Bringing your baby home ... to a dog

Baby's best friend.
Baby's best friend. 

Bringing a new baby home for the very first time is a momentous occasion. Will they be okay in a box on the floor or should we cuddle them in our lap? What if they jump off the seat and hurt themselves? Or start chewing it with their needle-sharp teeth? Or do a wee on the upholstery?
 
That’s our fur-babies, of course! After all, Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with around twelve million of us being associated with pets. It isn’t a new trend either, with more than eighty-three percent of Australians reporting that pets were a normal part of their childhood. And dogs are the hands-down favourite pet of choice, with many couples owning a fur baby before their thoughts turn to expanding their human family.
 
Many of us do go on to have children as well of course, and when we do, we experience the bringing-home-baby angst all over again – albeit with a different set of worries! Our baby looks so tiny in the child restraint – will he/she be okay? Is there too much sun shining in the car window? What if he/she gets hungry on the way home? What if it’s too hot/cold outside, compared to the hospital-controlled temperature? And of course the important question: how will our dog react?
 
“A large proportion of our work is training dogs how to act and react around children,” says John Harkin, professional dog trainer and co-owner of Melbourne-based AUSDOG. “The fact is that when you become a parent, you simply don’t have as much time to spend with your dogs, and they can become jealous very quickly.”  And while you can allow your dog to sniff your baby when he/she first arrives home, or give your dog a baby-scented item of clothing to get used to in the days preceding your homecoming, John stresses that the best time to start preparing your pampered pooch for the new arrival is as soon as you realise you are pregnant!
 
“Most parents prepare their home well in advance of baby’s arrival, so you should also start training your dog appropriately well in advance,” says John. “As soon as you find out that you are pregnant, start treating your dog as if your baby is already there.” As a start, John suggests the following tips.
 
- Set some rules. Dogs love rules, boundaries and guidelines, so sit down together and write a list of rules that you want to teach your dog how to follow. The rules should include things such as not allowing your dog on the couches or bed, ensuring that your dog always eats outside, not allowing the dog in the baby’s room and teaching your dog not to jump at people.

- Get some basic training. If your dog didn’t graduate from puppy school, it might be time to get some lessons! “It’s vital that your dog can obey simple commands,” says John. “At a minimum your dog should be able to sit, stay and walk to heel. Ideally, get a trainer to show you how to teach your dog some basic commands, to get them on the right track.”

- Be consistent! “Dogs really do love having rules,” says John. “It’s so important to be consistent though – each of you needs to have the same rules, and needs to enforce them all the time. If you keep changing the boundaries, your dog is going to think that you’re an idiot!”

- Start now! Get your dog used to having baby stuff around the house; practice walking with your dog and an empty pram. “Any changes that are going to happen in the dog’s life should be made well before your baby arrives,” says John. “You want your dog to associate the baby with positive things, not negatives. So get all the new behavioural training done in advance, that way your dog won’t associate the baby with the changes.”
 
And above all else, get some professional advice! “A few hours of training can make a significant difference to your family dynamic,” says John. And after all, we do want “man’s best friend” to be baby’s best friend as well!

The fact is that when you become a parent, you simply don’t have as much time to spend with your dogs, and they can become jealous very quickly.