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Denise Joyce trained Hank, her eight-year-old rescue dog, in child-friendly commands well before the birth of her son Jonah.
Denise Joyce trained Hank, her eight-year-old rescue dog, in child-friendly commands well before the birth of her son Jonah.

When baby comes along

And baby makes four Add to ...

'Just wait - you'll see," is one of those phrases that people love to say to expectant first-time parents.

A relative used it when predicting how our attitude would change toward our dog once we have our baby. "You'll see. She'll just be a dog," said my cousin, who knows we dote on our beagle.

As people wait longer to have kids, pets often assume the role of substitute children - they're our furbabies. But when a real (non-furry, I hope) infant comes along, the demotion to "just a dog" can be rough on Fido. On the mild end, your dog might bark when the baby cries, or pee in the house when the new arrival throws off his regular walk schedule.

But the consequences can be more serious. In July, a Kentucky couple called 911 to report that their newborn baby was missing - only to discover him 10 minutes later in the jaws of their family dog, who'd dragged him from his crib into the backyard. The three-day-old baby was seriously injured but is recovering.

Preventing a terrible accident like that is simple: Never, ever leave a baby unattended with a dog. But beyond common sense, there is a lot you can do to prepare your pooch.

Denise Joyce worked extensively with Hank, her eight-year-old rescue dog, before the birth of her first child last October. The 80-pound mix of Labrador Retriever and Staffordshire terrier was well-trained but, as Ms. Joyce points out, most dog owners tolerate lapses in manners that are fine around adults but problematic with children. It's okay for a dog to occasionally jump on the sofa, for example, but not when a baby is lying there.

Ms. Joyce worked to reinforce "leave it" and "drop it" commands with Hank, who was protective of his toys. On walks, she trained him not to pull on the leash.

"There's tons you can do with positive reinforcement," Ms. Joyce said. "You want your dog to feel really good about the baby but also keep a respectful distance."

The key, she adds, is to start preparing when you find out you're pregnant.

"You have no idea how your world is going to get rocked. There's no time to dog train once the baby gets home."

Ms. Joyce turned her experiences into a workshop for expectant parents that she teaches at It's a Dog's Life, a doggy daycare and training centre near Toronto's High Park. The training she did with Hank also paid off personally; Hank and Jonah, now nine months, are the best of friends.

"Hank was walking beside him in the stroller today and Jonah was talking to him in his gibberish for 40 minutes," Ms. Joyce said. "It just melts your heart."

One of the best ways to acclimate your dog to an infant's presence is by playing a baby-sounds CD.

Jay Harren of Atlanta produced the Dog Meet Baby disc ( http://www.dogmeetbaby.com) after trying the technique out on his own dog, a terrier mix named Jack, before the birth of his daughter, Fiona.

"We heard horror stories of people who had to get rid of their dog because they didn't get along with the baby, and who wants to do that? That's awful," he said.

The first time he played the baby sounds, Mr. Harren said, Jack "went crazy" - barking, racing around the house, growling. But it only took a few days of playing the CD and feeding Jack treats to get the dog used to the wails.

"After a while he would just sit there, and by the time we brought our baby home he was totally fine," Mr. Harren said.

I tested out Dog Meet Baby on my dog Lily, whose temperament generally falls somewhere between mellow and comatose. The "moderate crying" provoked no reaction; track No. 2, "screaming," got a slight nose twitch, but otherwise she seemed undisturbed.

The same could not be said for my husband, who wandered into the living room with a concerned look on his face. "Is that really what it's going to sound like? All the time?" he asked.

I told him not to worry and fed him a treat. "It'll be fine," I said. "Just wait - you'll see."


Prepare your pet

  • Address any pet training and behaviour problems. If your pet exhibits fear and anxiety, get help from a specialist.
  • If your pet's activities include gentle nibbling, pouncing or swatting at you and others, redirect that behaviour to appropriate objects.
  • Get your pet used to nail trims.
  • Train your pet to remain calmly on the floor beside you and not jump uninvited onto your lap.
  • Encourage friends with infants to visit your home to accustom your pet to babies. Supervise all pet and infant interactions.
  • Play recordings of a baby crying, turn on the mechanical infant swing, and use the rocking chair. Make these positive experiences for your pet by offering a treat.
  • Carry a baby doll.
  • Practice walking your dog with a stroller.
  • Sprinkle baby powder or baby oil on your skin to get your pet used to the new smells.
  • Plan ahead to make sure your pet gets proper care while you're at the birthing centre.

Source: Humane Society of the United States

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