This is a story about a small canine friend, who once was the centre of attention, only to be demoted by a small human, who barged through the door and stole all the limelight and attention. If, like me, you had to deal with this situation, or maybe about to deal with it, read on as we are trying to find a cure for our canine’s troubles.
I brought my newborn daughter home about a year ago, to an exited and usually pretty chirpy patterdale-lakeland terrier, Toby. Prior to this, I read tons of articles on how to introduce your dog to a newborn baby, Cesar Millan’s books and everything that could make this transition and essentially a massive change in Toby’s life as smooth as possible, but nothing has prepared me for what happened next.
After bringing our new baby home, we were shattered. We had an ambitious plan of doing things by the book, but the plan fell apart when I saw bed. I thought: “no problem, I will introduce them tomorrow!” First mistake.
The first week after our daughter arrived, Toby seemed very excited about the little squeaky chicken looking thing, and kept jumping up on the pram to have a closer look. I kept telling him off instead of actually trying to put myself in his shoes. Or paws.
Over the next two weeks he became more and more withdrawn and quiet, and eventually stopped eating, no matter what snacks you offered. Then he stopped drinking and refused to go out for walks. Eventually he moved under the kitchen table and spent about 2 days shaking. I didn’t have a clue what to do. We took him to the vets but after a full health check and several hundred pounds, nothing came out. He did not have food poisoning like we thought. After some research online, I found an article on dogs’ depression after bringing newborn baby home, and it was literally exactly what we were going through with Toby.
We made an extra effort to spend some quality time with our big, furry son, and he came around to being his usual self within the next two weeks. Occasionally though, even now, when our daughter is over 1 year old, he slips back into the dark hole and starts shivering and looking mentally beaten up, when he sees her, but it’s very rare now.
I would not wish this upon any dog owner, as it’s truly heart breaking, so please prepare for the arrival of your little one in advance, in order to save yourself and your dog some heartache.
BEFORE YOUR BABY ARRIVES:
1. Plan ahead
You plan the colours of the nursery, plan your outfit for leaving the hospital, sometimes you plan the potential future school you are hoping for your baby to attend, yet you may have omitted one of the most important things you need to plan for: introducing your favourite creature to your new baby. This moment requires no less planning and if the transition has been done properly, it can save you headache in the long run. In order to make the transition as smooth as possible, plan for the following before your baby arrives:
– Teach your dog some basic obedience skills, if they are lacking in this department. If need be, reach for professional help in order to manage his behaviour better. Consider enrolling in a local group class to get a head start. You may not think this is a priority now, but if your dog tends to jump up on people, and welcomes everyone by launching himself into their arms, this may be an issue, when he’s in the presence of your baby.
– Break his routine where possible, in order to get your dog used to some more changes. They may not be happy at first, but it’s easier when done gradually. As your due date approaches, add more changes you would anticipate would soon relate to your baby. If you plan to nap in the afternoon, when your baby is sleeping, try doing it now and start this slow transition gradually. If you plan to walk your dog at different times of the day, switch to the new routine now.
Our dog used to be very anxious when anyone approached his bowl. We had to curb this behaviour in preparation for the little crawler. This turned out to be the best change imaginable, as we may not have fully understood the implications of it. Our daughter loves playing in Toby’s bowl, and it’s pretty impossible to place it out of her reach, so we prepared him for the disturbance during his feeding times and now he doesn’t seem to be bothered when she is anywhere near him. If you feel the crawling phase is miles away, I can assure you: it’s not.
– Life with a newborn can be unpredictable. It may help to prepare your dog for less consistency in their schedule. Try varying the their feeding times. If you tend to feed them at 8am, start feeding them at random times between 7am and 10am.
2. Minimize changes in attention
Try not to give your dog more attention than usual in the weeks before the baby’s due date. This will set his expectations high and only set them up for a bigger letdown when the baby comes and takes the centre stage. Instead, schedule random short play and cuddle times with your dog, but make sure those are at different times so that your dog doesn’t come to expect attention at any given time of day.
3. Make new rules now
If you want your dog to stop begging for food, sleep on your furniture, or enter your bedroom or the nursery, introduce that restriction now. The same thing goes for barking like mad, when they hear anyone outside. Imagine spending an hour, trying to get your baby to sleep, only to have them awake and screaming, because your dog heard a car in the driveway. It does get annoying, believe me.
It’s in their instinct to protect his humans and you cannot completely wipe it out, as it’s a part of who they are and their purpose, but it’s good to teach them now is the time to be a bit less vigilant.
