At the time of writing this blog, I’m nearly 6 months pregnant!

Life is going to look very different for me, my husband and our two Cocker Spaniels, Kobie and Bailey, in a matter of months. So, I’m really starting to think ahead and identify how I can make this transition as smooth as possible for us all.

Disclaimer: I know the talk of pregnancy can be a difficult subject for many, and so I want to be sensitive to this fact. Many of the hints and tips I’ll discuss in this blog could also be applied or adapted to other significant events in our lives. So, I hope it will be helpful not only to those expecting a baby, but also to people experiencing changes in their circumstances that their dogs may also find challenging.

Do dogs (especially Spaniels) know when you’re pregnant?

I think Bailey immediately picked up that something had changed, as he became even more clingy with me. He generally would choose to live around my neck if he could! Kobie, not so much as he currently prefers my partner (who’s very smug about this!) and any type of food! (How rude. Ha!)

Research shows that dogs are incredibly adept at detecting physiological changes in humans due to their amazing olfactory capability.

Unlike us humans, who tend to depend mainly on our vision, dogs use sight AND smell to understand their surroundings and communicate. They have up to 300 million sensory receptor sites in their nasal cavity, compared to our 6 million, and the smelling section of a dog’s brain is over 40 times larger than ours!

This means the area of the canine brain that analyses smells is over 40 times larger than the same part of the human brain. So, it’s no wonder dogs are estimated to smell somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 times better than us humans! Ever notice how your Spaniel suddenly appears when you silently try to open that packet of crisps you’re trying not to share?!

Dogs can be trained to use these incredible olfactory abilities in various ways, including detecting drugs, explosives, different illnesses such as cancer or diabetes, casualties and even human remains. During Covid, we started training dogs to sniff out the COVID-19 virus, and although this was a small study, the dogs trained could find an infected individual from scent alone with a 94 % accuracy. So, can they smell the changes of pregnancy?

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Bailey. A.K.A Mr Clingy!

Detecting the physiological changes women have when pregnant

The physiological changes women experience when they’re pregnant include the increase of hormones, such as hCG, hPL, oestrogen and progesterone, all of which help maintain a healthy pregnancy, change our familiar scent, nurture the growing baby and stimulate milk glands for breastfeeding.

These changes are likely detected by dogs, potentially causing a difference in their behaviour.

Dogs can also discriminate between the odours of individuals before and after a stress-inducing task. Throw into the mix, morning sickness, changes to our gait, difficulty moving about as usual, and pregnancy aches and pains and possibly a few mood swings! And a dog that’s acutely aware of our normal behaviour, mood and smell, it makes sense your Spaniel would pick up on these changes.

So yes, your dog likely knows something has changed, but do they actually know exactly what it is? The science is mixed, and while there have not been any official studies on whether dogs can detect pregnancy in people, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s entirely possible.

What I’m doing to get the boys prepared

I’m acutely aware my dogs may feel a range of emotions when we bring the baby home from the hospital. And I don’t think anyone knows exactly how things will go.

But there are things we can do now to reduce the impact on our dogs.

The first thing I’ve started to do is play baby noises at a low volume throughout the day, when they eat a stuffed Kong or are on a favourite walk, to help create a positive association with the noise. I get some slightly odd looks when I walk past someone with baby noises on but no baby, but needs must!

Another huge part of my preparations is establishing and maintaining existing desired behaviours, which will be so important once we have an extra person in our house AND lots of visitors calling in.

These include…

Jumping up at me. Often, when I come in, I smell of many different Spaniels. Naturally, mine want to jump up on me and have a good old sniff to get all the downloads of who I’ve been with and what I’ve been doing! I now keep a pot of treats on me, and as soon as I come in, I ask for a sit and reward this calm behaviour. Now, when I come in, they’re starting to automatically sit and wait for their treat. As behaviour that gets rewarded gets repeated.

The same goes for in the morning. I don’t know about you, but in the morning, it’s like the boys haven’t seen us for 500 days?! They’re so excited to say hi and start their day! I’ve now started as I open the door, asking them to go and lie down in their beds, which I then reward and say hi to them in their beds instead of them running all around the room. As when I walk into the kitchen holding a baby, it’ll be very helpful if they’re not zooming around my feet!

Going to their beds. The boys already have a strong go-to-bed cue, but we’re practising sending them from different distances and with different distractions. Can you go to your bed when I’m sitting on a chair? What about if I’m sat on the floor? What about if I’m holding a wrapped-up blanket in my arms? What about if I lean down on the floor and pretend to put a nappy on a teddy?! I do have video footage of a client working on this. It helped their dog loads when their baby arrived, but they may kill me if I post it on this blog, haha!

