PUPPY LOVE! With Kate Whitney – Steps to Take with Puppies and Babies

Kate Whitney, The Valley Patriot's PuppyGirl
Kate Whitney, The Valley Patriot’s PuppyGirl

By Kate Whitney – September, 2013

Before I get into this month’s column, I want to give a very heartfelt and humble thank you to everyone who has sent donations to One Tail at a Time Rescue. Your generosity is truly appreciated, and I’ve loved reading all of the notes you’ve included.

Some of you donated because you are fellow dog lovers, or you wanted to honor a current pet, or a beloved pet that has passed on, and some of you donated because dog rescue just resonated with something inside of you. Please know that no matter how big or small the donations are, they all go a long way in helping the precious dogs we rescue and the work we do on a daily basis. So THANK YOU!!!

I would also like to mention a family from Methuen who made a donation in honor of their rescue dog, Joshie, who passed away due to cancer at the young age of just 5 years old.

Reading their note brought tears to my eyes. My current foster dog is named Josh and I often call him Joshie. My Josh is only 2, but my other babies, Honey and Dash, are almost 6. The indescribable heartache that comes with the passing of a pet is something all pet owners are unfortunately familiar with, and it connects us. I’ve certainly learned to never take a day of life for granted, and to enjoy each loving moment with your pets (and of course other family members, too).

Tell them you love them, snuggle with them, talk to them, and enjoy their company. You never know when their time on Earth will be up and they take the walk over the Rainbow Bridge.

Switching gears now to exploring the changes that come with welcoming a newborn (human) baby in to your life, and what that means for you and your dog. Those of us in rescue have heard it all. We’ve heard every “reason” (I like to call them excuses) in the book about why someone is giving up their pet.

One of the most commonly told reasons is because this person is having a baby. I’ve never quite understood how this decision can be so easy for the pet owner to make. People don’t give up their other possibly rowdy kids when a new baby comes into the home, so why do they so easily surrender their pets?

In my opinion, our dogs should be treated like family members. If they have an issue, you hire a trainer and work with them, or practice other behavior modification techniques, opposed to taking the easy way out.

If you are expecting a newborn or just welcomed one in to the world, there are steps you can take to try and help your dog understand and cope with the new changes. From a dog’s perspective, babies are very different than the adults they are familiar with; they smell, act, and sound different. It is important that you do everything you can to help your dog familiarize itself with the new family member from the beginning.

Whether you are having a baby, adopting a child, becoming a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or cousin, I hope that everyone can learn something from these tips. Or maybe you know someone who can benefit from these suggestions. Please pass this article along; the more people who prepare their home and family ahead of a big change, the better everyone will be.

Not only will there be a new body in the house, but the routine in the home will also change, including your dog’s. Your dog will (understandably) be getting a little less attention from you, and this is potentially what will make the largest impact so try and make the changes as gradual as possible. Dogs will often experience anxiety if their routine changes too drastically. If you take your dog on 4 walks per day, start going on one or two less before the baby is born, or maybe shorten the duration.

Once the baby is born, you do not want to shock the dog by now only taking one or two quick ones. Also, make sure his basic obedience skills are honed. You will want your dog to obey the sit, off, down, stay, come, leave it/drop it, and settle down commands. I highly recommend meeting with a certified trainer to brush up on commands and get a few tips, and to do this in preparation of baby. Also, check out the local doggie daycare facilities. These are good options to have to give your dog the love, attention and playtime he may be missing.

It would also relieve you of the guilt you might feel when your dog looks up at your with bored eyes saying “can we go for our walk?” but you are just too tired to go. Another option is to find a local dog walker who might be able to come to your home once or twice a day and take your pooch on a nice long walk, even if you are home at the time! Whatever it takes to give your dog the exercise he needs and deserves.

It’s important to start exposing your dog to all things baby before your new bundle comes home. Set up the swing and other gadgets. Turn them on so the dogs can hear the sounds and see the motions they will make. Let your dog sniff and get used to them. Set up the stroller. Leave the stroller in different rooms, push it around, and even take your dogs for a walk with the empty stroller or one occupied by a doll.

Your dogs might bark or be skittish of the stroller at first, but continued exposure should desensitize them. You want to get your dogs used to walking next to a stroller before you have a baby in it. Allow the dogs in the nursery. Let them sniff the new items like the crib, glider, etc. Keeping them shutout will only increase their curiosity, which may lead to over excitement once they are finally allowed in. Try to make the new things exciting for them, they will appreciate it and feel included, instead of feeling like they are being replaced by something (or someone) new. When your new baby has finally arrived, try to have someone bring a baby blanket or piece of clothing with the new smell home from the hospital so the dogs can sniff it. Let them get used to the scent. When you finally bring home the baby they will recognize the scent so she’s not entirely foreign.

If after all of this your dog is still not behaving, it may be time to hire a trainer to give you the extra hands on help that is needed. Many trainers are experienced in helping to make this adjustment a smooth and enjoyable one for all parties involved.

For you non-pet owners, if you are expecting or think you may try in the near future, I would not recommend a dog until you have the baby and the newborn stage has passed. Bringing home a new dog, whether it’s a puppy or adult, requires lots of time, patience, and attention. On top of all that, there is of course the added expense that you need to account for (food, vet bills, monthly heartworm pills, etc.). Focus on your baby first and when you feel that things are under control and you have lots of time, patience, and attention to give to another, then start your search – of course start at your local shelter or rescue or petfinder.com.

Although it is a challenge, you will be able to introduce baby to doggie and create a life that works for everyone, but you do need to give it some thought before the transition happens. Growing up with a well-mannered, well-balanced dog is a great thing for a child. They can learn compassion towards animals, responsibility, loyalty, and best of all, they grow up with a best friend, reading buddy, cuddle buddy, and play buddy. I urge all you soon to be moms and dads to take the time and steps needed to include your dog in this new life, I assure you baby and doggie will love you together forever.