From Rachel Jones. Email her at rjones[AT]borderstan.com.
Pregnancy is one of the top reasons that people give away their dogs. Behavior issues that seemed tolerable in the past suddenly become unacceptable when there is a baby on the way. In most cases it is not necessary to give up your pets. With some preparation and training, the pets and the baby can live together happily.
As always, the first step is to deal with your dog’s current behavior problems before the baby comes. Problems like excessive barking or pulling on leash can be solved with a trainer in plenty of time. If you plan to walk the dog along with the baby carriage, practice it before the baby comes. Yes, you will look silly with an empty baby carriage, but you can’t have your Great Dane dragging you and the carriage down the street. While you are working on current behavior issues, do some additional training to increase your dog’s obedience level. Your life will be much easier if your dog can go to a bed or crate on command and can stay for at least 10 minutes.
Expectant parents should also work on preventing baby-related behavior problems. Desensitize your dog to the kind of inappropriate touching he will receive from the baby. Feed him some tasty treats while gently pulling on his ears and tail and patting him roughly with your hand. As soon as he is totally indifferent to the touching, increase the roughness. In addition, handle your dog while he is eating or playing with toys and practice exchanging the food bowl or toy for a great treat. The dog should be indifferent to getting his food/toy taken away before the baby comes.
It is also important to prevent any jealousy or resentment that the dog might feel toward the baby. Figure out what your routine with the dog will be after the baby comes, and implement it now. Your dog should not be able to notice a difference in her walking or feeding schedule as a result of the new baby. Get all the baby supplies (diapers, bottles, etc.) early and let the dog sniff them so that there is not a sudden influx of “weird” stuff in the house. You can even buy CDs of crying to get the dog used to the noise.
Once the baby arrives, have one person hold the baby and let the dog sniff him/her while the other person feeds the dog treats. Let the dog hang out with you while you are nursing or playing with the baby. You don’t want the dog to feel ostracized, but you always want to supervise the interactions.
A new baby is a 24-hour job. Plan ahead to ensure a smooth relationship between the dog and the baby.