Baby, baby!

Several of my clients are expecting babies (of the human variety!), and so have been asking about dogs and babies. Good questions! Let’s talk about dogs and pregnancy (and next week we’ll tackle bringing baby home).

The first thing you should know is that it’s not just your body that changes when you get pregnant: your scent does, too. All those new hormones and things are like a primer for the animals around you: “This one has littles on the way! Help protect her!” Your dog already knows something is up. Since they probably haven’t experienced it before, they don’t consciously know what’s about to happen, but some little part of their hind brain is already saying, “Pssst, there’s a puppy coming.”

This also means that your dog is primed for change. In some ways, this is great. If something your dog is doing needs to change before the baby comes home, now is the time to start working on that. (More on this later.) In other ways, it’s not so great. This is the time when your dog is likely to start acting up (or, as they see it, becoming more protective and taking over the job of Doing Everything And Making All The Rules because you, being pregnant, may or may not be fit to do so).

In the latter case, just know that your dog might come up with all new and totally bizarre behaviors they’ve never shown you before. Take it in stride, correct as needed, and don’t worry about it too much. They’re just testing the boundaries to make sure that even though things are changing, they’re still staying the same.

Let’s talk about the awesome part of it being a time of change: changing behaviors you don’t love, or behaviors you don’t mind now, but might mind when there’s a baby. We’ll go through the behaviors I’m commonly asked about, as well as ones I think you might want to change!

1. Barking
2. Sleeping on the bed
3. Jumping on people
4. Going after food or anything else dropped on the floor
5. Going after anything held

I’m going to make the assumption that your dog isn’t terrible about any of these behaviors, but might be a little worse than we’d like. If your dog has a real problem with one, consider getting a trainer. (You’re also welcome to email me: advice is free!) The exception to that is barking. In the case of barking, just be extra persistent and make sure you bridge!

Ready? Excellent!

1. Barking

Most people don’t mind if their dog barks occasionally. When the baby is sleeping, however… If you start now, then when the baby comes home you will have a much quieter dog!

The easiest way to fix barking is with a squirt bottle. When your dog barks, say, “no barking!” Then grab your squirt bottle and follow it up with a squirt. (When using a squirt bottle you want a heavy duty one, and put it on “stream.” It’ll work great the first few days, and then when your dog realizes it’s nothing terrible, it will work less. That’s okay! That just means you have to squirt them five times instead of once, and you’ll still get the same response.)

Now, the nature of squirt bottles is that they’re never around when you need them. So when your dog barks and you run for your squirt bottle, make sure you bridge the barking with squirting! Then, even if your dog has run off to either hide under the bed or bark at the other window, you can still follow-up with the squirt-consequence. (Following up with a consequence is VERY important until your dog is much better. Otherwise, they just learn that the old bat is yelling again, as my grandmother used to say, and they have to pipe down for a second, but then they can go back to it.)

Finally, keep squirting until your dog is no longer looking at whatever they were barking at. If they’re looking at it, they’re going to re-engage with it!

The news that ‘s both good and bad is that you’ll never get your dog to stop barking totally. They’ll always do what’s called alarm barking: one or two barks to let you know something’s wrong (there’s someone at the door, there’s something outside I’ve never seen before and you should check it out, etc), but then they’ll stop. Most importantly, they’ll stop barking at things they see all the time, like squirrels.

2. Sleeping on the bed

If your baby is sleeping on the bed, your dog probably should not. Too much tender skin and doggie nails to contend with! If your dogs sleep on the bed now, it’s time for them to learn to stay off. This is super simple: put a bed for them on the floor, preferably with an extra human-bed-blanket on it, so it’s familiar. Before you turn in for the night, put them in their bed and give them a treat. Then tuck yourself in and turn out the light.

Easy, right?

HA! Now your dog will hop out of their own bed and into yours.

