For many couples, a dog is their first "baby." And chances are, your hound knows he is! Your canine will still be a cherished part of the clan when your son or daughter arrives on the scene, but your routines will shift, and that can befuddle your furry friend. Like babies, dogs thrive on predictability, and "a newborn dramatically changes not only your life but your dog's as well," says Victoria Stilwell, dog trainer and host of Animal Planet's It's Me or the Dog. Soon he'll have to share your adoring attention with a demanding infant, and he won't understand why the long walks he relishes are getting shorter. Don't wait till Baby is home to help your pup adjust to the expanded fam. "While you're pregnant, initiate changes to get him used to a new schedule," Stilwell says. Put our plan into play and see Spot fall in love!
When you find out you're expecting...
If your dog hasn't been to a basic obedience class, it's time to sign him up. Behavior that seems innocuous now -- like jumping up to greet you at the door -- might become an issue when you're eight months pregnant or carrying an infant in your arms. An instructor can help correct that.
Many dogs have never been around children before. Little people do unpredictable things that adults don't, like make sudden movements, shriek, and get in dogs' faces. To give your pet exposure to tots, take him to the park to see how he reacts to babies from a distance, Stilwell suggests. Ask mom friends if you may walk near them when they have their kiddo in a stroller -- or, if things go well, even alongside them. These tactics will gradually acclimate your dog to the sight and sound of children.
Three months before your due date...
Actively prep your pup for his future "sibling." Though it may seem loony, get a doll and treat it as you will your infant. Carry it around at home, coo to it, and tote it in the baby carrier. Set up the bassinet, crib, and swing, and then have the doll "use" them. "You want the dog to become familiar with these items now, not when your baby is in them," says Betsy Saul, cofounder of PetFinder.com, an online pet-search site. Let your hound investigate everything the way he does best -- by sniffing. "And introduce him to smells like baby lotion and powder," Saul says.
Practice walking your mutt while you're pushing your future baby's wheels. "Your neighbors may be puzzled, but this will help your dog get used to the stroller," Saul says. Be sure not to loop the leash onto the stroller handle. If your furry friend happens to see a squirrel or another canine buddy, he might jerk the leash -- dangerous when there's a baby tucked in the stroller! Forget the adage "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." Try the "back" cue, which is an important skill for helping your pup learn about personal space, Stilwell says. Standing directly in front of your pooch, say "back" and hold out your hand as you shuffle toward him. He'll naturally back up, and then you can reward him with a treat, such as praise, a pat on the head, or a small biscuit. Practice this cue throughout the next few months, gradually eliminating your forward movement, so you only have to lift your hand and say "back." Consistency is key; your dog will eventually back up on his own, leaving Baby to enjoy your lap.
One month before your due date...
When you head to the hospital to deliver, you'll be gone for a couple of days. Do you know who will be feeding your dog and walking him? "Line up sitters or close friends your pet knows and likes," Saul says. "Enlist someone you can count on if you have to call at 3 a.m. to ask her to take your dog out later." And have a back-up person on hand too.
Worried about juggling a newborn and your pet in the early days? You might want to sign up your pup for "doggie day care" and try it out now. A good center will have at least two attendants per ten dogs and keep the bully dogs from being aggressive toward others, Stilwell says.