Dogs and a new baby: how to plan for your new arrival
May 22, 2021
It can be a testing period for any new parent but for dog owners the competing demands of a new baby and a dog can add another level of stress to those already chaotic first weeks. Dog trainer Aileen Stevenson KPA CTP, IMDT, has written a new book called Dogs, Bumps and Babies and shares some tips for looking after dogs and a new baby.
The first few weeks of parenthood are a whirlwind, especially with a first baby. Hormones are raging, sleep is in scarce supply and it’s not uncommon to find yourself still in your pyjamas at midday. Routine may feel like a thing of the past and an unrealistic dream for the future.
For many couples their dog has been their first ‘baby’ and some new parents feel huge guilt that their much-loved dog is being neglected in those early days when they inevitably have less time to devote to them. The demands of caring for a newborn mean that our dogs very often receive less exercise, less attention and the practicalities of day-to-day care can become a source of stress for time-poor parents. The result is that owners sometimes feel a mixture of guilt, frustration and resentment towards their dog which is the last thing any new parent needs.
However, there are some simple things you can do in advance to make life a little easier for both you and your dog in those initial weeks.
Dealing with the unexciting but essential practicalities of dog ownership in advance not only frees up time after your baby is born when you’ll need it most but also helps avoid sudden panics about running out of dog food or squeezing in appointments at a time when you are already stretched thin. Knowing that you are organised and prepared can really help you feel calm and in control.
Check your calendar and if your dog will need grooming or any routine veterinary treatment around the time your baby is due, schedule those appointments a few weeks ahead of your due date so that they are done and dusted before the baby arrives.
Bulk buy supplies you use frequently like food, favourite treats or chews, poo bags etc. You’ll have one less thing to remember in the busy weeks ahead. Some retailers even offer subscription services for these commonly used items which makes life even easier. Order once and the goods arrive on your doorstep just when you need them with no further effort from you…perfect for a busy household!
You’ve probably heard the saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’? Well, it can be true of dogs too! When time is in short supply, having other people to help you can really lighten the load.
It’s almost inevitable that your dog will get less exercise than usual in the weeks following the arrival of your baby. The resulting unspent energy or boredom can lead to unwanted behaviours like barking, chewing or attention seeking because they have unspent energy or are bored.
Having family or friends help out, hiring a dog walker or finding a good dog day care are all ways to ensure that your dog gets the exercise he needs when you haven’t got the time to do it yourself. You can relax in the knowledge that his needs are being met and also enjoy some dog-free time with your baby. Win win!
People always offer help when you have a new baby so accept those offers. Perhaps someone could walk your dog, or feed them their dinner, or stuff a KONG for you? Or perhaps they could care for your baby for half an hour while you get out into the fresh air for a stroll with your dog. Being a new parent can feel relentless at times so a little respite can work wonders for our emotional wellbeing.
Physical exercise isn’t the only way to avoid the problem behaviours that can arise when a dog is bored or under stimulated. Increasing the overall level of enrichment in their lives can help make up for a shortfall in physical exercise and keep your dog happy, engaged and productively employed.
Enrichment activities increase the physical and psychological wellbeing of an animal by giving it opportunities to display natural behaviours. A dog who lives a satisfying, enriched life will not only be happier but will also be far less likely to display problem behaviours.
There are many ways we can add enrichment to our dogs’ lives but the simplest activities involve finding more interesting and absorbing ways to feed our dogs. Our dogs have to eat so being creative about how we feed them gives us opportunities each day to add some interest and value to their lives with the added bonus of keeping them constructively occupied for longer than the seconds it takes most dogs to eat their meals!
Perhaps one of the simplest ways to use food is to scatter feed. Scatter your dog’s food across a wide area and let them use their nose to hunt for each piece of food. It not only takes them time to finish their meal but the act of sniffing itself has added benefits. Sniffing lowers blood pressure and successful searching is linked to the production of dopamine, a chemical associated with motivation and pleasure. A dog who sniffs is a happy, contented dog!
Good quality chews are another great option with multiple benefits. Chewing is a natural canine behaviour which, like sniffing, can calm and relax a dog and create an overall feeling of wellbeing. It also encourages a settled, lying down posture which can be helpful if you want to encourage your dog to settle whilst you feed your baby, for example.
Hang Out With Your Dog
When you get the chance just hang out with your dog; you will both feel better for it. A new baby brings lots of change so it’s unsurprising that the dogs we share our lives with may be a little unsettled and in need of reassurance. They are also almost definitely getting less attention than they were previously. So when you have a few moments why not give your dog some undivided attention?
Petting your dog increases the levels of the ‘love hormone’, oxytocin, in both us and our dogs. Oxytocin, which is also released during eye contact with our babies, plays a crucial role in attachment and bonding. Simply finding a little time to sit and pet your dog will give your dog what they seek, help keep your bond strong and aid the overall wellbeing of both you and your dog. It can seem indulgent to just hang out with your dog when you have a hundred and one other things to do but the laundry can wait…. pet your dog!
Finally…. Be Kind To Yourself
Being a new parent is hard. Being a new parent with a dog adds an extra layer of complexity. If you are having a difficult day and your dog’s walk is shorter than usual or replaced by a snuffle in the garden don’t beat yourself up about it. Dogs are resilient and can cope with a little disruption occasionally. If the house is calm and quiet with both baby and dog content and settled, allow yourself the time to rest and don’t feel guilty about not rushing to the next job on your to do list. You can’t pour from an empty cup and the more rested you feel the better able you’ll be to cope with life with a baby and a dog.
These simple things can help make the first weeks of family life less stressful for both you and your dog and get you off to a more relaxed start to life as a family together.
About the author
Aileen Stevenson is the founder of the Perfect Puppy Company. As a parent she has a particular interest in promoting safe child/dog interactions and is the first, and currently only, trainer in Scotland licensed to support new and expectant families with dogs. Her new book Dogs, Bumps & Babies is available from Amazon.