As with most things pregnancy and baby related, there are a myriad of theories and bits of advice floating around regarding how to handle pregnancy, babyhood and bringing up children when there is a dog in the house. Concerned relatives are always quick to take the safest route, and that is not only unnecessary in most situations, but heartbreaking for the family as well. So as a dog and baby expert, I am here to give you the low down on how to handle this situation.
Do you have a ton of concerns that nobody seems to have a good answer to? Here is something that might help- Let's start with the most common questions parents-to-be bring me!
1. I am pregnant and my relatives are saying that it is unhealthy to bring up a new born in a house with a dog.
Well, it's great that you have concerned relatives, but new research has proven that babies exposed to dog hair in their first year can actually develop immunity which helps protect against asthma. What you might want to do is not allow your dog to lick your new born, because the dog's tongue and saliva can aggravate the sensitive skin of the baby. So by all means, go ahead and bring up your kid around your dog!
2. I am pregnant and my dog is getting over-protective of me. Isn't that sweet?
It sure feels great to see that your dog is so tuned in to your pregnancy! But it might not be the best thing to encourage this protective behavior as it might lead to the dog not adjusting to you having the baby with you all the time once the baby is here. He might try a few negative behaviours to try and regain your attention. Due to this, it is better to use your dog's focus on you during pregnancy to help get him under your control, and to get him to learn many commands that you will definitely need him to do after the baby is here.
3. I have been told to keep the dog outside/separately, and will employ someone else to walk/feed/play with the dog after the baby comes. Will that help the dog adjust?
Keeping the dog outside the home seems like an easy solution to the problem, but might actually worsen the situation. A dog that is around and interacting with the family as the baby grows up is mostly likely to grow used to the child. A dog that has been left out of this might have a stronger reaction to a child if he has never interacted with one at all, this can potentially be dangerous.
As for all the activities related to the dog, it is better that you gradually decrease the amount of time and attention you give your dog during pregnancy itself, and have someone else take over little by little. Once the dog is used to the new routine of someone else being the primary care giver, he will not miss you suddenly when the baby arrives.
This will help him settle in better rather than suddenly changing his routine due to the baby.
4. I have been told that I can help my dog adjust to the baby by making him sniff the baby's dirty diaper/clothes/blanket before he comes home.
Just like your dog adjusts to having new guests in the house without having to sniff their clothes first, your dog will take to the baby if you focus on a few different aspects rather than the sniff meeting! Your dog looks to you for cues on how to adjust to the baby, so some practice on being able to deal with your dog while holding and interacting with a (fake) noisy baby throughout your pregnancy will go a long way in getting your dog used to all the new movements, schedules, noises and equipment.
5. Why should bringing my baby into the house matter so much to my dogs?
During pregnancy and the early childhood years of the baby, many changes are also made to the environment. New sounds, smells, equipment and changes in rules are added to the physical and emotional changes that both mom and baby go through.
Babies behave very differently from human adults. For example, the high pitched cry or gurgle of a baby is something that a dog might be a new sound to the dog. Some dogs might get stressed by these noises, and need to take direction from the parent that all's OK. Babies also move erratically and go through rapid changes, from limb movement to sitting to crawling and finally walking and running. These can either pique the curiosity and interest of the dog, who might get excitable, or cause the dog some amount of confusion and stress. In most cases, slowly getting the dog used to all the baby sounds, movements and equipment in a graded, supervised manner through inclusion works to get the dog used to this.
6. How should I expect my dog to react?
All dogs react differently to babies, and their reactions can range from curiosity to stress to aggression. Just because a dog has had a positive reaction to one baby, it is not necessary that the dog is now 'fine' with all children. Since all babies behave slightly differently, or might have different physical appearances, dogs tend to react differently to different babies.
7. I have heard stories of dogs not adjusting well whereas some dogs get along so well with babies. Why are some dogs affected badly as compared to others?
Just like humans, dogs have different temperaments, likes and dislikes. While some dogs like children and are extremely tolerant of rough handling, other dogs might be fearful or might dislike them. This is why it is the responsibility of the parents to respect the dog's wishes and not force any interactions on it. Each dog has different comfort levels and working within the comfort level of the dog increases the chances of successfully keeping children and dogs safe around each other.
A dog's reaction can also change depending on his current state. For example, a dog who is sleeping or eating or in pain will be less tolerant than he is otherwise. This is why we stress a lot on supervision at all times. That being said, the comfort level of the dog can be increased through training and forming positive associations with the baby but should be done with the help of a professional.
8. How should I maintain the balance between baby and my dog? Can I reassure my dog somehow? How?
When dogs are unsure of their situation, they naturally tend to check with their owner on what to do or how to react. In this situation, the dog is looking for guidance on what to do or reassurance/ praise that he is doing the right thing. If the dog sees the owner as stressed, he will get stressed too. But if the owner seems to confidently handle the situation, the dog can sit back and relax. So it is important for owners to look out for their dog and intervene when they can see that the dog is not happy.
So for example, if the baby crawls up to the dog and the dog is not happy about that, he looks to the owner to do something about it. If, at this point, the owner can walk up to the baby and remove him or send the dog away to a more comfortable place, then the dog doesn't need to handle the situation on his own. He trusts that the owner will sort it out.
Let's hope some of your concerns have been addressed. Look out for my upcoming articles on each phase of pregnancy and babyhood, and how to handle them!
Also read more about: How to handle your dog during pregnancy?
All photographs in this article are original and contributed by author.