I first became interested in infant safety around dogs after I took a prenatal class in preparation for the birth of my first child. Someone had asked the nurse teaching the class what precautions should be taken when the expectant parent was also a dog owner. The nurse suggested introducing a baby doll into the household and using it to simulate daily interaction with an infant, which would involve carrying, cuddling, dressing, bathing, etc. According to her, this could help prevent future anxiety or jealousy from the dog.
I’ve read about this idea on several websites and in books and articles. While it might make sense to a layperson, children’s toys, including baby dolls, are made from the same materials as many dog toys. And after over two decades of working with thousands of canines, I can assure you that your dog will not be fooled into believing that a baby doll is a real baby.
Another misconception is that bringing home an infant’s hospital blanket will introduce the dog to its scent and therefore make it easier for the dog to accept the baby when it arrives. I’m not sure where this piece of advice originally came from, but it certainly did not come from a professional. The idea that a whiff of a blanket will ease the change is just as silly as the notion that a glance at an ultrasound image will prepare an expectant mother for her labor experience and her new life as a mother.
Fortunately, there are much better ways to help your dog make the transition from being an “only child”.
Dog-owning expectant parents should keep in mind that over the last few decades, many of the breeding protocols that lead to a physically and mentally balanced dog have become rarer and rarer. In addition, a lot of today’s trainers mistakenly believe and therefore tell their clients that even the slightest punishment will worsen a dog’s behavior.
Poor breeding and training practices result in canine characteristics that can impact the equilibrium of the household. However, some of these situations can be resolved by turning to a more realistic training model.
Dog owners can evaluate where and why their pet might need their help, then either through their own efforts or along with a professional’s come up with a strategy that balances their dog’s needs with their baby’s safety. Based on the numerous assessments I’ve done for expectant parents, I’ve found that every household can benefit by learning more about how their dog sees the world and makes connections that result in happiness and anxiety.
Sometimes, all the owners had to do was learn how to teach their dog baby-friendly obedience commands such as “stay on your mat” or a proper heel and recall, which they can use to exercise and de-stress their pet once the baby has come home. In other situations, we discovered that because of circumstances beyond the owners’ control, the dog had some yellow or red flag characteristics. In some cases these were resolvable, and in others they were not.
Unfortunately, there is very little practical advice in prenatal education for dog-owning expectant parents. It is up to the couple, then, to do what they can to prepare their dog for the upcoming changes in their household.