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Preparing a dog for addition to the family
Dear Dr. Spiegel, I am the owner of two dogs, a Rottweiler age one year and a Miniature Schnauzer age one year and a half. These dogs have been the only "children" my husband and I have known for as long as we have had them. I just found out that I am having a baby, due in September. Any time children come over now, my dogs are all over me making sure they don't miss out on any attention. They are both very gentle with kids (the rottie is a little big which scares children). But my question is, how do I prepare them for a new addition to the family? I will still love them as much, but I can tell you now my hands will be full and they will no longer be the center of attention. Any pointers you can give me are greatly appreciated. I want to start preparing them now if I can to make things easier when the baby arrives. Sincerely, R.H., Newark
Dear R.H., Congratulations. I should also thank you for recognizing that there's a true concern when bringing a baby into a home with an other animal. Being prepared for what you might encounter is a far wiser move than waiting for the problem between the dog and the baby to occur. Problems can be as severe as the occasional dog you hear about (usually Huskies) which rush over, grab and shake the baby, and then it's all over. Such an act, though rare, is a deadly display of predatory aggression. These dogs often stare at the baby obsessively and sometimes salivate and drool at various times preceding the attack. But that is not a worry for you. Your dogs, as so many others, can react in a number of different ways. They could become depressed, not having your full undivided attention anymore. They could become more wound up and troublesome, not getting as much play and exercise anymore. Regardless of what might be, you can do several things to prepare the dogs for the baby's arrival. First record the sounds of a crying baby. Play it at various times at different volumes, and watch your dogs' reactions. If they get upset or start barking, then in subsequent exposures play at lower volumes and increase the volume at a slower rate. When the dogs are remaining calm with the sounds of a human baby at loud volumes, then you can introduce the sights that will become an everyday part of their lives. Get a doll and simply treat it as though it were a live baby. Your behaviors and movements with the baby are equally, if not more important than just the sight of the baby. Pretend to change it and feed it, carry it around with you, etc. Don't leave it lying around. If you know what your baby's name will be, call it by name and talk to it. Through all of this, softly praise the dogs when they're being good (lying down calmly and quietly), and occasionally pet them briefly and gently as well. When you feel comfortable that the dogs are giving you room and that you can move about without the dogs jumping at/bothering you when you're with the baby, you can begin to combine the sights and sounds of the baby, playing the recorded cries and going in to get the baby holding it, calming it. The last thing to do regarding the baby specifically is to give the dogs a preview of its smell. So when the baby is born, have your husband bring home a blanket that the baby was wrapped in. Give it a few brisk shakes in the main room of the house, then put it in the baby's room. Do this daily till you come home. There are a few other things you'll want to do. Since there will be a dramatic shift in the amount of time you can spend being active with the dogs, do this -- Think about how much time you spend walking the dogs, and actively playing with them both outside and in. When you have an average daily total, divide that time into three time periods in the day, early morning(within first hour after waking), mid afternoon, and before or after dinnertime (which is better depends on individual circumstances). These will be the times you and/or your husband will actively socialize (play, walk, etc.) with the dogs. At other times, busy yourself with other things like cleaning or caring for your make pretend living baby. Gradually reduce the length of time given to individual interaction periods and simultaneously eliminate certain interactive periods (occasionally do not have a morning session, on other days don't have an evening session, etc.). And then sometimes only having one interactive period in a day. This enables you to gradually decrease the over dependence these dogs have on you as "only children." The idea is that if you do this slowly and gradually from now to September when you'll be giving birth to your baby, your current children will be better suited to adjusting to the lifestyle changes that you will all be experiencing. In following the above recommendations, whatever your baby chooses for its schedule, or whatever schedule you set for the baby, you'll be able to give your dogs the time they need without having them demanding it from you. Dealing with the baby that's begun creeping and then crawling is a whole other column. A dog is a very exciting stimulus to a child, and this can cause plenty of problems.