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Preparing Your Dog For a New Baby

Photograph by Twenty20

The first thing our families said when we told them that we were pregnant was "poor Kyra," referring to our little poodle that had been our baby for almost 7 years.

Kyra had been with us since we were living in Mexico. We moved with her to North Carolina, where she discovered snow and the mountains. Two years later, we sold all our stuff and crossed the country to our new home in California, with a trunk full of boxes and, of course, Kyra in the front seat.

Once we arrived in California, we rented a small one-bedroom apartment. Kyra loved it. We bought two new doggie beds for her — one for the living room and one for the bedroom — so she could be near us all the time. She never used those beds because the idea of seeing Kyra on the floor made us sad, so she always ended up on the couch and in the bed with us. In short, we spoiled her — a lot.

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A year after arriving in California we realized that we were pregnant. It wasn't long until we began to worry about Kyra and all things that would change in our little family.

The changes began in the early months of my pregnancy. I stopped going out for long walks with her because I was always tired. Then we moved to a new apartment with an extra bedroom, but none of her stuff was in it. We started buying clothes, blankets, pillows and toys that, surprisingly for Kyra, weren't for her. She seemed to notice that something was changing, but she decided to ignore it and act like she didn't care.

Aside from her disinterest in her new little brother, Kyra remained our perfect baby. Until the day my mother-in-law pointed to some things that Kyra used to do that weren't OK for a new baby at home.

Kyra had always being really nervous, especially around children, she barked a lot and jumped on the sofa and the bed all the time. Those things never bothered us before because we were never around kids. Still, we knew that this behavior couldn't continue.

We started changing things around the house gradually, to help her process and learn all the new rules and routines before the baby arrived.

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Here are some of the things we did to prepare our dog for the baby's arrival:

1. Start teaching your dog the new rules a few months before the baby arrives.

The most dramatic and difficult change was probably when we started to tell her no to jumping on the sofa and the bed. We were afraid she might jump onto the bed, sofa or even the bouncy chair and hurt the baby by accident. The first weeks were the hardest. Kyra was totally confused. She looked at us with sad eyes and sneakily tried to jump on the bed and sofa for a few days. It was very hard for us, too, but we knew that we needed to be consistent and firm.

We also began to correct her when she barked at noises. We knew that with a newborn at home, Kyra would feel uncomfortable when he cried. So I started to walk her around some playgrounds with kids, and I never let her get too close to them, but just hearing them helped her get used to some of the noises and sudden movements.

2. Introduce your dog to the baby stuff.

We started to arrange the baby's furniture, unpack toys and organize clothing when Kyra was around us. We played with her while we decorated the room and we let her smell everything. We wanted her to feel comfortable around these things, and create a positive atmosphere. But we also corrected her if we found her trying to play with the baby's toys or jumping on his bouncy chair, which happened a few times.

3. It's time for a new routine!

It was important to start creating a new routine for Kyra months before our baby was born. We made an imaginary post-baby calendar and wrote down the times we thought we might have "free" to pay attention to Kyra. We started working on this new schedule and making sure she got used to the idea of going out for walks and playing with us less than usual.

4. In this belly is a tiny, tiny human.

Once my belly started to be noticeable, I began to sit next to Kyra for a few minutes and talk to her about her new little brother. She seemed not to care at all, but many dogs actually develop a special connection with the new baby that early. I thought that it deserved a try.

5. Use a doll in place of the baby.

One thing we heard from a friend was to use a doll as if it were a baby to start training our dog to get used to the idea of a new baby being around. We started carrying the doll around two months before the due date just for a couple of minutes a day. We didn't pay attention to Kyra during this time, and we corrected her if she tried to bark or acted impatiently. Then, after the fake baby was in the crib or the bouncy chair, we would turn our attention to the dog. She quickly realized that when we had the fake baby in our arms, we couldn't pay attention to her, which was sad, but a realistic perspective of what eventually happened just after the baby came home from the hospital.

We were one of those couples that thought that the idea of forgetting about your furry baby was crazy and impossible. Sadly, when the baby arrived, everything changed. We felt lucky that we worked with Kyra months before the big change happened and that she learned to be more patient and even got used to spending more time alone.

Even when we didn't believe that it was happening to us, we had asked a friend to take her in case my family didn't make it on time. But in then end, my parents stayed in the apartment the first weeks, they feed her, took her on walks and spoiled her a lot while we were living those first crazy days.

We were afraid of bringing the baby home and the idea of getting angry at Kyra all the time, we didn't want her to feel like it was the baby's fault and I think it worked because we started to prepare her a few months before he arrived.

When Kyra met our baby Jax, she acted just like when I was pregnant, saw him, smelled him and turned her face. She just ignored him until he was around 4 months old and he started to move more and tried to grab her tail. I can't say that I'm sure all of the things we did fixed all her behavior we wanted to change, but it definitely helped. She has never barked at Jax when he cries or jumped on the sofa or bed without permission. She is still a bit nervous around other children, but seems to be playful around Jax, now that he has decided to share his toys with her.

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