How Dogs React to Human Infants
By Brad Kloza
When Lena Harris got pregnant with her second child, her German shepherd, Guinness, started acting overly attentive and clingy, as if he’d sniffed out the forthcoming addition to the pack.
“As I got further in the pregnancy, he became more hyper about herding me,” recalls Harris. “He followed me into every room; he even ignored the door bell, which usually drives him crazy. By the ninth month I swear it was like he wanted to either deliver the baby himself or give me a ride to the hospital.”
Imagined Behavior or Real Baby Detection?
Dog behavior expert Colleen Pelar, author of Living With Kids and Dogs … Without Losing Your Mind, says Guinness’ sixth sense isn’t surprising. Studies show that dogs are capable of sniffing out human cancers, so Pelar suspects they can detect other biological changes.
“I don’t think they have a concept of gestation or pregnancy,” she says. “But the dog is responding to the idea that something is different.’”
Even if dogs can anticipate a new family member, that doesn’t mean they know how to handle it. Here are some tips for getting them properly prepared and acclimated:
Make Changes Early
As a pregnancy progresses, life will inevitably change for your dog. You’ll give your pet less attention, and his or her usual mealtimes will likely become less punctual. It’s best to implement such expected changes gradually in the months leading to the birth. “This way, the dog doesn’t experience all these big changes at once and associate them with the baby’s arrival,” says Pelar.
Bring Home a Blanket
After the baby is born, bring home the baby’s swaddling blanket for the dog to sniff and “introduce” the dog to the new baby. Pelar says a mistake dads make is to hand over the blanket to the dog, or even play tug-of-war with it. “I get regular phone calls from hysterical mothers because the dog has torn up the blanket,” she says. “Treat it like a baby; Let the dog sniff it as much as you would let it sniff the baby -- not stuff his nose into it for five minutes.”
Store Prepared Treats
Any owner of a hyper dog knows that a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter is the perfect diversion, providing needed peace and quiet. Prepare them in advance, so you don’t have to make the Kong treat while holding a crying, hungry infant in one arm.
Remember Your Dog
Queens, N.Y., pug owner Liv Keystone made an effort to include her pug in daily activities with the baby. Eventually, the dog was her daughter’s favorite playmate. “She's been so sweet,” says Keystone. “She even lets my daughter pound on her and pull her ears, which she'd never let us do.”
Use Help From Friends
If people offer to help once the baby is born, Pelar says a perfect answer is, “Come over and play with my dog.” Since dogs inevitably lose status and attention when the baby arrives, arranging these kinds of playdates can make up for lost time. “Have them come over and play with the dog for 30 minutes in the yard or take him to the groomer for you,” she says.
This is an ongoing relationship that requires work. A dog that tears up the baby blanket may end up being best pals with the baby from day one. And a dog that is perfectly loving from day one may grow to become jealous and aggressive toward that child once the baby starts crawling.
“There will be ups and downs, just like with siblings,” says Pelar of the dog-baby dynamic. “As long as you keep it on the path that’s mostly good, then you’re succeeding.”
Brad Kloza is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Dog Daily. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Discover.