There's a lot to know and and it's not just preparing your dog for the arrival of the baby, but setting up the long term relationship between your child and all your pets. The months before your child's birth and the first few months with your new baby are important, but there are also years of transitions where supervision and management will be needed. Being educated, learning what to expect and ensuring safety are parts of preparing for life with children and pets.
Great resources for expectant parents and parents of young children are the Family Paws website and Family Paws Parent Educators. These pet professionals offer presentations and in-home consultations to help parents learn to manage babies, children, and dogs. To find a Family Paws presenter near you, click here.
To get started, we asked some other members of the Family Paws Parent Education team what is the most important thing they recommend expectant parents do to prepare their dog for a new baby? Here are their suggestions:
Jennifer Shryock, founder of Family Paws Parent Education in Cary, North Carolina, www.familypaws.com
"Practice flexible management options while they are in the home!"
Kate Anders, FPPE Advisory Team Member and owner of Pretty Good Dog in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, prettygooddog.com
"Pay attention to how you interact with your dog now. Are there any things you do that you would not want to see a 1, 2, or 3 year old child mimic? And if so, can you think of alternatives or variations of what you are doing that might be more appropriate and child-friendly? Anytime you get stumped, reach out to your FPPE professional - that's why we are here! Behavior change and training is not about trying to quit doing something - but about finding new ways to meet everyone's needs!"
Colleen Pelar, author of Living With Kids and Dogs and owner of All About Dogs in Northern Virginia, livingwithkidsanddogs.com
"Teaching your dog to be happy and relaxed (not just quiet) in another room when you are home. Lots of dogs are great with separation when people are at work, but get very distressed when they know their family is home, but cannot be with them. It's a very handy skill, but much easier to teach BEFORE the baby arrives."
Lisa Bert, owner of Fingers and Paws Dog Training in Westford, Massachusetts, fingersandpaws.com
"Heavily reinforce calm behaviors by your dog in every situation, not just in training sessions. It is easier before the baby comes for parents to focus, watch for, and reinforce the more subtle signs of relaxation (sighs, weight shift onto side in down position, head down on paws or floor, etc.). Even relatively calm dogs can become excited or anxious about baby cries and all the disruption that comes with having children in the house. Helping your dog to learn to self-calm will help him to cope when you are preoccupied with baby."
Amy Weeks, owner of Amy's Canine Kindergarten in Tampa, Florida, amysk9kindergarten.com
"Give yourself options. You want to have several options during those times when the baby is crying, the phone is ringing and the someone is at the door. I suggest taking a good look at your house and map out options for separating the baby and the dog(s). Use gates, crates, playpens, bedrooms, whatever will work for you. Practice having your dogs "go to" their areas now, before the baby comes."
Other resources to help you prepare for life with dogs and children:
Living with Kids and Dogs without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar
Happy Kids Happy Dogs by Barbara Shumannfang