Dear Lisa: We have two female Labrador Retrievers. We will be joined by another family member, our first baby, due in a few months. Will the dogs be jealous or overprotective with a newborn? --Expecting Excitement in Erie
Dogs are social creatures thriving best in a pack or family environment with delegated leaders. In the wild, it is usually only the two dominant alpha members which reproduce offspring. The rest of the pack chips in to help with the other duties such as guarding, feeding, babysitting or whatever else needs to be done around the den. The trick is to let the pack know that the "human offspring" belongs to you and that you love him/her very much. Communicate to your dogs that the new bundle of joy isn't a threat and your dogs won't try to guard you against it.
Many couples have dogs as surrogate "kids" and as such have showered their dogs with tons of attention. With the arrival of the baby, this attention usually shifts away from the dogs. One of the most important things you must continue to do is pay close, quality attention to your dogs after the baby arrives. Do not let the dogs think they are getting any less attention because of the baby or they may begin to "act up" or be spiteful, such as pooping in the baby's room. Jealously with the dogs will only rear its ugly head if you give it a reason to.
Well before baby's arrival, expecting parents need to establish a new "baby inclusive" routine. Change the dog's feeding time, walk time, length of quality time to revolve around what will become the main schedule in the house -- the baby's. Also, if there are behaviors that are now acceptable to your dogs, such as sleeping on your bed or in your bedroom, and won't be acceptable post partum, alter them now.
While Mom is still at the hospital have Dad bring home the smells of the baby such as clothing or blankets. It will reduce the sensory overload these dogs will have to deal with when "Junior" arrives. Put up baby gates on the door to the nursery to keep the dogs out. They should only be invited into the inner sanctum at your request and never leave dogs and baby unsupervised -- ever.
If you have a question, send it to Lisa at AskLisa@AKC.org and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions she cannot offer individual responses.