Push them out. Don’t lift them gently to the floor (unless your bed is unusually high and your dog is small, or your dog has a physical problem that would keep them from hopping down on their own). We want them to go, “Gosh, I don’t want to be pushed out of bed and have to scramble to land nicely. That’s no fun. Maybe I’ll sleep down here.” If you’re lifting them down, they won’t have that reaction and they’ll hop back up.

Ah, now you tuck back into bed. And your dog hops back up! Push them off again. Repeat.

When I taught my pup, Lily, that she was no longer allowed in bed I usually had to push her out about ten times before she’d settle into her own. Then, in the middle of the night, I’d have to do it again. This lasted for about a week before she realized I was going to be more stubborn than she was. Hang in there! Better to do it now than when you’re already sleep deprived from a new baby.

3. Jumping on people

You’re not going to want your dog to jump on you when you’re holding a baby. This is the quick and rough solution. When your dog jumps toward you, step into their personal space and bump them back. You can bump them back with the side of your foot (small dog) or your raised knee (big dog), but bump them back. If your dog is really persistent, step into their space and drive them back when they jump by marching into their personal space so they have to back off at least five feet. Don’t act like you’re happy to see them until all four paws are on the ground.

You can also start teaching them to sit: once they’re calm enough to think a little, ask them to sit. When they do, praise. When they get excited and pop back up, straighten away from them and ask them to sit again. Continue until they get it!

When your dog jumps on someone else, step into their personal space again and push them sideways. You can also grab their collar and pull them sideways. Ask them to sit, and repeat that step until they understand that sitting, not jumping, will get them petted.

4. Going after food or anything else dropped on the floor

Since we don’t want your dog going after binkis, bottles, or food, it’s time to teach them to stop. This will require some prep. First, get yourself a squirt bottle. Second, drop something on the floor. When your dog dives for it, start squirting! Keep squirting until they either back off or, if they grabbed it, follow them squirting until they drop it. (Note: If your dog is food or toy possessive, call a dog trainer. Do not push them into being more aggressive!) Continue this until you can’t trick them into going for something.

When you drop something and, miracle of miracles, your dog stays away from it, praise them and give them a treat. It’ll help build their self-restraint!

5. Going after anything held

This is extremely important, because we don’t want them going after your baby when you’re holding her! Most dogs don’t go for things that are held, but if yours does, this is for you.

We’re going to combine both the jumping and the dropping techniques. When your dog goes after something you’re holding, start bridging. March into their personal space, knees high if it’s a big dog, until they move back. Then, still bridging, go grab your squirt bottle, find your dog, and squirt them. This is big: this is HUGE. We want them to think, “Wow, I’m NEVER doing that again!” so our reaction is big enough to drive that reaction home. Continue as needed.

A couple of final questions I get:

“Can my dog still sit in my lap/on the furniture?”

This is a personal preference. Sure! Now is a good time, though, to start asking your dog for personal space occasionally, so that when you’re holding or nursing the baby, they know how to give you room. This is pretty simple: give them some kind of cue (“Scoot over,” “all done,” “get down”) and then nudge them away. When they come back, nudge again. You can nudge with the flat of your hand, or the area between your thumb and fingers, and you can nudge sharply if they don’t get it (without hitting!). No reason to be aggressive about it, though: they’ll get it! If they’re used to moving away, then they’ll just find a new spot and settle down again. No big deal!

“My dog has never been around kids. Will he be okay?”

By the time your baby is a kid, your dog will be plenty used to him or her! The nice thing about babies is that they’re immobile for a little while. By the time they’re scooting around, your dog will be used to them. Don’t worry about it!

Finally, this is a good time to start practicing walking with a stroller. Assuming your dog walks nicely, they’ll think that the front of your body is the front of your stroller. Start working on it now, so that when the baby gets there your dog isn’t tugging on your hand — which will be pushing the stroller — while you walk.

If your dog doesn’t walk nicely on a loose leash and you would like them to, go read these articles, or call a dog trainer!

Next week: bringing baby home!

Jenna

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