How to Prepare Your Dog for the Arrival of a New Little Human

pregnant girl with dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • When you discover that a little human will be added to the mix in a few months, you may have questions about several aspects regarding your household’s “new normal,” regarding yourself, your coming child and for your dog
  • If you’re wondering how to keep your dog from feeling bored, lonely or left out once his new “sibling” comes along, how you handle it may depend on how social your dog is
  • With all the excitement about a new little human’s arrival, you may also feel a little angst regarding your dog’s lack of social graces, but if not professional dog training, there are basic tips to help you correct your dog’s bad habits
  • While some families think nothing of, or even encourage, their dog nuzzling and “kissing” their baby’s face, veterinarians and pediatricians generally discourage letting your pet lick or cuddle your infant
  • Going on walks gives everyone a chance to get some fresh air, you can push the baby’s stroller for exercise and your dog can burn off a little energy, which also serves to increase bonding time between you, your new baby and your dog

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

If you're reading this, it's more than likely you're the parent (or closely related to a parent) of an adorable and occasionally naughty canine. Maybe you have two or three in your household, but you wouldn't trade them for the world because they're your family, part of what makes your world make sense.

Besides sharing at least a bit of history, they bring you much-needed companionship and a little levity now and then, and they love you unconditionally. However, when you discover that a little human will be added to the mix within a fairly short period of time, there may be questions about the health aspects regarding yourself, your coming child and the loving pets who depend on you.

There may be a few things on your mind involving your pup or pups, whether they'll feel left out and neglected. If you normally spend a significant amount of time with your dog and know that will be changing after baby it may be a good idea to gradually begin intentionally carving out more "you" time during the pregnancy, allowing your dog to adjust to a new pattern. Veterinarian Sarah Wooten at DVM 360 offers her advice about how to handle the transition from your dog's perspective:

"You don't have to start paying less attention to your dog, but if you do, slowly start limiting your interaction over time so the dog is less likely to notice the difference. (The physical demands of pregnancy may cause this to occur naturally.) If you're concerned that your dog might get bored or lonely, consider signing him up for doggie daycare a few times a week."1

If you're pregnant, another question that may be on your mind may involve getting another dog to keep the dog you already have from feeling bored or lonely once his new "sibling" starts absorbing more of your time. The answer to that depends on how social your dog is, along with a myriad of other variables. If he thrives on attention and loves interacting with people and other dogs, he might do well having a like-minded companion to hang out with.

However, there's no guarantee a new dog will get along well with your already-well entrenched-into-the-family dog, plus you'll have two dogs (or more) to feed and clean up after. Wooten suggests envisioning your life with two dogs and a baby first. Perhaps waiting for a period of time after the baby arrives to determine if two dogs is the final answer, or again, if doggie daycare a few times a week might work better, makes sense. As in so many things, time will likely tell.

Parents-to-Be: More Questions (and Answers) About Your Fur Baby

What about behavior issues you've thought about correcting in your dog but never quite got around to? Even with all the excitement about a new little human's impending arrival, you may also be experiencing a little angst regarding your dog's lack of social graces. You certainly don't want your beloved dog to start using the floor as his outhouse or burying your baby's toys.

However, anxiety your dog might experience may be brought on because he perceives your tension; he knows something is different. If it looks like your preparation time's run out and your opportunity is lost, Wooten encourages soon-to-be parents not to give up so easily. There may be any number of bad habits you want to correct in your sweet dog before your life changes forever, but now is the perfect time. She contends:

"Dogs may become anxious around a pregnant woman, or they may not react at all. Anxious dogs can be naughty and chew things up. They can also urinate or defecate in the house due to anxiety over changes in their lives. These are behaviors you want to curb or correct ASAP. If you haven't taken your dog through obedience training, then now is a perfect time to learn new behaviors, reinforce good behaviors and stop bad behaviors."2

Rather than desperately getting out the handbook your veterinarian gave you to teach your dog some behavior pointers, Wooten adds, a better idea is to tackle obedience training with a professional with the appropriate credentials, such as:

  • CAAB or ACAAB — Certified applied animal behaviorist
  • DACVB — Board certified veterinary behaviorist
  • CCPD-KA — Certified professional dog trainer

A Few Dog Training Tips

There are some excellent dog training tips if you're hoping to fast-track the dog-training process, and they're pretty straightforward, but they involve avoiding negative or punishment training and embracing positive reinforcement. Some of the most common problems with dog behavior include:

  • Lack of socialization: Proper dog socialization means getting your dog used to encountering strangers and being with children, other dogs and other animals, such as cats. It's crucial for making sure your dog doesn't experience anxiety or aggression, especially with other dogs.
  • Your own impatience: Positive reinforcement is just that — positive. Never yell, hit or jerk your dog's leash; it will only make your dog fear you.
  • Inconsistency: It's training yourself as much as your dog when it comes to making him behave in a civilized manner, and consistency is key. Don't repeat commands, use words other than what he's used to or fail to follow through when your dog fails to obey you.
  • Failure to reward: Treats, eye contact with upbeat words and petting your dog are all excellent ways you can show your dog you're pleased with his behavior. Failure to do so could be compared with your boss ignoring you when you've worked hard.
  • Training too long: Hitting your training sessions for too long at a time may be exhausting and even confusing to your dog. Give them a good 10 minutes of focused, enthusiastic training, then resume the process another day.

