When Your First Baby, Is Your Second Child:
When preparing for the arrival of a new baby, most people worry about how their dog will cope, especially when the dog is used to getting all of the attention, the free run of the house and cuddles on the sofa every evening. In some cases, people do try to prepare their dogs, however often the preparation is insufficient or only days before the baby arrives.
Common problems that may arise include:
Attention seeking behaviours (e.g. barking, whining, stealing things), aggression (e.g. growling or snapping at the baby), stress/depression (e.g. off food, house soiling, quiet and withdrawn), increase in general arousal (e.g. more reactive at home and out on walks) and behaviours related to a lack of stimulation (e.g. chewing and destruction).
When looking at the underlying motivations for these behaviours, they nearly all fall into two main categories, both of which can cause a great amount of stress to the individual:
1) Frustration - When the dog’s expectations of attention/walks/access to the owners/access to resources changes (often reduces).
2) Fear and anxiety - If the dog has been inadequately socialised with babies and is worried about this new member of the family.- If the owners have become agitated or in some cases punitive towards the dog due to its behaviour (this behaviour may have been present before the baby, or a change in behaviour since). - There is anxiety about the sudden change in the dog’s environment and lack of predictability (e.g. change in routine, lots of visitors, change’s in the way you are acting i.e. suddenly pushing the dog away for approaching you when you used to welcome them).
* It is important to note that these emotions may not be in isolation and there may be a combination of emotions.
In order to properly prepare a dog for the arrival of a new baby, it is therefore important to make as many of the changes that the dog will experience, gradually and in plenty of time BEFORE the baby arrives:
1) Introduce the dog to items that they will have to experience once the baby arrives, for example; the baby rocker and pram, and smells such as nappies and baby wipes. The dog should be allowed to smell these and then be rewarded for coming away.
2) Introduce the dog to the sounds of a baby using a desensitisation CD like ‘Sounds Soothing’,http://www.soundtherapy4pets.co.uk/soothing.html. This should be played at very low levels to begin with and gradually increased if the dog remains calm and relaxed.
3) Gradually reduce access to the areas of the house where the dog will no longer be allowed, once the baby arrives. The use of baby gates can help, but start with seconds of segregation before progressing to minutes (and so on..) and always leave the dog with something positive to do, so it does not see the change as a negative.
4) Where the dog was previously allowed on the sofa, offer a nice alternative and reward the dog for settling on its new bed. Initially the dog may need lots of encouragement (and rewards) as the sofa is usually the most desired option, but remain consistent and ensure the opportunity to jump onto the sofa is removed (prevent access to the room when not present and place a large box onto the empty chairs when present). If the dog manages to get into the sofa, avoid punishing the dog. Instead encourage it onto the new bed and provide lots of praise and rewards for this behaviour.
5) Gradually start to think about reducing the dogs walks slightly but only in the last few weeks and only if the dogs walks are likely to be effected (most are!), for example; if the dog currently receives an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, work towards reducing it to 45 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening. As you settle into a routine with your new baby, these walks can then be increased back up.
6) If your dog was your "first baby", then one of the most difficult changes for you will be to try and create a little independence from your dog. This may be simply your partner doing some of the feeding, walking, grooming, and playing or by learning not to respond to every request for attention and affection. Introducing baby gates slowly and before the baby arrives can be an essential tool to enable you to quickly and positively separate the dog from the baby if necessary. When the baby then starts to move around, the dog will of had months of getting used to being shut behind the gate and from experience the dog will value this space as much as you will.
7) Being prepared can be the key to survival when you have a baby and a dog and so make sure you have bought in some new toys/ activity feeders, or taught the dog a “find it” game so that you have options when both the baby and the dog are demanding attention. (NB Pre-empting attention seeking behaviour is key, try not to give the dog something once it is already asking!).
Also teaching simple obedience commands and a ‘settle’ command will prove invaluable when juggling both the baby and the dog.
8) Never shy away from help and if you are finding it difficult to cope with both the baby and the dog, see if your partner will take the dog out for a good walk first thing, or ask friends and family to help with the walking.
9) Changing your expectations about your dog’s behaviour will be important because the arrival of a baby will be a big change for everyone. If your dog is driving you crazy, first stop and think about why they might be behaving the way they are and try to think about how you can change this positively. Shouting at or being punitive towards your dog is only likely to make things worse.
*** If the dog is showing any signs of aggression, behaviour that concerns you around other peoples babies/children or worrying behavioural changes since the arrival of the baby, this should be discussed with your vet and a referral made to a companion animal behaviourist.
Obviously prevention is better than cure and so all puppies should be socialised with babies and toddlers by allowing them to observe and interact APPROPRIATELY and rewarding the puppy for being relaxed in their presence. NB These interaction should ALWAYS be supervised by an adult to ensure the puppies do not become worried or overwhelmed by the children.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.