Dogs and babies can make a wonderful pairing, so we asked renowned dog trainer, Charlie Clarricoates how expectant parents can prepare their dog for the arrival of a baby.
If you’ve been doting parents to your dog for years, the arrival of a baby can quickly cause problems. When a baby comes home, your dog suddenly has to deal with its owner giving attention to someone else, which can lead to jealousy, anxiety, and competitive behaviour. This inevitably leads to stress – for the dog, the baby, and the owners. Luckily, these issues are easily preventable with preparation and training, which should begin well before the baby is born.
Make a plan
Charlie Clarricoates, an expert trainer and the founder of Charlie’s Dog Training Centre in Cambridgeshire, recommends that couples should start by sitting down together and discussing their plans regarding their dog and new child. Discuss logistical questions, such as where the dog will sleep, whether or not the dog’s fur will cause an issue, how close the dog will be allowed to the baby, and the possibility of creating a den or kennel. Couples can often have different expectations for their pooch which need to be worked out before problems arise.
Train your pet
The second step is to consider potential behavioural and emotional problems for your four-legged friend. Charlie suggests that owners should monitor their dogs’ behaviour around food and toys – can you take items away without any issue? Train your dog to remain calm when hands come near his toys and food, as babies may frequently make grabbing motions that may cause aggression in dogs. A useful exercise is to play ‘let me have it’ or ‘let go’ with a chew toy or bone – using these commands and rewarding with a treat each time your dog lets go of the toy. Another idea is to gradually drop additional food into your dog’s bowl by hand. This will teach your dog that a hand near his bowl does not mean that his food is being taken away. Owners should also give dogs a special toy, training them to leave all other toys alone.
Test-run before the big day
Another great idea from Charlie is to bring a doll into the home months before the baby’s arrival; preferably one that makes noises. You can then carry out baby activities with the doll – practice changing a nappy on a changing mat, and reward your dog for quietly laying close by. Play the sound of a baby crying or screaming, and assess the dog’s reaction.
Create a safe place
A vital purchase when bringing a baby into the mix is a dog den or crate. The den should be placed in an area where the dog can remain calm and away from the baby, and will be essential once the baby reaches crawling age. Charlie advises training your dog with a command such as ‘go to your den’. When situations arise where you need to deal with lots of different things at once, the dog can simply be told to head to the den so that you can cope with everything else. The den is also a safe area where your dog can seek peace and refuge from boisterous young children.
The final steps when welcoming a baby into a home with a dog should be taken once the baby is born. Try introducing your dog to an item of clothing worn by the baby. This will allow your pooch to get acquainted with the baby’s scent, reducing anxiety when the baby is brought home. Try keeping your dog on his lead when the baby first comes home, so that you can quickly control them without having to grab their collar. Finally, Charlie suggests having some basic training sessions, using commands such as sit and stay, while holding your new baby.
Don’t forget, research has shown that babies greatly benefit from having a dog around. By fully preparing before the baby arrives, and implementing the strategies Charlie has mentioned, new parents can ensure that both baby and dog are completely content.