Pregnancy, New Babies, and Your Dog: Going Beyond Sniffing Blankets

Pregnancy, New Babies, and Your Dog: Going Beyond Sniffing Blankets

As you may know, Sunday was National Kids and Pets Day. To help raise awareness about creating a safe environment for your children and furry companions to thrive in, we've invited expert dog trainer Kat Stevens-Stanley to the blog. Today, she's sharing her valuable insight on how to prepare your pooches for a newborn baby.

As you may know, Sunday was National Kids and Pets Day. To help raise awareness about creating a safe environment for your children and furry companions to thrive in, we've invited expert dog trainer Kat Stevens-Stanley to the blog. Today, she's sharing her valuable insight on how to prepare your pooches for a newborn baby.

Pregnancy is a unique time for everyone. First pregnancies are especially full of mystery and wonder for both parents. If you are anything like me, your dogs were your first “babies,” before even the idea of human children ever came into your mind. This is true for a lot of families and people I meet. Whether your pregnancy is a big surprise or something you’ve thought about for a long time, taking some steps to prepare your four-legged “babies” can make the transition from home with predictable adults, to home with a newborn, go smoothly.

A lot of soon-to-be parents do a great job of looking to experts, reading books, and attending classes to learn more about how to be the best parents they can be -- despite being around other humans on a regular basis and maybe even having had some exposure or experience being around newborns in the past. But what about our dogs? So often I see people overlook the pregnancy time as a time to also prepare family dogs for the big change. The most common advice I hear given when expectant parents ask what they should do about their dog is, “Bring home a blanket from the hospital and let them smell it before introducing them to the baby.” I don’t think there is particularly any harm in doing this, but this is sort of the equivalent of asking your friends from out-of-town to mail their worn underwear to your house ahead of time.

Refresh Basic Obedience Cues

The number one priority when preparing dogs for new family members should be to tackle any behavior problems or undesirable habits right away. How well does your dog know basic obedience cues? Could he or she use a refresher? Getting your dog squared away on training in the early days means easier transition for everyone. Having your dog well versed in verbal obedience cues will make it easier to communicate to your dog when your hands are now full with a small person.

Prepare for Changes in Daily Routines

With new babies come lots of routine changes, new furniture, baby gear and equipment, as well as new sounds and new smells. If your dogs are used to being on a very strict, regular schedule, now is the time to start mixing it up. For example, feed your dogs at 4:45 p.m. instead of 5:15 p.m. Instead of taking seven, night walks, maybe you take walks four nights a week and give your dog’s puzzle toys (like KONGs) three nights a week. New babies are unpredictable and life scheduling changes a lot after babies are born. It’s a good idea to get your dog comfortable now with things not always being exactly the same, so it isn’t a big shock to them when you bring a new baby home.

Set Up New Sleeping Arrangements

Where does your dog sleep at night? Is it in your bedroom with you? If you are planning to share a room with your new baby, getting your dog comfortable sleeping in another area, like a crate or a couch in the living room, can be helpful during those sleepless nights when you are up fumbling around trying to feed and change a newborn. My own dogs were very used to sharing my bedroom (and sometimes even my bed) for years and when they were suddenly denied access to my room at night they were a bit confused. I heard a bit of pacing out in my living room the first few nights until they got comfortable with the idea that when mom and dad go to bed, they don’t have to do anything but stay comfortably on the couch. If my dogs had a tougher time transitioning to a new sleeping area, I would have wanted to know about it before the first night home with my daughter.

Adjust to New Sounds

Babies come with new sounds that are meant to trigger and alert new moms. These sounds can be really startling to dogs. Playing sounds of babies crying before your baby comes home can be helpful. It is important to note here that sometimes these recorded sounds do not have the same impact as the real thing, especially since the real thing can have a big impact on mom.

Practice for Changes in Body Movement

Pregnancy definitely makes an impact on how women physically move. This “strangeness” can be something our dogs pick up on and can impact how they may behave around pregnant women. Sometimes this may be interpreted as a dog being protective or guarding. Once baby is born, both mom and dad’s movement may be different for a time as holding a baby makes you step more carefully, less able to carry other objects, and you may find yourself bouncing and swaying about. Dogs who aren’t used to seeing you do this may be confused. You may also find your dog’s response to obedience cues changes because your body language accompanying those cues has now changed.

I encourage families to practice carrying a doll. Practice doing things you would normally do during the day, while holding your pretend baby. How does your dog react? During my pregnancy I spent a lot of time baby-wearing a pretend baby with my iPhone tucked into the baby carrier playing YouTube videos of babies cooing, laughing, and crying so that my dogs would get familiar with a noise making thing being attached to me. I spent some time each day talking to this pretend baby while I was in the same room as them to see what level of interest they had in the pretend baby.

Set Up Baby Accessories Early

The equipment and accessory options for new parents these days is really amazing, and the choices of things you can purchase for your home are numerous. If you are going to be bringing equipment such as swings or bouncy chairs into your home, it’s a good idea to set these things up some time before the baby will be using it and get your pets used to seeing it. In our house we started with turning on a baby swing with nothing in it and paying it no attention. I then added a fake baby to the chair and pretended to interact with it. Practicing with this equipment now will make the movements and sounds of new baby gear seem less interesting when it comes time to use it.

Plan Ahead for the Birth

No matter how much we prepare ourselves for childbirth, there is nothing about it that is predictable. Make sure you have a plan for what your dogs will do and where your dogs will go when you are in labor. Many women choose to labor at home for some time before going to a hospital or birthing center. If your dog is going to be home with you during this time, it’s a great idea to have some long-lasting chews or puzzle toys for your dog to enjoy in an alone-zone. Labor affects all women differently. For some of our dogs, watching us labor can be very frightening and confusing. If you are planning a homebirth, I recommend sending your dogs to another location so you are able to focus on your labor and the human family members with you. There is no set time limit for labor. Making sure you have one or several pet caretakers on call ready to take over dog care for a time is a must. If you don’t have a person close to you who is able to do this, checking out boarding kennel options and sending your dog for a trial day is a good plan.

Allow Yourselves Time to Adjust After the Birth

Once the baby is born, the number one priority is the health and recovery of the new mom. During the first few weeks it can be immensely helpful to enlist the help of a dog walker, dog daycare (if your dog enjoys that type of setting), or a dog helper. Many families benefit from boarding their dog or sending their dog to a friend or relative’s house for the first couple week’s the new baby is home. This give families a chance to get into a routine and get comfortable with the new baby without having the added stress of caring for animals. When visitors come to meet the new baby and help a new mom and dad out during those early days, requesting help with dog-related needs is a great plan.

The better prepared your four-legged family is for the arrival of a new baby, the easier and smoother things have the potential to go.

About the Author:

Kat Stevens-Stanley, owner of Kat Stevens Dog Training is an Animal Behavior College Certified dog trainer, Association of Professional Dog Trainers and Pet Professional Guild member, parent educator, and licensed presenter through internationally recognized group, Family Paws Parent Education. Kat specializes in science-based, positive reinforcement, private dog training classes, supporting individuals and families throughout the Metro Detroit Area and northern Oakland County. If you are an expectant parent, grandparent, caretaker of children or have a dog who visits children, Kat’s in-home consulting is for you. Kat helps people from all walks of life with a wide spectrum of dog needs, and one of her favorite topics and biggest area of focus is supporting and assisting families with dogs and kids. Kat shares her home with two rescued shepherd mix dogs, her toddler-aged daughter, and her husband. She can personally attest to the value of preparing dogs for welcoming home new babies. Kat can be reached at


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