Dogs generally don’t like change, and a new strange family member is the biggest change that could happen to them. Changes in the new mother’s appearance, smell, mood and behaviour, a sudden drop in attention available for the dog, countless visitors, sleepless nights and other disturbances to the usual way of life are all sources of stress for the dog. Any behavioural issues will likely be made worse by the stress, and you can expect new problems emerging. I will share a few practical tips on how to prepare for your baby’s arrival as a dog owner.
But first there is something no one usually mentions, and your family needs to be ready for this. It is quite possible that your feelings towards your dog will change, at least in the first few months. I have heard from a number of women that their attitude towards their pets changed after the arrival of their babies. It usually takes a few months to warm up to your pet again. I struggled with this after the birth of my daughter. In fact, I don’t think my attitude towards Milo will ever be the same it was before. I love him and I feel sorry for him not getting enough attention and struggling with his ageing brain, but it is not in the same way I loved him before.
OK, enough with the emotional stuff, let’s get practical. I actually think that good practical preparation will make it a lot easier to deal with the emotional side of things. Here are a few things we had done (or wished we had) before our daughter arrived.
- Visit your vet for an annual check up around 10 weeks before the due date. This way you will have time to deal with any health issues even if the baby is early. Your vet will be able to advise on any preventive treatment needed such as teeth cleaning.
- Take care of all regular health and grooming needs. It is better to stay on top of things like anal glands extraction, nail clipping, any trimming needed, flea and worming treatments etc. It is also a good idea to give your dog a bath before your baby arrives. Alternatively, book a mobile groomer a couple of weeks before the due date.
- Stock up on medication (if needed) and food. You will have an infinite to do list once your baby arrives, so it will be one less thing to worry about.
- Train and take care of existing behavioural issues. Ideally you need to start doing this when you start trying for a baby. Some behavioural issues are quick to fix but need some ongoing maintenance, some things take longer. It will be particularly useful to teach your dog to walk on a loose lead and to keep an eye on you when off the lead. But just in case you (or your partner) will have a difficult pregnancy, you would want to be done with most of the training by the time of your first appointment with your midwife.
- Find a reliable dog walker. This has been a life-saver for us on occasions when my husband had to work late. We don’t have any family nearby, and it took a few months until I braved taking both the baby and the dog for a walk. Also it is a good option if you just want to free some time.
- Book the kennels/pet sitter or find a friend/family member that will take your dog for a few days when your baby decides to make an appearance. We were lucky – out daughter was due at the end of September when the kennels aren’t busy. Some kennels or pet sitters may be willing to make a flexible booking. And you’re definitely in luck if you have a friend or a family member willing to take care of your dog while you are busy having a baby.
- Think of safety. This is the most important item on the list. I am not a fan of stories about canine nannies – I believe that you can never ever trust a dog no matter how friendly and mellow. Dogs are, first and foremost, animals equipped with strong jaws and sharp teeth. Even if the dog doesn’t mean harm, it can injure a baby by accident. Hence you will need to think of a way to keep your baby out of reach of the dog if you must leave them in the room unattended. We used a travel cot in the living room for as long as we could (and I was never comfortable leaving them for more than it takes to use the toilet). And once my daughter became mobile we put up a room divider around Milo’s bed. This way he can sleep in peace and I’m not worried that she will try to climb on top of him or empty his water bowl on the floor.
All this is not as difficult as it sounds, but it is always better to be ready. I hope this list will help you to feel better prepared for the most amazing change in your life. Good luck!