Because we all know a lot of different distractions will be going on in the first few weeks/months of living with a newborn and the more we can prepare our Spaniel for, the better!

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Much love for your bed, boys?!

Sofa behaviour. As we’ll be spending a lot of time on the sofa, nursing, cuddling and settling the baby, I’m also reinforcing a sit and ask for the boys to come up, rather than just allowing them to jump on, and rewarding calm settled behaviour on the sofa. I’m also reinforcing a powerful positive off cue, so if I want to get them off the sofa, I can just ask, and it’s not a punishment.

Calmness with visitors. Lots of family and friends will want to visit the baby, so I’m preparing for this in advance. I often make up licky mats when we have visitors, and as a person enters the house, the licky mat goes down. It gives a positive association and directs the boys’ attention to the floor. I also, at times when people come over, even now, pair it with the boys being given something nice to chew in the kitchen, but not always getting to come and say hello, as there are likely times when people may come (health visitors etc.) who may not want to see two Spaniels. Though I can’t imagine why!

When visitors come in to meet the baby, if appropriate, I’ll also encourage them to say hi to the boys first and to give them an enrichment item or something to do. So,  again, good stuff happens when people arrive, and it’s not just all focused on the baby.

Door training. I plan to get a doorbell and reliably train for this new sound, so the doorbell will equal “go to your bed.” I’ve trained this successfully with many, many Spaniels, and I did have it with knocking until an Amazon driver (other delivery drivers are available!) literally tried to knock my door down recently, giving us all a heart attack and undoing all my hard work! So, I’ll restart this again fresh. If I’ve finally got the baby asleep (please, please sleep!), the last thing I want is sudden barking causing chaos.

Drop and leave it training. I regularly play with Bailey with socks. Kobie has zero interest and almost looks offended if you give him a sock! So, I’m teaching Bailey to be able to retrieve them and bring them to me. This may be very helpful when I’m putting the washing on, as I can send him to retrieve the baby clothes and bring them to me! At the same time, I’m reinforcing the boys’ leave it cue with random new objects, as they’ll need to learn to leave the baby’s stuff alone too. We bought a giant elephant teddy for the nursery and found Kobie cuddled up to it, so we went out and bought him his own separate monkey cuddle toy! One idea is to add separate scents to both your dogs’ and the baby’s toys, and praise and reward your dog for acknowledging their scent items and ignoring the others.

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What is it about Spaniels and socks?!

Changes to routine

Routines are great. But with the best will in the world, I expect ours to go slightly out the window when the baby arrives! Bailey also can resource guard against Kobie. With Bailey, this happens more when things change and he gets stressed, and obviously, there’s going to be a fair amount of change, so I want to keep routine as much as possible for him but also help him start to get used to things being a bit different.

With this in mind, I’m varying the times the boys are being fed and walked by me to get them used to this fact more, and so we don’t get frustrated whining if dinner is not served promptly at 6pm (Spaniels and their internal alarm clocks!)  Also, some of our walks are now shorter as I’m attempting to catch my breath at times! Especially if they want to drag me up to sniff up all the exciting hills. Thanks, boys! If I have already done 3 plus hours of walking in the day with clients, which is normal I also often fancy chilling out slightly!

The boys have a fantastic dog walker who’s also a good friend, and they regularly go on group walks with their doggy friends. For me, it’s vital I maintain this routine, so they still get their walking and social needs met if I can’t do it straight away or walk as far as they’re used to. And I plan to initially ideally have them going out every day with her or as much as possible, so I know their needs are met, and their routine is kept. When we first take them out all together, I plan to hire some secure fields and book these in advance, so they can enjoy running around and we don’t have to worry about anything else and can just adjust to walking as a family of five.

Usually, I lean down and pop the boys’ leads and harnesses on when they’re in their beds. I can still do this fine currently, but I’m aware this may change. So, I now sit on a chair and call them over individually to have their leads on while the other waits in bed. I then ask them to put their paws up on my lap, reward them for this, pop the leads on, and then ask them to go back to their beds and reward them again.

Have you thought about the plan when you go into hospital? If your dog will be staying at a boarders or a family member’s, make sure you’ve done a test run. Please don’t send them there for the first time when you go into hospital. And check the boarders, etc. have some flexibility with dates. Babies don’t tend to do things on time! Around 5% of babies tend to arrive on their due date; the others whenever they feel like it!

Is your dog up to date with all their vaccinations? Flea treatment, groomers, etc? Try to get those dates in the diary now, so you’re not suddenly having to rush to the vets when you have a newborn.

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Soon to be a family of five!

