How do I prepare my dog for the new baby?

Today's Parent contributor Karen Robock is wondering how her four-legged baby is going to react to the new little human.

Ella cuddling with my bump.

Follow along as Today’s Parent contributor Karen Robock chronicles the ups and downs of her first pregnancy.

I call Ella, our four-year-old Boston Terrier, my baby. I think that pretty much says it all.

She sleeps in a dog bed — but in our bedroom, and she gets up with us every night before lights-out and morning when the alarm goes off, for snuggles. She has her own Christmas tree ornament, seat in the car (one for summer and one for winter) and is the best part of my day when I come home and see her wagging tail. I love this dog. I could go on — and on — but I’m sure you get the picture.

Needless to say, I think Ella’s pretty special. She’s playful and sweet and terribly smart. So smart, in fact, that she already knows a new addition to our family is on the way. Over the past few months, as baby and I have been getting bigger, she’s been showing signs that she knows exactly what’s going on: Instead of sitting beside me on the sofa with a paw in my lap she now sits in my lap with her head on my belly. When we go out with a good friend who could normally take the leash and happily lead her anywhere, Ella isn’t content unless she can see me at all times. And she now constantly follows me around the house — everywhere. Barry has started calling her my shadow. I’m pretty sure this is her way of doing her doggie duty and protecting baby and me, which I think is a good sign. But, it does make me wonder how much things will change for her when this new little human actually arrives. Will I suddenly have a shadow and a new appendage? This could be a bit much — for both of us.

I should note here that we have a cat, too, but Sophie is pretty standoff-ish and spends most of her time outside (within the confines of the yard), so I already know that her introduction to baby will be less intense than Ella’s. She might not even notice at first!

Basically, I just want things to go as smoothly as possible so I’ve been doing some research (like the good little journalist that I am!) and rounded up these helpful hints from professional dog trainer and mom Mikkel Becker about the best ways to make the transition easier for Ella:

Help your dog be independent. Becker says soon-to-be parents are often tempted to lavish extra attention on their dog because they feel guilty about the time they will be taking away from pooch when the baby arrives. But, that the smoothest approach is to prepare her to be independent so she’s not alarmed by the inevitable decrease in attention those first few months. She suggests introducing food puzzles and chew toys that will keep your dog’s mind engaged when she’s solo. I’ve already picked up a few new toys for Ella, but have never tried the food puzzles — this will be something really exciting for her.

Get her ready for a new walking routine. Since exercise is critical for dogs, but her regular routine may be difficult to maintain at first, Becker suggests setting up a dog walking service in advance or getting her used to a new — possibly shorter or less regular — walking schedule in the few weeks before D-day. Since we know that Ella lives for her “walkies” and “parkies” (trips to the park down the block to play catch) I can’t imagine totally giving these up. But, we’ve already started taking her at irregular times and for a mix of shorter and longer jaunts to get her used to the unpredictable months ahead. In case the going does get too tough, I’ve scoped out a doggy daycare in our neighbourhood where we can arrange on-site play or walking services, if we need them.

Introduce your dog and baby carefully. Becker recommends sending home a blanket or item of clothing ahead of you for the dog to smell — and be rewarded for sniffing — before you show up. Then, she says, it’s best for them to meet on neutral territory like the front porch, before you bring baby into the house. I’m thinking this will be a great job for my in-laws to take care of. They call Ella their “grandpuppy” so I know they’ll be more than happy to indulge this idea, and look after her while we’re in the hospital.

Curb barking. This was a concern I raised specifically with Becker because Ella does have one bad habit: Yapping like a maniac when anybody knocks on the front door. Generally she’s pretty quiet, but when company comes it’s a whole other story, and in the first weeks and months with baby I’m imagining there will be lots of visitors. “Barking is a common concern for new parents because it does wake up the baby, which is a huge deal as any rest you and baby can get is crucial,” she says. Beker suggests having keys made for close family and friends who will be dropping in and out. She also provided a training video on how to teach dogs to ditch the habit altogether, which I’ll definitely be trying out!

I suspect it’ll be a bit of a stressful transition at first, but in the end I’m confident that Ella’s loving and protective nature will help her accept the new baby. And of course, Ella will always be my “first born.”

Did you do anything special to get your pets ready for the new baby? What worked and what didn’t? Please share your tips with me!

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