If you are expecting, then begin to act as if you already have the baby, meaning you will start to work on your dog’s independence now for when the baby does arrive. That means longer stretches of crate time and enforcing (super vigilant) place and out (or leave it) commands. You need to prepare him now for long periods of separation from you, which is where place or down (make sure the dog can stay when he/she is in a down command). You will also want your dog to be able to handle you leaving a room and him staying where he is—this will really come in handy for when you are tending to the baby. These practices will condition the dog to independence, and the sooner you start them the easier it will be on the dog when the baby arrives.
For some dogs, depending on their temperament and behavior, you may need to deny access to the baby’s room, space, bassinet, etc. More mild mannered dogs may be able to handle being in the vicinity of the baby, but you still want them to be calm and relaxed while you tend to the baby. Imagine a baby crying and wailing—not every dog can handle that, in which case, crate the dog and tend to the baby!
It is helpful to your dog to allow him/her to sniff baby items when you ring them into your home. This is a great time to practice reinforcing the leave it or out command prior to the baby’s arrival. For example, let the dog sniff the stroller or other baby items, and matter of factly say out (or leave it) to reinforce and practice this command. Show your dog the baby items, let him smell them but then out him. Make sure his out (or leave it) command is stellar.
Prepare your dog with sounds of baby toys and sounds. You can get a baby crying soundtrack from iTunes or on You Tube–called Calm Pet–play it low in the background and gradually increase the volume (do this regularly so the dog gets desensitized to it). Invite friends over who have babies or small children to give your dog lots of practice on place (or down/stay if your dog doesn’t know the place command) with kids/babies.
When you get your stroller, start walking with the stroller and your dog. This is a great way to include your dog when you go on walks—one of you can push the stroller and one of you can walk the dog. If you have a mild mannered dog who walks well, then you can probably walk the dog and push the stroller. This truly depends on your dog’s skills and temperament.
Try to have a walker or friend/family member who can help for the first couple of weeks when you bring the baby home. Boarding the dog for a few days when you first get home with the baby is another option.
Some final thoughts: Some dogs are great with babies, but others are not and should never be all up in the middle of things. Regardless of your dog’s temperament, you need a bubble of safety around the baby at all times. Do not let your baby on the floor with your dog unattended—too many things can go wrong. Do teach your dog to accept being in the presence of the baby and hold the dog to respectful behavior at all times. Do not allow guarding behavior or trying to steal attention away from the baby or barking and whining—these are behaviors that need to be stopped right away. I am always looking for dogs to be in go-with-the-flow mode when around babies and children. If that’s too much for your dog, then they need to be crated away from the chaos that comes with having a newborn. That is why it is so important to condition your dog to be independent. Have a quiet area where the dog can go and decompress. Play some relaxing music or have some background music playing. You can offer a bully stick or toy for when the dog is crated. Lastly, be sure your dog does get proper exercise daily. Simple things like going for a walk, playing fetch, or even going for a car ride to the park, gas station or coffee shop can enrich a dog’s life.
I hope this helps. If you think your dog does not have the skills to follow through on the above suggestions, find a good trainer who can help you get ready. If you are in my area, I can help–check out my website for services: www.statk9training.com