Beagle dressed in suit with briefcase

Life With Baby – Just Another Day at the Office?

Life is Changing – Did Your Dog Get the Memo?

“Whoa, your dog’s in for a big surprise when that baby arrives…”

“Your dog’s going to have to get with the program…”

Really?  Are you just going to hope your dog figures it out on his own?  And if he doesn’t, what then?  The way people talk, it makes you think there’s nothing you can do but hope for the best.

At the very least, you owe it to your dog to honestly evaluate your expectations and see where you can fill in the gaps.  I’ve found that it helps to look at it in a familiar, human way — like a job description.

Your dog’s “job” is to be your companion.  I ask in my classes, “Does anyone think it’s a HARD job to be your dog?”  My husband likes to say if only he could be the dog in our family, he’d have it made!  (Interestingly, the only person who ever said it wasn’t easy to be her dog made that comment because she also has a seven year old daughter who pesters the dog — kind of making my point for me.)

Imagine your boss wants to promote you to a new job.  You take a good look at what’s required and say, “Whoa, that looks pretty hard.  The hours are around the clock and the working conditions!  Just look at what I’ll have to deal with — there’s yelling, crying, screaming, things being thrown…I’m not sure I can do this job.”

Wouldn’t you feel better if your boss took the approach of being a true leader?  “You are the one I want in this job.  I will help you be successful.  I will provide the training you need.  I will watch over you and keep you safe.  You can come to me when you need help.  I will make accommodations as needed to make this work.  You can count on me.  We will be in this together.”

Too often, what dogs get is sink or swim.

What’s on YOUR Dog’s Job Description?

It might help to actually write out a job description for what you expect from your dog.  What does your dog have to do to be successful as your companion now? What will you expect differently after baby?  How can you help your dog be successful in his or her changing role?

Here’s an example, written from the (hopefully exaggerated) perspective of how things sometimes turn out, often to the surprise of people’s good intentions.  That’s why you should write it out ahead of time — so you have reasonable expectations and save yourself from being angry over the same old things that were perfectly fine for your dog to do all along:

My Job as YOUR Companion…

Before Baby

After Baby

Essential Job Duties/Responsibilities:  Be cute!  Run to the door and jump and lick when I get home so I can enjoy your nice welcome and feel loved.  Keep me company in all that I do.  Stay out of the way.  Be able to amuse yourself in a non-annoying way.
Other Job Duties  Bark and growl at the door so I feel safe.  Always be up for walks and outings.  Sit in my lap when I watch TV. Snuggle in bed with me.  Allow the baby to do X number of uncomfortable things to you.  Indulge their friends, too.  Be calm with deliveries and visitors — even the ones that get you all riled up. Understand that I don’t want you with me all the time.
Minimum Qualifications/Skills:  Wagging tail.  Cute face.  Stay out of the way.  Do not object to anything my baby might do.
Preferred Qualifications/Skills:  I guess I’d like a little more focus but I don’t mind repeating myself or yelling until you get it right.  Walk nicely with the stroller (even if you’ve spent your whole life pulling on the leash even without the stroller).  Be with me when I want you to.  Protect the baby from danger (but not Uncle Joe when he throws the baby in the air…).
Education Requirements:  Flexible.  I’m willing to live with a fairly unskilled dog.  Maybe a couple of tricks and a 50/50 response to the things I ask is enough to get you by.  I need a dog that responds right away, every time.  How do you not know how to do this?  There is no time for continuing education.  Either you coming into this job knowing it or it’s not going to work.
Experience Requirements:  All you have to know is me!  You don’t need experience with anything out of the usual routine.  I’ll work around you.  You should understand that babies mean no harm when they pull on your fur and be relaxed when toddlers run and scream.  This should all be old hat for you.
Working Conditions:  Pretty casual.  You get the run of the house, space on the bed, etc.  It’s pretty quiet around here.  We are up at all hours.  No one has time for you so you have to work on your own.  There’s a lot of crying and frustration (and not just from the baby!).  Food and toys are all around but you may not touch them.  There is no space where you can rest undisturbed.  I will be annoyed and yell at you for behaviors I used to indulge.  You may need to move outside.
Salary and Benefits:  Lavish attention and praise for any little thing you do!  Frequent walks and trips to the park for enrichment. A share in the food I eat plus lots of food of your own!  And, did I mention the toys?  Pretty much anything interesting on the ground you can assume is yours to chew on.  You also have full access to my lap for snuggling.  You will get fed.  It may not be at the same times, but we’ll feed you still.  You might get a walk now and then, but there’s no time for the park.  I’m busy with the baby so don’t expect me to spend all day talking to you and petting you.  And the lap time? Don’t even ask!

