The terms “dog mom” and “dog dad” have gained popularity recently, thanks to social media and a bombardment of products aimed at doting owners. But what happens when pooch parents find out they’re becoming people parents?
For many couples and their canine companions, bringing baby home is no biggie.
Other couples are faced with stressful situations — and, at worst, tough decisions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children are among those at highest risk for dog bites, and they’re more likely than adults to receive medical attention for bites.
“I’m worried her aggression is going to get worse, not better,” said Amy Braun, of her 7-year-old chow mix, Milka. Braun, who is expecting a baby in April, lives in Chicago with her husband, Todd, and Milka. “People get rid of their dogs, and that’s not me. That’s not an option.”
Lucky for moms-to-be like Braun, today’s dog-obsessed society has more than a few resources to help the transition go smoothly. In big cities and small towns, dog-training businesses offer classes and individual training aimed at owners whose pets need baby-friendly socialization.
Bowser & The Baby is a two-hour crash course for expectant parents — or those with newborns — offered by Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago.
“I don’t have to sell you on the fact that things are going to change for your dog — you already know that,” instructor Nicole Stewart told a recent class.
Stewart is a certified professional dog trainer and director of training at Chicago-based Animal Sense. She says the biggest mistake couples make is not starting new habits during the pregnancy while there is still time to adjust.
“The key is to make things as similar to what it’s going to be after the baby is born,” she said.
This includes building the crib, introducing new toys, putting up gates and tweaking daily schedules.
For dogs that are timid around unfamiliar sights and sounds, Stewart uses a standard technique called positive reinforcement training. Or in her words, “hot dog therapy.” In essence, the dog gets a treat at the same time a “scary” baby-related event or item is introduced.
For small dogs, maybe that’s a giant baby bouncer. For dogs skittish around loud noises, maybe it’s a baby cry, in which case you can train using a recording or YouTube video.
The idea is to ease the dog into the new stimuli slowly in the weeks and months prior to coming home from the hospital.
“There’s two types of people,” said Robin Edwards, co-founder of Home Dog Training of South Florida. “Some (parents) that are maybe five to six months into (parenthood), and they realize, ‘Wow, my dog is acting weird or barking a lot — what are we going to do?’ ”
The second type?
“I’m having a baby tomorrow; what am I going to do with my dog?”
The third type of dog owner is a rare breed: the ultra-prepared. For those extreme cases, Stewart says, don’t laugh at the idea of a fake baby.
“When we found out we were pregnant, we knew we were worried about Paco immediately,” said Andrea Alvarez, who lives with her husband, Tony Pacini, and their son, Luke, in Geneva, Illinois.
The couple did what a lot of newbies do: At six months pregnant, they welcomed home a fake baby.