Christine Good, CPDT-KA, RVT
Congratulations! You are going to be welcoming a baby into the family. This is one of the most exciting and scary times of your life. You want to be prepared and do everything just right. Until now, your dog has been your only baby. To help your preparations be as thorough as possible, we offer this help getting your canine family member ready. Let’s start with some considerations for the first trimester.
Most pregnancies are especially demanding during the first trimester. Nausea, fatigue, and worry that something could be wrong may be your constant companions. Suddenly there are visits to doctors and ultrasounds to be squeezed into already full schedules. Not to mention that even if you planned for this to happen, you will need time to wrap your head, job, and life around the fact that it really is happening. The first trimester is also the shortest since you are typically already several weeks into it by the time you find out that you are pregnant. That does not leave much time or energy to focus on your dog.
Because of that the first trimester is not the time to take action unless you have urgent behavioral concerns with your dog. Instead, it is the time to simply come up with a game plan. To that end, take some paper and a calendar and write down some brief notes and a timeline contemplating the points below.
Take an inventory of your dog’s skills and challenges
Are there behaviors that have bothered you for a while but may really become a problem when there is a baby in the house? If you noted any urgent behavioral concerns, they should be evaluated and addressed long before the baby joins the family.
- The most common behavioral concerns include fears and phobias; guarding of people, food, spaces or items; difficulties settling down; aggression; and difficulties being separated from you. Since babies bring big change into a family, problem behaviors often become exaggerated once the baby is born. Behavior modification will likely take time to resolve the issue. Seek help from a qualified rewards-based training professional very early.
- Does your list of challenges contain mainly nuisance behaviors such as jumping on people, pulling on leash, or grabbing up dropped items? If that is the case, your dog could probably benefit from a manners training class — even just as a refresher course. With nuisance behaviors you may not need actually take action in the first trimester. Simply sign up for a class that’s offered at a later time. The second trimester, is the ideal time to take a class, since pregnancy symptoms are generally mildest during this time. If you have trouble finding a convenient time for a class, consider booking some private lessons.
You may see some changes in your dog’s behavior during this time. The changes may include clinginess, aloofness, or nervousness or any number of atypical behaviors. For this reason, we often get the question, “does my dog understand that I am pregnant?” The answer is that we don’t know exactly. Most pets are neutered at a fairly young age and not kept around pregnant bitches. The likelihood that they have a concept of pregnancy is low. What we do know is that pregnancy hormones influence your body significantly and therefore change your scent. Dogs with their fantastic scent ability definitely notice that. We also know that dogs are masters of observation and notice our habits and routines. Your routines inevitably change in drastic ways from the minute you find out that you are pregnant. Many dogs are very sensitive to all change and may respond to it behaviorally. If you are concerned about an emerging behavior, contact a qualified rewards-based trainer.
Look at the layout of your house
Baby-proof your home and plan the nursery soon. Consider that there will be times when you need to separate the baby and the fur baby – for safety, hygiene, or simply to give yourself a break from the constant need for vigilance.
- Designate a dog-free area. Such an area allows you to let your guard down on occasion. Your baby can lay and crawl on the floor, play with toys, and put things in his mouth without too much worry. We also recommend keeping the area around the changing table dog free since full baby diapers make for a tempting but possibly dangerous dog treat.
- Implement a baby-free zone. Such a zone allows your dog to withdraw from the baby when she has had enough. Especially mobile babies can be a constant source of distress for some dogs. Most dogs appreciate a chance to take a break in their own “room”. You may use a whole room for this zone or simply move the crate into a quiet area.
- Practice short separations from your dog. If your dog is used to sleeping on your lap or curled up next to you, use the fatigue of the first trimester and occasionally take a nap on your own. If you feel your pup has a hard time with this, set her up with a special food enrichment toy behind a gate, or in the crate while you nap. If your dog becomes truly distressed during separation, contact a qualified rewards-based trainer for help.
Consider your dog’s medical care
Enlist reliable and trusted people outside your household, with whom your dog is comfortable, who may be able to help when you cannot do it yourself. Will your dog still be up to date on vet visits, vaccines, and preventative care when the baby is born? The last thing you may want to do is take a newborn to a busy veterinary clinic and try to juggle the baby and a nervous dog.
- Talk to your vet about having the annual exam and any needed vaccinations a little earlier than usual. Be sure that all your pets are parasite free as pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to parasites.
- Are there any chronic conditions that your dog needs regular veterinary care for? Some dogs need more than routine preventative care and frequent vet visits may be necessary. If that is the case make arrangements for somebody else to come along to the vet a couple of times. This person will be familiar with the clinic, doctor, and history of your dog and can take over the vet visits when you are unable to go.
- Prepare for the worst-case scenario and make arrangements in case you need someone to take over the care for your dog suddenly and unexpectedly. Of course, we wouldn’t wish this on anybody but life sometimes hits us without warning. Make sure this person has a key to your house and knows how to take care of your dog. Prepare a note with directions to leave on your refrigerator.
In our next sheet we will talk about the second trimester when it will be time to put all your plans into action. You may also visit Familypaws.com for more information on pregnancy with dogs.