Should you test-run parenthood with a puppy?

Having a dog before a baby can be a good test for the responsibility of parenting, but you need to prepare to introduce the two, says canine training specialist Nick Honor

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Having a dog before a baby has become a common thing among celebrity couples – even the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Wills have their very own furry pal in the form of cocker spaniel Lupo. Dubbed ‘mutternity’ couples sometimes find having a dog with their partner gives them an idea of how parenthood is going to be, before they jump into the real thing.

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But, once a baby does arrive, it can be a struggle to balance the responsibilities of both. According to a new survey released by the Dogs Trust and the NCT almost half (46%) of dog owners found having a baby made it challenging to look after a dog, with 17% considering giving up their dog.

However, with a bit of preparation and a lot of treats, it’s possible to live harmoniously with bubs and pups. Here canine training specialist Nick Honor, from The Behaviour Company, gives his tips:

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  1. The key is to create a favourable association between your baby and treats. Set up bowls around the house full of really tasty treats, much nicer than your dog would normally get. If your baby cries, give the dog a few treats. He needs to think, ‘Wow, when she makes that noise, I get all the best food’. That way, the dog will be pretty chuffed to have the baby around and not see her as a threat.
  2. Introduce the dog to all of the baby paraphernalia as early as possible, so he gets used to the smells and generally having stuff in ‘his’ space. That way it doesn’t all turn up with a screaming baby.
  3. Make a space for the dog that’s just his – a crate with a blanket over it works really well. He needs to have a safe space that he can go back to if he feels threatened.
  4. Don’t discipline your dog when the baby is around. It can be a real pain if your dog is making a fuss while you’re trying to change the baby’s nappy, but you don’t want the dog to associate being told off with the baby. Give him a treat that’s likely to keep him entertained for a while. A great tip is to stuff a toy with wet biscuits (make sure this is a hollow chew toy designed for this, such as a Squirrel Dude), freeze them and then bring them out when you need him to be entertained for a while. It’s good for dogs to chew and this is a great chew-reward task that’ll keep them busy for a while.
  5. It is tough, but it’s vital you keep your dog’s routine as similar as possible. He won’t understand why his walk is suddenly three hours later and the more you can keep it the same the better.
  6. Before the baby arrives, teach your dog to settle at your feet to command. That way, when the baby is asleep and your dog is calm, you can gently introduce the two. You may wish to use a muzzle and it’s a good idea to have the dog on a lead so you can quickly grab and control him if needed.
  7. If your dog ever growls at the baby, you need to speak to a professional, who can help set up a plan to get things back on track.
  8. Never leave a dog unattended with your baby regardless of how well you know the dog.

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