Introducing new equipment

Lead walking with a pram. Some shops, such as John Lewis, are dog friendly, so you can take your dog to see the prams (and all the other massive amount of baby equipment!) there. Or if you know someone with a pram, you can join them for a walk. Walking next to a pram will be scary for some dogs, so they’ll need time to adjust and get used to it. Start at a distance they’re comfortable with and reward calm, settled behaviour. You may also need both hands free at times with a baby, so you may want to look at getting your dog used to being walked on a waist belt too.

Use of stairgates. If you plan to use stairgates once the baby arrives, fit them well in advance, so your dog can get used to settling behind them. Try to build up positive associations by placing a stuffed Kong behind the stairgate as they become accustomed to it. Spaniels tend to get frustrated with barriers and often suffer from FOMO!, so work on this, as you’ll likely have to have these safety measures in place with a tiny baby. I plan to have brought in a lot of the baby ‘stuff’ by January, which will give my boys plenty of time to get used to it. When I bring the baby home, I want the boys to already be used to everything else, so the only new thing is the baby itself.

Introducing children

You can introduce dogs to the concept of having children in their homes in a few different ways.

Start going to parks where they’re more likely to see and hear children (if your dog is ok with this). Spend time observing if they react or pay more attention to anything. Do they appear worried about anything? Do they jump if a child suddenly runs or screams? Are they ok if a child wants to say hello to them? Remember to reward calm and settled behaviour as you do this, and pair seeing the children with good things.

If you know friends with children, could you meet them with your dog for a walk? Start slowly at a distance your dog can manage, and once again, reward all calm and settled behaviour. I recently met up with a friend who has recently had a baby and walked Bailey alongside the pram. He was absolutely fine, and apart from looking slightly confused when the baby suddenly cried, he had little interest, which is perfect.

Practice holding a pretend baby and settling it. Ask your dog to go to their bed whilst you do this, as this is a behaviour you may be expecting a lot once the baby’s here. Try adding in baby crying noises underneath the blanket/fake doll you’re holding and see how your dog reacts. Again, reward calm behaviour.

How do we know when our dogs are happy about things?

Understanding the subtle and not-so-subtle signs that our dogs are feeling stressed out is essential. We can then ensure there’s adequate supervision and appropriate intervention to help them feel more settled and happier.

Subtle signs of stress include: 

  • Yawning (unless genuinely tired)  
  • Panting (often with a curled tip of their tongue)
  • Pacing back and forth 
  • Licking their lips
  • Ears pinned back
  • Dilated pupils or red around the eyes, whites of their eyes showing (whale eye)

More obvious signs are: 

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Backing away from someone or a situation 
  • Tail tucked between legs 
  • Cowering (shrinking down or crouching) 
  • Diarrhoea or increased bowel movements 
  • Trembling or shivering (when they’re not cold or excited) 

If your dog gets very stressed out or growls at your baby, treat it as communication and get some help in early.

How to introduce your new human baby to your Spaniel

Ideally, we want our dog(s) to be calm, chilled and not that bothered about the baby. In other words, we expect neutral behaviour. I don’t want the boys to be super excited, and I don’t want them to be worried. I just want, “Oh, ok. Cool. Guess there’s 5 of us now.”

My plan for introducing the baby to the boys goes something like this…

  1. We’ll have prepared some tasty stuffed Kongs or asked someone to do this for us.
  • I’ll go in first (hopefully!) to say hello to the boys. They’ll already have had a walk with their walker, and their needs met as much as I can plan for that! I’ll remain calm and chilled as I walk in, and maybe pop the kettle on! (This may be wishful thinking as who knows what time the baby will arrive! But I shall adapt the plan accordingly!)
  • My husband will wait outside in the car with the baby. He’ll then come in once I’ve got the boys to settle (likely with a Kong if I need to). I’ll pop them on the lead (asking for extra help if needed. As who knows how I’ll feel).
  • Once the boys are chilled, I’ll let them come over individually and sniff the baby’s feet/blanket – but that’s up to them. Ideally, they’ll already be used to the car seat, Moses’ basket, etc, so the only change will be the baby itself.

Most importantly, don’t force the interaction. Your Spaniel doesn’t need to be your baby’s best friend straight away. This will likely come with time. What we’re aiming for is neutrality. So, we don’t want the baby to mean mega excitement or stress. Just, “Oh, ok. Cool. This new thing has joined us, but nothing much has changed for me. I’m still the same nutty loved Spaniel I always was J”

With all this being said, I’m sure things will come up, changes will obviously be made, and I’ll write more about them then. But for now, that’s my plan to help prepare for the Mini Spaniel Guru’s arrival. If you’re also expecting and adding to your Spaniel family, I’d love to hear about what your plans are!

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Paws crossed the baby sleeps!

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