If you think your first day home from the hospital is your first opportunity to prepare your beasts for baby you are seven kinds of wrong. Sure, some might get lucky and have no issues at all, but most parents of babies and beasts have growing pains. It's normal so don't let anyone convince you otherwise especially while your hormones are off the charts wacky. Just so you know more about me, I am a planner by nature when it comes to overwhelming life changes. It's a coping mechanism for me. Here is my strategic plan to prepare the dogs for baby aka PittieBoo's so freaked out at becoming a parent and pushing a human out her hoo ha that she's going to focus on the things she can control.
My excessive methods for preparing dogs for baby (even works on cats):
1. Find a really good trainer and behaviorist if anything just to keep on file just in case you need more help. They will be invaluable to help troubleshoot and correct any bad behaviors that you don’t know how to handle or how to interpret.
2. Read the following books: There’s a Baby in the House and Childproofing Your Dog. If your local store does not have them, you can get them through www.dogwise.com in addition to the body language book above.
3. Get www.preparingfido.com and start desensitizing the beasts to the many sounds a baby makes. Start with them on low volume, and work your way up. I played mine on random repeat every time we left the house. When the baby cries come on, tend to a baby doll or to a diaper filled sling you are wearing so they can start making the association that you will make the bad sounds stop. It will make for a less anxious dog.
4. Line up a doggie daycare and or a dog walker, even if you have never used one before. There will come a day when there are not enough hours in it and you will know your dog needs to burn off some energy and you won’t be able to do it. I knew when Mack consumed 3 pairs of baby shoes and part of a fitted sheet all within a 2 week time frame. Let’s just say that I am the unfortunate resident expert on inducing vomit on the Pets board (well, that and TPLO surgery).
5. Be sure to stock up on food and monthly heartworm meds since it will be near impossible to run those little errands. If you can find a local pet food delivery service and or order direct from www.petfooddirect.com it might be worth it. Pet food direct often has online coupons that will offset any freight charges thus saving you time and energy. You are going to need every spare second and every drop of energy you can cling to some days.
6. If your dog needs frequent grooming, or even the occasional bath, find a mobile groomer to come to you. Some days it was all I could do to bathe myself, so you can imagine the dogs were missing out too. Also, by feeding higher quality foods, your dog can go months without needing a bath. Junk food brands (Iams, Eukanuba, Purina etc…) are full of nasty crap that will make your dog’s coat gunk up and smell. My dogs are fed a high quality food and can go months without a bath and still not smell doggy. See www.dogfoodanalysis.com and www.dogaware.com for more info.
7. Set up everything way ahead of time, especially the nursery. I’m talking cribs, swings, strollers, changing tables etc… everything will be new and interesting to the dog so it’s best to have them be normal by the time the baby arrives. Also, it will give everything time to lose its chemically new smell that always grosses me out.
8. Put batteries into everything that lights up, plays music, moves, etc… and desensitize your dog to them. Let me tell you, it took weeks before Mack quit freaking out over the swing moving, lighting up, and playing music. Use some clicker/reward training and reward and praise your pooch for not attacking the swing, not barking, etc… Acknowledge the behaviors you want and ignore the ones you don’t. Use some redirection if necessary. For example, when Mack would lunge and bark at the swing, I’d ask him to go get his ball. He is simple minded like that. Some nice clicker training sites are www.clickerlessons.com and www.clickersolutions.com
9. Use baby lotion, wipes, and diaper cream on yourself so the smells aren’t foreign to them. Wipe them down on occasion with some wipes even.
10. The minute you get a stroller, practice walking them with it. Trust me, it’s tricky at first and the last thing you want is your dog knocking over the stroller with a baby in it. I guess that applies mostly to people like me who have dogs the size of livestock, but I digress. If your dog doesn’t already have proper leash manners, you had better make that a top priority. When you are cooped up on maternity leave and bored out of your mind, walking the dogs is like a little slice of heaven.
11. If you plan on wearing a sling or Baby Bjorn around the house, stuff it full of diapers and practice wearing it while you are at home. The smell and sight might cause some jumping out of curiosity, so best to tackle that before you are lugging precious cargo. Again, lots of treats should be doled out when poochie has all fours on the floor.
12. Think about what commands your dog knows really well and which one he/she should. Some of the more often used commands in my house are sit, down, gentle, go to your place, zip it, leave it, off, etc… Practice them daily. Start using NILIF for those dogs that are currently the center of the universe and or dominant/stubborn dogs. NILIF is nothing in life is free. Read more about it here: http://www.ddfl.org/behavior/nilif.pdf and here: http://www.sspca.org/Dogs/TANSTAAFL.html
13. Give the dogs a baby free zone and teach them to go to it. It could be a crate, a bed, something that will give them a place to escape too when they have had enough with the crying, the poking, the pulling etc…
14. If the pooches sleep with you on the bed and you plan on co sleeping, or you don’t plan on it but end up doing it just so you can get some sleep, they are going to need a new yet familiar place to sleep. Maybe train them to sleep on dog beds on the floor. If they already sleep on the floor, but it is the only place the bassinet or co-sleeper will fit, move their bed and help them adjust to the new locale now. Remember, dogs are pack animals and sleeping in the same bedroom as you and baby is a great way to reconnect and establish harmony in the house.
15. Quit adhering to any set schedule as the baby’s due date approaches. That means no more dinner promptly at 5:30, make feed times erratic. Cut back on any daily regimen of walks or trips to the dog park. Mix up their schedule, keep them guessing, and try to not dote on them constantly. This is crucial so that when the baby comes, the dog is already used to being lower on the priority list. So, it will lessen the effects of accidentally forgetting to feed them one night, they will not be so demanding of attention at inappropriate times, and they will bask in the glow of any walks/belly rubs they will get. It sounds mean, but it’s in the best interest of everyone. Trust me, for as much as you are turning your dog’s life upside down, it will in no way compare to the havoc the baby will have on your sense of normalcy!
Lastly, words cannot express the love I feel for my child and my beasts. He literally lights up at the sight of them, he loves to give them treats, and he relishes in their kisses. I do not doubt for a minute that they are making his heart infinitely larger, teaching him the credence of treating all living things with kindness, and molding him into a remarkable person. So it’s not always flowers and rainbows, but what in life worth having ever is?