My first baby came into the world five years ago -- a little bundle of shih tzu joy. My husband named her Izzy, and she's been a mushy part of our family ever since. Later this year, however, our relationship with our girl will change, because we're adopting an actual baby.
"A baby's appearance, unpredictable movements, and loud, screeching sounds may be unfamiliar to a dog and therefore can be frightening," says Kat Miller, a certified animal behaviorist with the ASPCA. Parents should prep their pet as early as possible before the baby's arrival to increase safety, reduce stress, and enhance bonding for everyone involved, says Katenna Jones, education programs coordinator of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Here are a few ways I'm preparing Izzy.
Little Miss Manners
Because she can't jump on and off furniture on her own, our dog, like many, relies on "notice me" behaviors, such as pawing, growling, barking, and whining. A new baby will require my full attention, so I want to nip any neediness in the bud now. Jennifer Shryock, director of Family Paws Parent Education programs, suggests the following: Every time your dog acts needy, move to another room and tally the behavior on a chart. You will discover which behaviors pop up most often. Ignore those actions until the pet performs a more desirable action. Also try decreasing bad habits by reinforcing basic manners. Practice "lie down" and "go to your spot" -- two crucial commands for redirecting an attention-hungry dog when you have your hands full. (Visit aspcabehavior.org for steps.)
Schooling Izzy on Toys
Right now, the toys on our floors are all Izzy's. To avoid confusion with the baby's toys, we are rotating the dog's playthings two at a time and giving them names to help Izzy learn what's hers. This way, when Izzy is around the baby's belongings I can redirect her to her toys and reward her with play.
Creating Baby-Free Zones
We're also introducing dog-only areas in our home. Experts suggest creating these so a dog has a safe zone, especially as children develop motor skills. Use a pressure-locked wooden gate or the dog's crate. Take your dog's personality into account. Some dogs like having their spot moved around throughout the day; others find change stressful and like their spot to stay put.
Quality Time for Izzy
Having limited time to coo over and cuddle with Izzy will likely be the biggest change once the baby arrives. To ease the transition, experts recommend gradually decreasing the quantity of time you spend with the dog and increasing the quality. So now, I set aside two half-hour play sessions instead of just petting Izzy while I watch TV.
So far, the prep work I'm doing with Izzy is going well. May we all adjust this easily when it's time for the real thing.
Easing the Transition
These toys and accessories can help keep your dog calm, cool, and collected when the stork arrives.
Diffuse the Tension
Pheromones in the D.A.P. electric diffuser ($23, healthypets.com) mimic natural canine pheromones, which have a calming effect on many dogs.
Invest in Tough Toys
Make a Doggie Den
A crate cover (in Title Track, from $40, mollymutt.com) creates a comfortable place for a dog to relax while you play with the baby.