For many of us, we had "kids" long before getting pregnant or bringing home a new baby. Whether it be a cat, dog, bird, snake, rabbit - you name it, many times pets come before babies. And why not? It can actually be a great learning experience for caring for a baby later on - aside from the diaper changes!
For my husband and me, our "kids" were three Cane Corsos - a large breed from Italy in the mastiff family. Loyal and loving, our dogs were the center of our household until our daughter was born. So it was very important to us to make sure that they would adjust well to the new environment once we brought her home. Additionally, we wanted to make sure that our daughter would adjust to having three dogs in the house - the barking most importantly.
Here are some of the steps we took to facilitate a smooth transition after our daughter was born:
Work with your dog before the baby comes home.
In pre-baby household, your pets are likely the center of your attention. You play with them, sit with them, take them for walks...since you have more free time before a baby, you obviously have more time to spend with them. Once a new baby comes home, a lot of time and attention will be paid to them, and unfortunately much less to your dog. To prepare your dog for this shift in attention, gradually start getting your pet used to spending less time with you. This is especially important if your pet is particularly attached to the soon-to-be mama. You may want to consider having another family member try to develop a closer relationship with them to keep the pet feeling loved and reduce stress on the mother when the new baby arrives.
Eliminate bad behaviors now.
Issues such as anxiety, aggressiveness or other behavioral problems should be addressed months before you bring a new baby home. Fear, separation anxiety and other behaviors may even get worse when your pet is adjusting to a new member of the household. It is best to bring your concerns to your veterinarian or an animal behavior specialist and work with your dog to redirect negative behavior such as pouncing, nibbling/biting or accidents.
Train your dog for any new "baby rules".
If you know you are not going to allow your dog in the baby's room, or up on the furniture anymore - let them know that now. If you leave sudden changes in what is allowed/not allowed to the day the baby comes home, there is a higher chance of an issue arising. Once you have decided on the baby's room, start well ahead of time with correcting your dog when they attempt to go in the room, or even install a baby gate now to teach your dog that room is off limits. It's also a good idea if your dog is a jumper to start correcting that behavior now. With us, our dogs learned when I was pregnant to stop jumping up and that behavior stuck with them once our daughter was old enough to walk around with them. A lot of the time, dogs don't realize their size, and they may also be unaware of the difference between you and your child - they may jump on your child with the same force they jump on you, not realizing it will easily knock your child down (if you have large breed dogs like I do).
Get your dog used to the sight, smell and sound of a baby.
Depending on your neighborhood, your dog may never have heard a crying baby or baby toys. They also have probably not smelled a new baby, or may never have even seen one. Bringing in a baby doll, letting them smell baby powder on your hands, and even playing sounds of baby toys and crying will all ease the transition and allow your dog to become familiar with these new elements. It's good to start this ahead of bring the baby home, but a great trick that we used right before we brought our daughter home was to let the dogs smell one of her blankets from the hospital. Before I came home, my husband took one of her blankets back and let the dogs all smell it, and then left it in the house while he came back. We had prepped our dogs for her arrival, but they were even less surprised when we brought our daughter home since they recognized her smell already.
Maintain all shots and grooming.
If you haven't been keeping up with vaccinations or grooming on a regular basis, make sure to start before the baby comes home. This means rabies especially, but any other region-specific vaccinations your vet recommends. Also start regularly trimming their nails, bathing them and applying some sort of flea and tick preventative care. Especially with a new baby, it is important to keep your dog healthy and clean, to prevent any unwanted health problems or sicknesses with your dog, or your baby.
Only you know the temperament and behaviors of your dog, so use your judgement on how best to prepare them for the arrival of a new baby. Just remember that even the most mildly-tempered dogs may exhibit some signs of jealousy when the new baby arrives, it's just natural when adjusting to such a huge shift in your attention. If you have any serious concerns or anxiety over bringing home your new baby, make sure to talk to your veterinarian and/or pediatrician for other tips on how to introduce the new situation to your pet. For us, things worked out very well and our daughter (who is now a toddler) adores our dogs and they love her right back. Good luck, and congratulations!