Last week, I talked to San Francisco dog training expert Tracy Pore, who recommended a three-tiered plan to prepare your dog for a baby. In part one, we covered relearning basic manners and appropriate behaviors for your dog. Now it’s time to prepare for the baby’s arrival by acclimating your dog.
In Tracy Pore’s 10 years of experience at the SPCA, she observed that many dogs handle change fairly well. Some of the dogs in the shelter, after all, go from a home to the streets, to a kennel at a shelter, and then to a whole new family. These are a lot of big transitions, and some dogs handle it quite smoothly. There are other dogs, however, for whom big changes can be extremely stressful and anxiety provoking. These are the dogs that need the most help when it comes to introducing a new baby.
My Rusty, as a rescue dog, is pretty adaptable. Still, we want this transition from family fur baby to big brother to go as smoothly as possible.
Babies bring with them lots of new things to which your dog needs to get acclimated. These include new smells (diapers, anyone?), new sounds (from gentle coos to ear-piercing screams), new furniture (we just got a rocking chair), new gear (car seats, high chairs, strollers, etc.), and changes in routine (early morning walks may be out the window).
Let’s look at each one in depth:
1. New smells
As much as possible, introduce your dog to baby smells before baby arrives. You can start with things like diaper rash cream, baby lotion or baby oil, any scent you plan on putting on your baby (note: I do not recommend liver-scented baby lotion, as this will confuse the dog). Share these smells with your dog on a blanket or piece of cloth and praise him for paying them correct amount of attention –- that means a vague sense of interest, but not, for example, eating the blanket. If he chews it up, try again and work with commands like “leave it.” Give him special treats every time he gets it right.
2. New sounds
Believe it or not, you can buy CDs with baby sounds on them. Tracks on this CD include: baby talk, baby crying, baby laughing, etc. To get your dog used to these sounds, first play them quietly in the background while you go about your regular routine. Praise the dog for not paying much attention to the sounds. Then, over time, play the CD louder and louder, letting him get used to each level, until it’s about the level of a real baby (you can do this over a number of days). Once he’s gotten used to the noises at RBL (Real Baby Level), move the speakers from room to room.
3. New furniture and gear
Get your dog acclimated to sitting next to a rocking chair, being near a crib (if you’re going to use one), and riding next to a car seat now, before there’s a baby in it. And, yes, walking next to a stroller. I was trying to avoid parading around the neighborhood with a dog and an empty stroller, but it seems unavoidable. Perhaps I’ll pack the dog and the empty stroller in the car and drive to a distant neighborhood. Or perhaps I’ll just make the most of it and talk to the empty stroller like there’s a real baby in it in order to confuse everyone I pass.
4. New routine
It’s important to start mixing up your routine now, before baby comes (so the dog doesn’t blame it all on the baby). Change up the time your dog is fed and walked. One book I have suggests that you start to pay less and less attention to your dog so he gets used to it. This author clearly doesn’t have a dog as adorable and cuddly as Rusty, because frankly, I don’t think Wes and I could keep our hands off him if we tried.
Once your dog has gotten used to all the new smells, sounds, gear and routine, he’s just about ready to meet the baby. Tracy gave me some great tips about how to make the big introduction to ensure that things are off to a good start. I’ll get into those next week when I cover part three: Introducing the baby to your dog in a calm and unthreatening way.
Have you tried any of these acclimating tricks with your dog? If so, let me know how it went!
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