It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way!

Lots of people successfully integrate their babies into a happy life with the dogs they love.  The secret is to identify the gaps between what your dog can do now and what you’d like him or her to do to remain a valued companion as you move into becoming a parent.  Then, make a plan:

Don’t leave it to your dog to somehow figure out what you need.  Even “good dogs” need your support and guidance.  Be objective in evaluating your dog’s current skills, have your future expectations clear in your own mind and look to modern, reinforcement-based training to build a path from what your dog can do NOW to what you want him to be able to do LATER in order for you to still love him and enjoy his companionship.

Reinforcement training finds each dog’s current point of success and builds from there.  This means that ALL DOGS can learn new behaviors.  It’s never too late to expand your dog’s repertoire!

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  1. Excellent, as always! Especially the chart. I think a lot of people think of dogs as their “practice children” and once the real baby arrives, the dog’s duty is to stay out of the way and be a baby toy.

    1. Thanks for reading, Jen. My previous post was kind of like about what you’re talking about and hopefully *encouraging* about how you can build UP your dog as your companion so he or she can be so much more than a baby substitute.

    1. Thank you, Cindy. Talk to them, too, about what they would realistically put on their own dog’s job description. It can help people to spell it out so they don’t get into a slippery slope of expecting the dog to handle more and more without any help.

    2. Hey

      Its an great article and I am also going to share it with my neighbor who is pregnant. I believe that it will really help her in all the prospects.

  2. Madeline, you did it again!! Terrific piece that I intend to refer clients and adopters to at our shelter. Human expectations can be so frustrating and confusing for dogs and you presented that point in the perfect way. THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

  3. I was looking for an article to share with a pregnant client who has 2 young border collies. Yours is by far the best. I will be recommending your site from now on.
    Thanks, You are doing a great job!


  4. I have an almost one-year-old pitbull and a three-year-old toddler and a baby on the way.

    My husband is the “lord of the house” and the dog only seems to obey fully for him. Recently she has developed some really bad traits and we are not sure how to fix them, especially before the baby comes.

    When we first got her she was great with food. she would lie down when she ate and be totally submissive and relaxed. Now she is food aggressive and will growl if we approach her bowl. We have tried elevating the bowl and have even gotten a “no-gulping” bowl. We have done food dominance correction with her where she must wait before she eats, but it is not helping.

    She is becoming dominant over my three-year-old. My daughter got sneaky and took the dog into our room the other day and the dog bit her in the face. My LO knows that she is not supposed to play with the dog unsupervised and only with toys that are “dog toys.” Today we took the dog out in the front yard so that they could play while I watched and when my daughter bent down to pick up a stick, the dog ran by her and nipped her ear.

    Everything I have read online said that I either have to keep them separated for life, get rid of her, put her down or take her to training classes. I have a disability in my hands and cannot even walk her. My husband is the main source of her training. We do not want to get rid of her, but there has to be some way to help her learn. Are their video training aids we can use?

    I don’t want the dog to have to move outside, she is a member of the family.

    Please help!

    1. Geneva – I will add this to my list of questions to address in the Q&A section, but I have a big backlog and I know you have a pressing situation. Truly, a qualified trainer needs to check this situation out in person to give you the most appropriate help. You are welcome to e-mail me and I can see if I know any trainers in your area. Another resource is where you can call their hotline and/or look at the list of presenters/trainers to see who might be close.

      Modern, positive reinforcement-based training does not rely on physical strength or intimidation to “make” dogs obey. You may find a change in approach makes a big difference for your family. You can find lots of free videos at, but your family will still need an overall risk assessment.

      Good books: Chill Out Fido by Nan Arthur, Happy Kids, Happy Dogs by Barbara Shumannfang, Living With Kids and Dogs by Colleen Pelar. AND, a terrific parenting book, Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Becky Bailey, PhD.

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