How to Prepare for Different Phases of Life with Your Family Pets

Session 1: Pregnancy and Pets

The First Trimester – How to Manage Your Dogs During the Start of a Pregnancy

During this time, it is tough physically and emotionally. It can be difficult to prepare fully for this phase, but it’s important to try. You need to have a contingency plan if you feel unwell and unable to, for example, walk your dog. Enlisting the help of a pet sitter, dog walker, friend or partner will be crucial.

This is also a great time to enlist the help of a trainer. Ideally, if you can start addressing behavioral issues with your dog as early as possible, even before you are pregnant and are planning to become pregnant, it will be much easier to address these issues.

However cute the concept may be, do NOT get a new dog or puppy during pregnancy. Wait until your baby is settled in to get a new family pet in order to minimize any stress or changes during this time.

The Importance of Enlisting a Trainer During or Before Pregnancy

Things like potty training take time. Enlisting the help of a trainer will ensure you are on the right track with training. Getting dogs comfortable in a crate, behind baby gates, or in a play pen is important when you have a new baby. Excessive barking is also a problem behavior when you have a new baby. Getting your baby down for a nap and then your dog barking is something you want to avoid. Resource guarding is also a dangerous behavior with a baby. Addressing this beforehand is crucial. Dogs with separation anxiety can also be stressful with a new baby. All these issues can be addressed with a trainer beforehand to make introduction to life with your dog and baby go as smoothly as possible.

When to Take Extra Caution

These are the factors to look at to determine likelihood of success in terms of an outcome with training your dog. Bite history is important, especially severity of the bites. If dogs bite, a trainer hopes to understand the cause of the bite. When a dog bites and the trigger for this is unclear, that can be a lot more dangerous when bringing a baby home.

Prey drive is a potentially dangerous piece of the aggression puzzle. This is beyond dogs that just like to chase squirrels in the yard. Trainers will look for dogs that are very fixated on the baby and obsessive. This is why your baby and your dog should never be left alone for any amount of time.

Ideas for Mental Enrichment

During your pregnancy when you may not be feeling well, it’s important to keep your dogs mentally engaged. The Kong is great for occupying your dog’s time. You can stuff it and freeze it with peanut butter, canned pumpkin, cream cheese or another dog safe food. Lick mats are excellent ways to keep your dog entertained as well. Hiding food or treats in plain boxes and letting your dog find the treats inside is also an easy way to provide enrichment. For dogs with higher drive, the flirt pole is a great outlet for them. Bully sticks are also great for when the baby comes home to keep your dog entertained.

The Second Trimester

Now is the time to focus on management and preparation. This is the time to get the home environment set up for your baby so that your dog can get used to the changes. Setting up baby gates during this time is recommended. Confinement is not a punishment for your dog; it should be a great place for your dog, so make sure you feed them there and give them treats so that it is never a punishment. Let your dog get acclimated to all your baby gear as it comes in. Leave these things out so that your dog has time to sniff these things before your baby arrives.

Simple Exercise to Desensitize Dogs to Crying

Some dogs are not bothered at all by the sound of crying, but others can be sensitive to this noise, so it’s a good idea to get them used to it before the baby arrives. Play the sound of a crying baby on a low volume. Pair the sound of the crying with food. Reward your dog as the crying is happening. Pause the video and stop giving food/rewards. Slowly increase the volume of the video and continue this process. Over time, your dog will hear the crying and have a positive association with this noise. The key is to not work over your dog’s threshold. If they are stressed, make sure you stop the exercise and try again later.

The Third Trimester

Your energy will be lowest during this period. Physically, you won’t be able to work with your dog as much. Enlisting help during this time will be most important. Make sure you are utilizing any mental enrichment tool with your dog to help keep their energy level down.

When Baby Arrives

Beautiful young mother with a baby girl and a cute Labrador at home. Young mother with her cute baby playing with dog.

Try to keep your dog’s routine as intact as possible. If you can, try to have a friend or family member stay in your home with your dog while you’re away at the hospital. Sometimes, it’s a better situation for your dog to stay with someone else for the first few days or week that your baby comes home.

With the first greeting, your dog will be most excited to see you. Let your dog say hello to you first. Once your dog is calm, you can bring your baby in and make sure your baby is in a caregiver’s arm. Let your dog sniff your baby’s feet first, not the face. Don’t force your dog to come see your baby. You can start creating a positive association with your dog around your baby by tossing your dog food.

Adjustment Period

It is normal for your dog to have a few weeks of adjustment where they may have issues like accidents in the house and destructive behavior. This will typically subside within a few weeks. With proper management, you can enjoy life with your dogs and your new baby. Never hesitate to ask for help, and with preparation, you’ll be able to enjoy your dog and new baby in a harmonious way.

Session 2: Toddlers to Teens

Mother with little girl holding puppy in the park

Toddler brains are under construction! We can’t expect them to have the same impulse control as adults when it comes to pets. They may grab, pull, kick or hit dogs, and it’s important to supervise toddlers around dogs.  It’s going to be your responsibility to teach your toddler how to properly interact with dogs.

