not force a reluctant dog, and a dog that shows any warning signs e.g. barking or getting over excited should be let to rest and try again another time. Never leave the baby unsupervised with your dog and be aware the actions of the baby may scare the dog and cause her to bite in self defence. If the dog shows signs of aggression, leave her in another room until she is calm and try the introduction again later.
Needless to say the poor effort on the part of my husband and myself is something I regret immensely to this day. We didn't put in the work beforehand so the introduction was all wrong and we in theory had set her up to fail. I was away in hospital for 5 nights and was so overjoyed to be coming home, we asked Grandma to bring the dog from kennels the evening we got home - she arrived about an hour after we got home. The dog came bounding into the house and was generally very giddy to be back with the family she had missed. The baby was sleeping at this time and we didn't anticipate any problems as the dogs behaviour seemed fine. When the baby eventually cried as she woke up, the dog became agitated, over excited and as we wouldn't let her into our bedroom at this time while I comforted and fed the child, the became anxious, salivating and generally creating mayhem being separated from me. After an hour or two of this we couldn't cope any longer as the more the baby cried, the more wound up the dog became. I ended up sending her to Grandmas for the night.
The following day we tried an introduction with the dog on lead - this went badly and so we left it again for the following day - any noise from the baby triggered similar reactions to that we had seen the night before. Each day Grandma would visit and the dog stayed on lead a few hours and we sent her back again for another night. We carried on like that for almost 2 weeks - the dogs visits becoming longer, but always on lead. Needless to say I was heartbroken. She came to live with us again when the baby turned 3 weeks, and we still resorted to her being on lead at times she showed any excitable signs. Fast forward a year, and I can trust them both together. Yes the dog may pinch a ricecake, particularly if baby holds it our for her, and yes she sits and waits to clear up the kitchen floor after baby has gone through her meals. But after a lot of hard work and stress we're happy as a family again, dog and baby included.
Please put in the effort beforehand. I imagine we would still have encountered some problems as our dog has always suffered attachment to me and anxiety if ever she isn't at my side, but I could have softened the blow by taking small steps in the run up to baby's birth.
Do be aware there are many schools of thought on the best ways to approach this topic, but if you care for your dog, do some research and figure out what measures are going to work best for you. And don't be afraid to call on professional help if you're unsure.
Of course this is all my opinion gleaned from talking to folk and reading the literature. Please dont take it as gospel, or worse still professional advice. This is just our story - I hope it helps.