If your dog isn’t housebroken, don’t get pregnant. If your dog is protective, fearful, or neurotic, don’t have a baby. If your dog is not child-ready, don’t have a child in your home.
In an ideal world, the things in the preceding paragraph would be considered logical and not insulting. However, life isn’t logical, and people with unsuitable dogs end up pregnant. And unfortunately, people often handle this dilemma selfishly, stupidly, or naively. Too often, they handle it disgracefully.
The Dog Who Isn’t Housebroken
It’s a really common story in rescue: We’re contacted by someone who is pregnant or has a newborn. Their dog is not housebroken, and since they don’t want their newborn to be playing in dog urine, they want to rehome their pet. When we offer training tips they can try so they can keep their dog, they refuse, often blaming their spouse, who has given them an unrealistic deadline to get the dog out of their home. They want us to take the dog, who at this point is often being crated up to 20 hours a day, NOW.
So after hearing another account of this a few days ago, I’ve realized it’s time to make a strong statement: HOUSETRAIN YOUR DOG BEFORE YOU GET PREGNANT. Why before, you ask? Well, once you get pregnant, your energy might be compromised, meaning that you simply can’t train your dog with the consistency necessary to make it successful. Also, you might be under additional stress, which can make dogs more likely to have accidents. And finally, your pregnancy is finite, and you want to give your dog as much time as possible to be housebroken before the baby comes, since even beautifully trained dogs have accidents with newborns in the house.
So if you’re planning to start a family, get to stepping on your dog’s housebreaking. Commit to it. If you are already pregnant and your dog isn’t housebroken, you need to solve that problem NOW. When the baby is born, it will be too late, and your dog will suffer as a result.
The Potentially Dangerous Dog
Another, more tragic, story, is that we’ll be contacted by a dog owner who has a dog with a nervous temperament. Maybe the dog guards resources or food. Maybe the dog is nervous around other people or dogs. Maybe the dog nips at people. The owner is about to have a baby, and has finally accepted the reality that their baby will not be safe around their dog. They need to get the dog out of their home right away because otherwise something awful is going to happen.
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t adopt a nervous dog if you were planning to have a baby. You’d accept the idea that you are planning to have a family some day, and when you got a dog, you’d get one with a mild temperament. Unfortunately, not all pregnancies are planned, and it’s possible you adopted a troubled dog never thinking that a few years down the road, you’d want children, too. It’s also possible that your dog developed bad behaviors when in your care (it happens).
If you find yourself pregnant and with a troubled dog, you need to evaluate what you are going to do quickly, and as early on in the pregnancy as possible. Get professionals in and have the problem assessed by a qualified trainer. Get a plan together, work with it, and have a drop-dead date by which your dog needs to be rid of these behaviors, or by which these behaviors need to be easily manageable. Make sure the drop-dead date is at least three months before the baby is due. If the dog doesn’t meet the standards by then, REHOME YOUR DOG CAREFULLY.
I’ve known people in the second situation, where their beloved dog was simply not suited for a home with young children. They’ve tried up until the last moment to make their dog fit in with their new life. They’ve spent thousands on trainers, drugs, and gates. Their hearts were in the right places, but they failed because some dogs are just not suited for homes with children. Unfortunately, because they waited until the last minute to realize this, they weren’t able to rehome their dogs as smoothly as possible. The problem wasn’t that time ran out, though, the problem was that their dog was never going to work in a home with small children, and they didn’t accept that reality until the bitter end. The owners needed to be prepared for the fact that things might not work.
Rehoming Your Dog
It’s not surprising that people wait so long to admit defeat; animal lovers, including rescues, tend to scorn people who become pregnant and then rehome their dogs. It’s short-sighted on the part of the animal lovers, but they do it anyway. Sometimes even the rescues that guarantee that they will take back any dogs they place will nevertheless make the person giving up the dog feel like dirt and refuse to tell them anything else once the dog is returned. It’s petty and vindictive, but it happens all the time. As a result, if you are the one who needs to rehome your animal, you are going to need to be tenacious and tough and prepare yourself for some unpleasantness. I’m sorry for that. However, that unpleasantness doesn’t excuse you from honoring your commitment to your dog.
It will help you in the case of rescues to document any formal training you had for your dog, and how that worked out. See if your trainer is willing to talk to the rescue; most will, because rescues refer a lot of people to trainers. That way they will know that you’re not just dumping your dog when things become inconvenient. You’ll get a lot more cooperation that way. You’ll also get more help from the rescue when you keep them posted on problems your dog is experiencing from the get-go, even when you are optimistic that you can handle it yourself.
Remember, too, that it isn’t acceptable for you to simply fob your troubled dog off on a family member or friend. Not only is it likely to be dangerous to the dog (dogs that are passed around are significantly more likely to ultimately end up in shelters), but it’s not going to give them the home they need to overcome the process. Unless you have a family member who is an experienced pet owner and who already knows your dog, you owe your dog more. You need to figure out the ideal situation for your dog and then find a home with those attributes. There are dozens of articles out there on how to rehome your dog. I suggest you read at least six of them, draw your conclusions, and then draw up a plan.
This particular pet ownership hurdle is so well known that there is an organization dedicated to smoothing the transition from House with Dog to House with Dog and Children. Family Paws Parent Education offers resources, including a hotline, for prospective parents. It’s a great place to start. (Thanks to Lisa Arant from Small and Tall Dog Training for this recommendation.)