Dogs may be man's best friend, but are they family-friendly too? Lisa Salmon looks at how to make dogs an important and safe part of a family with children.
By Lisa Salmon
Owning a dog can be very rewarding - but for new parents, it can also be utterly nerve-wracking.
You can never be totally sure how a dog will react to a baby, and indeed a new poll by the dog welfare charity Dogs Trust and the parenting charity NCT found that almost half of new parents (46%) found it challenging to cope with their dog and a new baby, and one in six (17%) had considered giving up their dog when the baby arrived.
As well as getting rid of the dog being a tragedy for the animal, it may also be a sad loss for the family, as dogs can bring huge benefits to a family, both the Dogs Trust and NCT agree.
Those benefits, they say, include teaching children about responsibility, increasing their exercise through dog walking, reducing their risk of allergies including asthma and eczema and, of course, companionship.
In a bid to stop new parents getting rid of their dogs, the two charities have joined forces to create a new leaflet aimed at preparing dog owning parents-to-be for life with a baby and a dog, just like Prince William and Kate Middleton, who are expecting a baby in July and have a young cocker spaniel, Lupo.
Dogs Trust chief executive Clarissa Baldwin explains: "We are seeing many perfectly happy and well-behaved dogs abandoned at our rehoming centres once their owners become pregnant or a new baby arrives.
"Yet by being prepared before the baby arrives, many of these worries can be dispelled and the family dog can continue to be a part of the happy family."
NCT chief executive Belinda Phipps adds: "All parents want the best for their new baby. Some may think this means giving up their dog, but by following some simple steps, new mums and dads can feel more confident about preparing themselves and their pet for their new arrival."
The NCT and the Dogs Trust make the following suggestions for dog-owning new parents: :: Dogs like routine and it's never too early to get your pet used to changes before baby comes home, so it won't associate the baby with upheaval. If some rooms will be 'dog free', put baby gates up before baby's born and get the dog used to staying in his bed, perhaps with a chew, for short periods every day, so when mum or dad's busy with baby the dog's happy on his own.
:: While family members or health workers may suggest you get rid of your dog, if the dog is friendly with people you should be able to introduce the new baby to it quite happily.
:: Involve the dog in as much family life as possible so he feels included.
:: Think about how to make dog walking as easy as possible - a sling might be easier than a pram as it leaves you with your hands free to hold the dog's lead.
:: Dogs love cuddly toys but can find it tricky to differentiate between their toys and the baby's, so keep the dog's toys separate and perhaps smear a tiny blob of peanut butter on them.
:: Being a new parent is time consuming, but always make time to stroke or groom your dog, so they have your undivided attention away from the kids.
While one in five of the 1,000 expectant parents surveyed had been told by family, friends and health professionals to give up their dog before their baby arrived, very few were given any advice about how to introduce their new arrival to their dog, and 52% said they'd like to see more guidance from health professionals on the matter.
The Dogs Trust stresses that whether you have a baby or older children, there are certain golden rules which should always be followed: :: Never leave your dog alone with your child.
:: Never punish or shout at the dog for approaching your baby.
:: Always praise the dog for behaving gently with your baby/child.
:: Always keep your child well away from the dog's food bowl.
:: Never let your child interrupt his sleep or take away his toys.
:: Never let your child shout in the dog's face or pull his tail.
The worst case scenario if such rules aren't followed is that a child may get bitten - and that's certainly a parental fear.
Rosie Dodds, the NCT's senior policy adviser, says: "Dog attacks are rare, but for those new parents who said they found it challenging coping with their dog and a baby, a quarter said they were worried about their baby's safety.
"All parents with dogs need to follow the Dogs Trust golden rules when children are around dogs, and it's important to ensure your dog is properly trained, under control and supervised at all times."
:: For more information or to download the New Baby leaflet, visit www.dogstrust.org.uk Ask the expert Q: "Do I need to look after my teeth better than ever during pregnancy? If so, why?"
A: Karen Coates, dental advisor at the British Dental Health Foundation, says: "There's a growing body of evidence that suggests looking after oral health during pregnancy is very important.
"Pregnant women should not neglect their mouths, particularly if there's a possibility of it having an impact on the unborn baby.
"Only recently the Foundation has discovered poor oral health before and during pregnancy has the potential to cause complications.
"High levels of oestrogen can cause gum disease during pregnancy. If you already have gum disease, research has also shown you're up to five times more likely to suffer from high blood pressure during pregnancy, which could result in maternal deaths, miscarriages and pre-term births.
"Regular appointments with the dentist and hygienist may not be at the top of your priority list during pregnancy, but their importance cannot be underestimated.
"The dentist or hygienist may be able to give you advice on how to care for your teeth at home if you're suffering from morning sickness, not to mention a thorough cleaning and general advice on how to look after your teeth and gums at home.
"Even those with good oral health will experience changes throughout pregnancy. Some women will find their gums will bleed more easily, a problem made worse if you're already suffering from gum disease.
"This shouldn't put you off brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day, using a fluoride toothpaste, or from keeping up good oral hygiene throughout.
"As NHS dental care is free for mums-to-be, visiting the dentist isn't going to impact on those vital pennies ahead of your newborn's arrival. All you need is to be a registered NHS patient and to have a current maternity exemption certificate."
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