Generally speaking, most pregnancies last between 36 and 40 weeks. Before you hit that 36-week mark, write care instructions for your pets! Be sure to include feeding instructions, activity requests, current pictures, and emergency vet information. You may also like to include information about favorite snacks and toys, food storage, and restrictions. Laminate and hang them in an easy-to-see location. Don’t forget to mention any limitations or food sensitivities your pet may have. Leave contact information for another person (besides yourself) that you trust to make decisions for your pet, and notify your vet that your pets will be under the care of someone else.
This tip is especially helpful if you have more than one pet, or pets that may be difficult to tell apart at first glance. Labelled collars can help avoid I.D. confusion with an unfamiliar caregiver. Make sure that each pet is getting the correct medication, food serving, or equipment. It is very common to have different diet restrictions or activity preferences between dogs in a multi-dog household, so being able to tell the difference is very helpful to whomever is helping care for your dogs. Also, many baby and dog toys look similar! Help your caregivers easily tell the difference so you don’t end up with toys slobbered on by the wrong creature.
Exposing your dog to baby sounds while positively reinforcing those sounds, can really set you up for success and assist your dog in coping with their newest human. Babies can make some very distressed sounding noises, and it’s important that our dogs understand that they do not also need to share in that distress. While we may not have a real live baby to practice with in our home, YouTube has a variety of great baby noises to practice with! Turn on some baby sounds, and present your dog with their favorite treat to generate positive associations and help prepare for the real thing later on! This is great to start early in pregnancy and to continuously practice until baby arrives.
Our dogs’ primary method of exploring the world around them is through their noses! Allowing your dog to have a thorough sniffing of all the baby “stuff” before baby arrives can give them a lot of information and provide some context once baby comes back home. They’re curious, they’re interested in the changes, and they just want to be included in the circle of information. You can expose to smells as soon as you begin accumulating baby accessories, and keep your canine companions engaged with the process. Take some of the mystery out of baby, by allowing familiarity with the “stuff” first.
Crate Training poses so many benefits for dogs! In this case, we are providing our dog with a custom space all their own. This space will be a human and baby free zone where your dog can decompress! With the addition of another tiny human, often come guests. Set yourself (and your dog) up for success by providing them with a restful private space to chill when things get too hectic. While your dog may not have any problems with their new human sibling, they can be cause for anxiety for guests, unintentionally get underfoot of someone carrying baby, or just be a little “too much”. Sometimes, less is more. Don’t wait to get started on crate training until baby arrives! Your dog should be a pro by the time you come home with your child.
Establishing boundaries before your little bundle of joy arrives is a wonderful idea. These boundaries do not have to be permanent! Many parents choose to keep their newborn baby in or around the bed after delivery. If your dog is used to sharing the bed with you, take the time leading up to birth to slowly adjust to sleeping in their own space. Crate training is excellent for this. Any spaces where the baby, (and recovering mom) will be spending a lot of time after delivery are good candidates for fencing off with gates or physical barriers. Get your dog used to the idea of not being allowed on the bed (or other baby spaces) before baby arrives. This will also prevent the dog from making negative associations between baby and restricted access. These boundaries will keep you, your baby, and your dog safe and comfortable as your navigate your new life as a family unit. Again, these changes do NOT have to be permanent…but temporary changes and boundaries can make for a smoother and safer adjustment period.
After delivery many parents will find their hands impressively full with the long list of tasks associated with caring for their newborn. They often perform this long list of tasks while fully sleep deprived as they adjust to baby’s new schedule for them. This could mean that despite your best efforts and noble intentions, that you find yourself spending less time playing with your favorite furry companions. Prepare some enrichment activities to help occupy your dog while you are unable to engage with them actively. Will this replace playtime with Mom or Dad? Likely not. But a stuffed Kong, snuffle mat, or foraging box could help give your dog something interesting to do while you take care of business. Spend the days leading up to delivery exploring new foods and games to see what your dog enjoys the most!
For even more helpful information, check out my course on Pet Owners Academy! This course is filled with additional information, extra tips, video, and audio content!