Dear Didi: We recently found out that my wife is expecting with our first child. How do we prepare our three-year old Boxer, Rocky for the baby? -Proud new father in Stockton
Dear Proud Father: Congratulations! I am sure you are both experiencing a lot of different emotions. I love that you are thinking ahead to your four-legged family member. Rocky knows something is up. Dogs are phenomenal when it comes to noticing the smallest changes in their humans and their home. Rocky can already smell hormonal changes in his mom and eventually he will be able to hear a new heartbeat or … heartbeats!
In the early stages of your pregnancy you should enroll Rocky in a six- to eight-week class. It can be an obedience class or something like agility. Do your homework and get references rather than listen to advertising. This will remind him of any previous training he has had so that it is fresh and cleans up any sloppy response times. Make sure he has a powerful “leave it” and “come” cue. He will enjoy the one-on-one time with you when most dogs begin noticing a lack of attention because the baby news has taken over in the household.
If your budget allows, begin collecting your layette sooner rather than later. Rocky needs to see, smell and hear all the changes slowly and steadily before the baby comes home. Many new parents rush around the month before delivery and the poor dog freaks out. Think of baby powder, diapers, blankets, cribs, changing tables, painting and moving furniture out of a room, musical mobiles, stuffed animals that don’t belong to Rocky, etc. All sensory things that come with those items like, smells, sounds, motions, etc. In the months of setting up, show him things and reward him for sniffing them. If you anticipate not wanting him to ever go in the baby’s room, begin teaching and enforcing that now while you have the time to be vigilant and consistent. Talk to him about things. He won’t understand, but he will enjoy the excited tones and special attention.
The next part may seem weird to you but I highly recommend you buy a life size baby doll. Practice being a parent. Change the doll’s diapers, literally. Wrap it in blankets, rock it to sleep, sing lullabies, do whatever is going to be your realistic parent style. Play videos of babies crying so that he begins to hear baby sounds. He needs to see you go through the motions and acclimate to the “strange” behaviors his parents are exhibiting while you can stay focused and still give him some attention. When the baby is born, make every effort to bring home a blanket the baby was swaddled with. Save the first dirty diaper and bring it home. These actions will ensure that the newborn is not entirely unfamiliar when he or she comes home.
Next, please supervise and monitor Rocky at ALL times. This is for his safety as much as the child’s. There are all kinds of heart-warming videos online of babies laying with the family dog or the child crawling on the dog. These actions are not safe and should not be mimicked. No one ever posts the thousands of actual dog bites, scratches and aggression on YouTube. Teach Rocky to be mindful of your new possession. There will be years to come for them to bond and play together, the first couple of years is not that time. Make a special effort to spend a few minutes every day with him despite being sleep deprived. Many dogs feel forgotten when a baby comes home and they begin to act out for attention. Sibling rivalry is very real!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. For a free consultation with Dierdra or to ask your dog behavior question, email www.CaliforniaCanineUnleashed.com.