Acclimating Your Dog to a New Baby

Babies require a lot of work -- just gaze into the tired eyes of any new parents, and this fact will be quickly realized. Even still, many people underestimate the amount of time and effort that goes into caring for a baby. If you have a dog in the house, he will likely have to relinquish his top spot to the new bundle of joy.

Up until now, your dog may have been head honcho in the house -- or at least he thought so. He may have been fed according to a specific schedule, walked at precisely the same time each day and given plenty of affection. Enter a new baby, and the household is likely to be tipped upside down, at least for a few months. Preparing your dog for the inevitable changes can help ease the transition once your son or daughter arrives.

Dog temperaments vary greatly depending on the breed, socialization and how the animal was raised. However, even though you may know your pet well, you cannot predict how he will react to a new member of the family, especially if the baby means he will need to compromise on what he has grown accustomed to.

A few months before the baby is born, start broaching the subject of a new member of the family; your dog will already recognize some clues like baby "stuff" entering the house. Show your dog the new items and have him get used to the smell of baby gear. If you will be restricting the dog's freedom around the house, such as erecting baby gates, etc., do so now so that the dog will not equate this restriction to the baby alone.

While a schedule is good for a pet and reduces anxiety, gradually change the times you feed or walk your pet so that he can be accommodating if you cannot take care of these tasks at the usual time. A baby feeding or changing may interfere with the set time.

Talk to your dog and mention the baby's name (if you've decided on one) or simply refer to "the baby". Some experts recommend carrying around a doll that can simulate the infant so the dog gets used to sharing time with a small human. Try out baby monitors, musical toys, bouncy seats, etc. so that the dog will also recognize the sights and sounds associated with the baby. This way you can determine if something is frightening to your pet before the baby arrives.

Animals are very intuitive, and your dog likely already knows something is in the works. Your demeanor, appearance and even your scent has changed during pregnancy. You may already get some signals as to how your dog will react to the baby. Is he on guard or distant now? Does he stay close to your side? Is he curious about what's going on? Recognizing clues can help you tackle potential problems before the baby is in the house.

Once the baby is born, send someone home with a blanket that has the infant's scent so that your dog will recognize his new brother or sister. You may also want to record your baby's noises and cries in the hospital, letting someone play them for your dog to see his reaction and to acclimate him to the unfamiliar sounds.

When you are coming home with the infant, make sure your dog is leashed and wearing a collar so you can control any sudden moves. Have someone else hold the baby so that "mom" can greet the dog and show him affection. Then she can introduce the baby to the dog and gauge a reaction. Most dogs will be content to ignore a baby for the most part. Particularly nurturing ones may be very curious about the baby.

As the weeks pass, you will get a better sense of how your dog feels about the new baby. Remember, no matter how well behaved your dog may be, never leave him alone with the infant. Chances are over time the entire family will get back into a groove that works for humans and dogs alike. Then your next challenge will be a toddler who just loves tugging on doggy's tail.

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