One more thing to remember when a puppy is in training: He'll need to be monitored constantly. That way you'll be able to encourage him when he's behaving as he should, and gently but firmly discourage behaviors you're not happy about the moment they happen. It not only makes the training more successful, it reinforces a close, trusting relationship, which goes both ways, and will help you trust your new little human to be in the house with a well-behaved dog.

Is It OK to Let the Dog 'Kiss' the Baby? (And Other Answers)

One of the most-asked questions for people preparing to bring a new infant into the household is whether or not their dog might impact either their own health or the health of the baby. Wooten's answer is that intestinal parasites such as hookworms and roundworms are a reality with dogs, and they can infect humans.

Hookworms and roundworms are usually transmitted to dogs when they eat contaminated feces or dirt, or walk through contaminated soil, lick their paws and ingest the eggs. Puppies can acquire such parasites if their mother's milk is infected. Dogs can also inadvertently eat tapeworms or whipworms when they ingest small animals, such as birds or mice. Dogs often become weak and lethargic because they're both anemic and malnourished, and can die if there's no intervention.

Humans can pick up hookworms by unknowingly handing the eggs or larvae in pet- or wild animal-contaminated soil. Hookworm larvae can also penetrate human skin, and they're invisible to the naked eye. PetMD explains that if hookworm larvae penetrate human skin, it can cause cutaneous larval migrans, resulting in "potentially serious and scarring inflammation." Further:

"[A]scarid (roundworm) eggs, if ingested, can cause a disease called 'visceral larval migrans' where tiny worm larvae migrate through the person's intestinal wall and into the body tissues. They then grow to larger size almost anywhere in the body. Ocular disease is a common sequel 'visceral larval migrans.'

Children are at most serious risk especially if play behavior is in an environment where dog, cat, or raccoon feces may be present ... such as in a sandbox. A single adult Toxicara canis female can shed up to 100,000 eggs a day which pass into the dog (or cat's) environment with the stool. Please… adhere to strict sanitation principles whenever pets and children are in close contact."3

According to Pets and Parasites,4 once infected, roundworms can pose a significant risk in humans by causing eye, heart, lung and neurologic issues in people, and children and pregnant women are especially at risk. For that reason, make sure you visit your veterinarian to have your dog dewormed, and do it on a regular basis. You could take care of it yourself with over-the-counter deworming kits, but it's not something you want to leave to commercial remedies unless there's one your vet recommends.

Ways You Can Help Your Dog Get Ready for the New Baby, Too

Your dog may be familiar with children, including rambunctious ones, but having a brand new infant in the hose puts a different spin on things. You'll see photos and videos of babies laughing while a dog is nuzzling and "kissing" the baby's face; Wooten says that while there's not a lot of research on whether or not that's a good idea:

"Generally speaking, veterinarians and pediatricians discourage letting your pet lick or cuddle your infant. (Remember the intestinal parasites … ) As for leaving the baby on the floor, no matter how well-behaved you think your dog is, never leave babies or young children unattended in a room with a dog."5

Because babies have odd, jerky movements that dogs may not be used to seeing, not to mention the sounds they make, there's a different dynamic with babies compared to having young children in the house. For this reason, stay close while you introduce your new little one to your dog, and continue the supervision in the ensuing weeks and months while your dog gets used to your new normal.

Along with sights and sounds a new baby brings into the house, there's also smells that dogs are definitely aware of. You may want to help your dog develop a positive association by letting him sniff new items you bring in for the baby, such as the crib, blankets and toys — just don't allow your dog access to them, for obvious reasons! You may even play recordings on your phone of the sound of babies cooing, crying or laughing to get him used to such new noises, and then follow it up with a treat.

One way to spend time with your baby and your dog at the same time, increasing bonding time in a normal environment, is to go on walks with both of them. It gets everyone out and about for some fresh air, you can push your baby's stroller for exercise and your dog can burn off a little energy at the same time.

As for schedules, that's something that will change too, and while you will no doubt find yourself awake at hours you haven't been used to in the past, the same is true with dogs, who are usually aware of everything that goes on in their environment.

Before the baby comes, try gradually altering your dog's feeding, exercise and play times, especially if they've pretty much been set in stone. If you're worried your dog won't be able to relieve himself when he needs to, installing a doggie door so they can set their own schedule may be a perfect solution for that aspect of the transition.

The thing to keep in mind is that dogs don't think in the same terms people do. Dogs don't even think like children, so you don't have to worry about your sweet fur baby feeling left out or ignored if you spend more time cooing over the new baby than you do over him. Make sure your pup gets daily exercise and plenty of love, and be assured that he'll adjust very well in a household that now has one more person to love, and in time, a new playmate.