I recently alluded to the fact that we've been busy taking some classes to get ready for Baby Awesomerod's arrival. Specifically, we've attended a baby-ready pet class, a newborn care class, and this weekend we'll be attending our childbirth class extravaganza. So, as a service to you, but also as a way for me to keep all the information straight, I thought I would share with you the highlights, Cliffs-Notes style (or Spark-Notes style, if you were born after 1990).
We found out about this free pet class through our friend Mimi who was one trimester ahead of me and therefore a great source of information. We attended the class offered for free through the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, which offers one two-hour class per month. The group's intention is to provide the services soon-to-be parents can use in advance to help reduce the number of animals brought to shelters as a result of the birth or adoption of a baby. If you're local, I can recommend this class as a reassuring way to spend two hours of your life while picking up a few hints along the way. If you're not local, check to see if you local shelters, rescues or ASPCAs offer similar services.
Going into this class, I had two main apprehensions surrounding our dogs and babies:
1) Maxwell is perfectly comfortable around people of all sizes...except babies. Of course, his actual interactions with babies have been fairly limited, seeing as we're not going to approach a random baby on the street with our 85-pound dog, nor have there been a lot of babies in our home. Specifically, I've watched Maxwell's baby interactions through his responses to my little niece, and that has only occurred twice. Overall I would say he was too interested in her when she visited, to the point that he almost seemed obsessive.
2) Doc barks (in a really annoying way) if he is not fed the second we arrive home from work, regardless of the actual time. I can barely keep it together when I hear his incredible bark right now, and I don't have a baby. I am sure that when you add screaming baby and barking dog together I could easily lose my mind.
After our brief introductions among the dozen other yuppie couples in attendance at the November class, the two instructions raised their eyebrows (slightly) at Matt and me and said, "Wow, looks like you two have your work cut out for you." Not exactly reassuring words from the people whose job is to try to keep your dogs out of their shelters.
Fortunately, as the evening continued I did take away many practical points.
Before baby arrives
Have lots of high-value treats on hand -- not your typical kibble -- so that the dogs know you mean business when you practice some of the techniques below. Cheese or bacon divided into small pieces could also work.
Perhaps the most helpful command you can teach your dogs to master (or the one our dogs especially need the most) is "leave it." This command applies to just about everything -- people, objects, food...most importantly, the future baby. One way to do this is to put a high-value treat in your hand, put your hand close enough to the dog that he could take the treat out of your hand, but keep repeating "leave it" while you open and close your hand. Only give the dog the treat when he is relaxed and not lunging for the treat.
Start playing with any baby toys or baby gear that moves or makes noises. Praise the dogs when they are able to ignore the noises and movement.
Play a CD or Internet clips of crying babies. Gradually increase the amount of time you play these at once as well as the volume, and praise the dogs when they ignore the noises and exhibit calm behaviors. Our class came with a free baby noises CD that we need to start playing for our dogs.
If your dogs are afraid of moving objects, such as bikes, skateboards, strollers, take your dogs on walks with your stroller to help desensitize them to the object and the movement.
Start slowly adjusting your dogs' routines so they do not undergo one large, immediate change when the baby arrives.
Avoid aimlessly petting your dogs when, for example, you're sitting on the sofa. The more they expect to get constant attention, the harder it will be for them to adapt when the baby arrives.
Help your dogs find mental stimulation through activities or toys that provide exercise and lots of entertainment. Our instructors recommended the Kong Wobbler (a kibble dispenser) as one way to change up the feeding routine to help dogs keep themselves busy, stimulated and obtaining rewards.
After the baby's birth
Here's one that you've probably heard of even if you're not a pet owner: before you introduce your dogs to your baby, introduce your dogs to an object that contains your baby's scent, such as a hat, a blanket, a onesie. Here's the part that I didn't realize: the dogs should smell the item and receive praise and rewards during this time, but the dogs SHOULD NOT tug on the item or try to lay on it.
Before you return home from the hospital, have a family member or friend take your dogs on a nice long walk to get out their energy. Then when you pull up in the driveway, hand your baby off to that person while you greet your dogs. Then hold your baby while you introduce your dogs to your baby.
Always keep your baby positioned above your dogs so that your dogs know your baby is above them in the hierarchy of the family (sorry Max and Doc! You're about to be demoted.)
One concern I raised during the question and answer portion of the evening is what to do if our dogs try to jump on us while we're seated and holding the baby. One suggestion is to train the dogs to sit at a distance from us -- for example, have the dogs sit on a special bed or pillow placed away from the couch. In an ideal situation, the answer is that I should stand and turn away from the dog (though I could see myself breastfeeding and not being able to stand up and turn away that second). Standing up and turning away is the same way to respond if our dogs jump on guests when they arrive (though I realize it's harder for guests to do this than it is for us to do so).
Speaking of guests, guests should greet the dogs first before greeting the baby so that the dogs do not view the baby as something that only takes away attention. Another good idea is for guests to give the dogs treats when they arrive. I think we'll be keeping some high-value treats downstairs so guests can do this as they walk in the door.
The biggest point the instructors wanted to emphasize that is hopefully obvious to you is this one: never leave your baby alone with your pet.
What else would you recommend doing before or after your baby arrives to help encourage positive interactions between pets and babies?