4. Introduce your dog to baby items
Warn your dog to a newborn baby before they arrive by showing your dog baby toys (but don’t let him play with them), let him smell baby lotions, powders (by putting them on your skin), show them the car seat, high chair. This all may sound a bit OTT, but just think about it like that: the more new things he gets introduced to now, the less of a shock it will be when your baby arrives, as he will by then feel a bit more familiar with his new surrounding.
If you want to go all the way, consider purchasing a recording of realistic baby noises and play it frequently. You can find these recordings at amazon.com, puplife.com and dogwise.com
AFTER YOUR BABY ARRIVES
1. Make a good first impression
First impressions are important, so try to make sure you get it right from the start. If coming back with a few members of the family, let them welcome your dog first, so that he can express his usual excitement to see them. After they’ve been given a minute or two to burn some of their energy, have someone put them on a leash. This may sound cruel, but at this stage you cannot predict how your dog is going to react to your baby. Make sure you have some treats handy (you can always have them somewhere safe near your front door).
The most important thing now is to stay calm and relaxed in order to make sure your dog doesn’t pick up on your mood and starts to think that the bundle you are holding is to blame for your stress. Talk softly to your dog as you enter the house. Reward them with treats for any calm interest in your baby. Avoid scolding your dog in front of your baby as much as you can, as you want them to associate your baby with good things, not your displeasure.
Choose a quiet room to introduce your dog to your baby. As your dog is on a leash, bring them to you, as you are sitting down with baby in your arms. There are many different ways to do this, and some people suggest doing all this outside the house, whilst being on your dog’s level, after letting them smell baby’s blanket first. Both methods work well as long as you are calm and relaxed when doing it, inviting your dog to approach in fun and friendly manner.
If you want to, let your dog sniff the baby (even if only their feet) as you continue to speak softly to them. Make sure they are on a short, but loose leash at all times during this introduction. Praise them for this gentle investigation. Reward them for complying with a few small, tasty treats.
2. Consider hiring a dog walker
At least for the first month or so after your baby arrives. Your canine still needs their usual exercise to release the energy build up and possibly some newly found frustration, and you may not feel up for long walks every day. If you hire one before your baby arrives, it gives your dog plenty of time to get used to the new person. Alternatively, try to get some help from friends and family, who would be happy to take your dog for occasional walks. He’s going to appreciate it since those would be people he knows and likes (hopefully). Again, the earlier you start, the easier the transition will be.
3. Consider transportation
Even if your dog is really baby friendly, they can still accidentally scratch your baby’s delicate skin while riding beside them in the car. Consider installing a car barrier, purchasing a dog seatbelt or a crate, depending on your dog.
4. If baby’s room is off-limits
Try teaching your dog to sit and stay outside baby’s room, unless invited. If all fails, install baby gate at the door.
5. If baby’s room is not off limits
It’s perfectly acceptable to have your dog around your baby in their room. You don’t want them to feel isolated, especially if you are spending a lot of time feeding your baby. This should be quiet time for your dog, too, so make sure you train them to keep quiet around your baby, especially late at night.
It will help if your dog has his spot to “wait” for you when he’s in baby’s room. Make sure it’s comfortable, so that they actually enjoy being there. Leave them treats in their spot every now and then, so that they associate it with something pleasant. They will soon learn to love their new, little spot! When planning a longer feeding session, dive them something more substantial to chew on, stuffed kong works really well.
Make sure there is no way for your dog to access the crib, whether through jumping into it or by jumping onto a different piece of furniture first in order to access it.
6. Teach your dog to love your baby
Always focus on making sure your dog associates your baby with good things. Make sure you reward them for obedience around your baby, and give them plenty of attention. Not only when your baby is asleep, though, as this will make them feel redundant and unwanted, when your baby is awake. Try to take your baby with you when walking your dog as this way they will associate your baby with walks, too, which are fun.
A good trick to make your dog look forward to having your baby around is making sure you “ignore them a bit”, when your baby is not around, so they look forward to your baby being awake, as that’s when they get treats and things are fun.
Some dogs get very distressed and upset when they hear your baby cry, so make sure when your baby squeals, to toss a tasty treat to your dog right afterwards. After a little repetition, they will discover that baby sounds don’t signal anything bad. In fact, they predict the delivery of food!
It’s not going to be easy. You will get very tired and sometimes you will want to shout at your dog, only to feel guilty two minutes later. Essentially they have always been your baby, so you need to make sure this transition is as smooth as possible for them as well. Their world will be thrown upside down from now on. Little squeaky human came into their life and they are not sure what is happening now. They don’t know if they are here to stay or just for a week. They smell funny and look weird and everyone is paying all this attention to them all the time. For your dog all this is mind-blowing. Make it as easy on them as possible and they will love you even more.