Prep the Pet: Getting Your Dog Baby Ready

For most animal-loving couples, having a pet is the first step towards determining whether they are ready for parenthood. In fact, many might even argue that being a ‘pawrent’ is no different to being a parent. But when the time comes and there is a new (human) baby on the horizon, it can be prudent to know how to get a pet child ready. In this interview, The Dog Alchemist, Marie Choo shares with us some useful tips to that can help our doggies get use to the idea of a new arrival.

Melissa Lwee-Ramsay: What are some ways parents can prep their pet for a new baby?

Marie Choo: Parents can start setting up baby’s room and introducing the pet dog to the baby’s items and creating positive associations. For example, parents can let the dog sniff the baby’s toys and items of clothing, while rewarding the dog with praises, affection and food treats. A dog is part of the family and it is akin to how you would prepare a first child to anticipate the arrival of the second child. If a stroller has already been purchased, the parents can also start walking the dog with the stroller in tow. This is a good introduction to the dog and what I suggest for parents to do is to introduce the new lifestyle to the dog before the baby’s arrival.

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Another key thing to do is to establish boundaries for baby’s area. It is important to start teaching the dog to respect and keep away from the out of bound zone. 

Can you share some possible issues or problems parents might face with regard to doggie and baby when the baby is born?

Parents must remember that what you do before the baby’s arrival is more important than what you do after. When parents have adequately prepared the dog to welcome the arrival the baby, there will be less issues to deal with when the baby arrives. 

Some of the issues that new parents may face would be:

– dog suddenly display inappropriate elimination when it is toilet trained (attention seeking behaviour)

– showing signs of anxiety or not eating properly  (stress)

– aggression display towards baby (resource guarding, in this case, resource is the parents’ affection and attention)

A good way is to always remember is to involve the dog when doing baby activities. Don’t neglect the dog once the baby is here. It is still important to spend time with the dog, take it for walks and have bonding sessions with and without the baby.

How can parents better encourage doggie and baby to bond?

One important thing that I remind all parents is to always supervise interaction between the dog and the little one. Never leave the baby and dog to interact without supervision, even for seconds. Anything can happen within a split second. The baby might accidentally grab or hurt the dog and the dog may respond out of self-defence. When accidents happen, the dog always gets the blame.

Healthy interactions include daily walks together, supervised play time and chill out time together. When in doubt, always ask yourself what would you do if it is between your two children. Always include the dog, never neglect it. In this way, the dog will see the baby’s arrival and presence as something positive and not something negative.

What are some tips that you have for parents who find that their dogs don’t seem to take to the child?

A lot depends on what the parents do pre-baby arrival, as well as how parents behave when baby is here. If parents need some advice, they can talk to other parents who have gone through similar situations with a dog/baby household or engage a dog behaviourist and trainer prior to baby’s arrival. The reason for this is the dog behaviourist can assess the dog for any existing behavioural issues that need to be addressed and also guide the parents on how to prepare the dog for baby’s arrival.

What would you say are the most common mistakes parents tend to make when trying to introduce a dog to a newborn and what should they do instead?

Introduction is not done overnight and parents must not expect dog and child to get along on day one. Some parents make the mistake of not mentally preparing the dog for baby’s arrival, bringing the baby home and expecting the dog to take a shine to the little one immediately. Before bringing baby home, it is important to bring items bearing the baby’s scent (such as blanket, clothing, towel) home to let the dog sniff out. This will let the dog get acquainted with the child’s scent before the baby comes home. 

Parents must also remember dogs and humans interact differently. For example, hugging is an affectionate display for humans, but it is a sign of domination in the dog’s world. Our dogs tolerate us hugging them because they learn over time that it is an act of affection. Do they like it? Not really, but they tolerate it because they love us. Therefore, parents may think the baby hugging the dog is a cute act (as seen in the countless Youtube vids which make me cringe at times because I can see an accident waiting to happen) but it is actually not advisable until the dog has fully accepted the baby’s existence. Dogs actually see babies and kids differently from adults, and the former are rather scary with their haphazard and uncontrollable sense of movement.

Parents also make the mistake of focusing on the baby and neglecting the dog once baby is home. Remember to involve the dog when doing baby activities, and vice versa.

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