By: Mel Adams, RVT
“Ask a Vet Tech” is an ongoing advice column written by our resident pet expert and registered vet technician, Mel Adams. You can find her online at: www.vettechmel.com.
My husband and I have just confirmed that I am 14 weeks pregnant! We have a 4 year old german shepherd, named Comox, and are wondering what we need to do to prepare him for the baby?
I can answer this because my good friend just recently had a baby and even though she did not ask me about preparing her dog for the baby (since her husband is a vet), it got me thinking about what is done to get a dog used to the idea of having children around. Amazingly, I have never been asked this question in practice, so I did a little research. There is some amazing information out there and so many tips. I even found a kit that helps you get your pet ready for the new arrival! I cannot include everything here, there is just too much information, but I’ve included what I feel should be the basics.
So, a huge congratulations! A new baby can be exciting, but also scary for a pet, especially one that has already been an ‘only child’ for a while. With a little preparation, you can help Comox adjust to his new family member and love him/her as much as he does you. The sooner you can begin preparing, the more beneficial it will be for you and your pet, but any amount of training you can do ahead of time will help.
Now is the time to target and improve behaviour problems. Does he jump up on people and furniture? Does he have a good understanding of ‘sit’, ‘lay down’, ‘stay’? Improving basic manners and voice commands will be a tremendous help when you are trying to care for a baby and need your pet to move out of the way.
If your pet has a particularly strong attachment to Mom-to-be, now is also the time to start increasing the bond between him and another family member. That way, he can still feel cared for if Mom is busy with the baby. This person could be the one who improves training in the months leading up to the birth, as training together will help strengthen the bond they share. You may also want to start getting Comox accustomed to a little less attention than usual. Once the baby comes, he/she will become the center of attention and that can be very stressful to your pet if suddenly he is not getting as much attention as he used to.
If your pet is not yet socialised well with children, he will need to get accustomed to the sounds, smells and sight of a child. You can start by going for walks past fenced school yards (when the kids are outside playing) or playgrounds. Gradually increase the interaction by inviting friends kids over to your house to interact with Comox. Every pet to child encounter should be completely supervised. It is also possible to buy a baby sounds CD that can be played in the house, again gradually increasing the volume to allow your pet to gradually get used to it.
As for the smell of a baby, start using baby powder, baby oil and baby shampoo on yourself so that Comox will associate that smell with something he already adores by the time the baby comes. Before baby comes home, have your husband bring home a blanket that he/she was wrapped in for Comox to investigate. This will help him associate that what you are holding when you arrive home, is now part of his life.
Finally, when you do bring baby home, give the baby to somebody to hold, so that you may greet Comox in a loving, but not too excitable way. He will have missed you and will be expecting a big hug. Once things have settled, let him see the baby and tell him all about his new baby sister/brother. Reward him for good behaviour and never force him to be around the baby if he does not want to. The baby should be a pleasant association for him.
No doubt, your schedule will change once the baby arrives. Do your best to keep Comox’s routine the same as before the baby arrived. If that will not work, try to anticipate those routine changes before the birth and make them in the months ahead, that way he will already be used to a new routine.
Lastly, don’t forget to take your pet to the vet for an annual check up, vaccines and deworming. Talk to you vet about preparing Comox for the baby and making sure his health is in tip top shape before the new arrival. You will be busy enough once the baby arrives.
There are many things to do and prepare in the months before you give birth and getting your pet ready for the changes that are coming should be near the top of that list. With some preparation, it will go much smoother, and pet and baby will live harmoniously. For even more tips and information about getting your pet ready for a new baby, check out the ASPCA website here: http://www.aspca.org/.
NOTE: Although this posting talks about getting a dog ready for a baby, it is equally important to get your cat ready, too. Many of the tips here can also be used with cats, but there is also a lot of information on the ASPCA website, too.
Thanks for the great question,
Photo credit: http://www.kennelgold-berg.com/german_shepherd_litters.html