Modeling appropriate behavior around your dogs will help tremendously so that your toddler will learn by watching you. Take your toddler’s hand, and show them how to pet gently. Be sure to praise them when they do it correctly. The cognitive ability of a dog is about the same as a two-year-old child, so the training process is similar. If you allow a behavior to go on for too long, it’s not an effective learning opportunity. Utilizing baby gates is also important to allow your dog the space to decompress. You don’t want to set your dog up for failure when interacting with your toddler.

Toddler Friendly Activities

It’s important that your dog associates positive interactions with your toddler, so including your toddler in activities with your dog will help. Your toddler can help with meal prep by scooping your dog’s food or filling your dog’s water bowl. Always allow your dog complete separation during mealtime. Your toddler can also organize your dog’s toys. Send your child on a scavenger hunt to pick up all your dog’s toys and put in a bin. If you have enrichment toys for your dog, your toddler can help prepare these toys by adding the treats to them. Your child will love watching your dog play with a toy they’ve helped prepare.

How to Keep Your Dog and Toddler Safe During Interactions

77% of dog bites come from the family dog or a friend’s dog. Dogs will show slight signs of stress when they’re uncomfortable, such as yawning and excessive blinking. Knowing these subtle stress signals will help avoid potentially dangerous situations. If you miss these subtle cues, your dog has no way of communicating and will display more obvious cues like walking away, tail tucking, or ears pinned back. If your dog gets to the point of stiffening up and staring, this can lead to growling or worse. You should never punish a growl because it is a warning sound from your dog. The next time your dog may skip the growl and go straight to snapping.

Dogs and Adolescents and Teens

Shot of a young boy playing with his dogs in the backyard

Dogs are great companions for children of this age. Research has found that adolescents that were more attached to their pets were likely to be more supportive online and feel less socially isolated. Pets were described as the number one way for combatting stress with these children in the study.

Be sure to moderate your teen’s online consumption of dog training videos. Some of these videos are not helpful and are dangerous. Be sure your teen who is interested in dog training is watching videos from professional, accredited trainers. Modeling kind behavior and language toward your dog will also be very important for your teen. Your kids will absorb negative language or behavior regarding your dog, and this will hinder the training process.

It’s helpful for teenagers to even get involved in the dog community. Volunteering at shelters or with a rescue group will help introduce your teen to like minded individuals.

Regardless of your child’s age, let your children get involved. This will be the difference for a strong bond to develop between your dog and children. Always make sure you recognize your dog’s stress cues and keep interactions between your children and dogs safe.

Session 3: Preparing for a New Dog

Young woman playing with puppies on the carpet at home.

Are you ready for a new dog? Be sure to ask yourself some important questions before getting a new dog. One of the big mistakes that people make is losing a dog and trying to replace that dog quickly. Sometimes, this is the right decision, but it requires taking the time to think about why you want a new pet. Always make sure you are prepared for a ten-to-fifteen-year commitment when bringing home a new dog.

Once you’ve decided you’re ready, do your research. Breed choice matters. Certain breeds are selectively bred for specific purposes, and you want to be aware of these behaviors before choosing a breed. Even within the same breed, there are behavioral and structural differences. It’s important to be aware of these differences as some dogs are working dogs while others are show quality dogs. Knowing the different breed groups and what they were bred for originally will help narrow down your search based on what fits your lifestyle.

How to Select a Breeder or a Rescue

Whenever possible, select a local breeder so you don’t have to utilize an airplane. Separation anxiety in puppies can be triggered by being in the cargo area of an airplane. That is a very stressful situation for any dog and should be avoided if possible.

Local doesn’t guarantee quality so be sure to do your research when selecting a breeder. If a breeder does genetic testing, it typically indicates that they are very invested in their dogs. You want to ensure the breeder is providing early socialization and neurological stimulation to the puppies.

In terms of rescues, select a local 501 c3 rescue. You’ll want to consider foster versus shelter-based programs. If you have young children, it’s typically better to go through a foster-based rescue to ensure you have a history of the dog’s behavior. If you are comfortable with knowing a little less about the dog’s temperament, rescuing from a shelter is a wonderful thing that can truly change a dog’s life.

Red Flags in a Breeder

If the breeder doesn’t allow you to meet the parents, it’s not a complete red flag if the dad is a stud. It would be unusual though if you can’t meet the mom. If a breeder does not have a spay/neuter contract, that can be a red flag. Most breeders want to make sure their lines are not being bred without permission. If a breeder sells a puppy to you online quickly without any veterinary care, that is a big red flag. One of the biggest red flags is a breeder that offers a large quantity of breeds. This can signal unethical breeding practices.

Great Breeders and Rescues

Great breeders and rescues are transparent and always willing to answer any questions. They keep lots of records of their puppies and work to match you with a puppy based on temperament. Good breeders and rescues will also have an application process to ensure you are getting the right puppy for your lifestyle.

How to Select a Puppy from a Litter

Usually this is done at 7 weeks, and with a puppy alone in an unfamiliar room. You will see very different behavior with a puppy around its littermates than you would with the puppy by itself. Watch for signs of engagement and energy levels.

Bringing a New Puppy Home

Once you’ve selected a new puppy, it’s crucial to set that puppy up for success. Make sure you’ve done your research when it comes to crate training, potty training, and socializing your new puppy. It’s always a great idea to enlist the help of a trainer early on to ensure your puppy learns the skills they need to adjust in their new home. Always give your puppy plenty of time to acclimate to a new environment.

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