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Training Dogs in the First Trimester

I’m pregnant! This very exciting news has changed life in our home in a major way. Because let me tell you, the first trimester is rough! At least, it was for me.

When you are bringing a child into a home with dogs, there is training that needs to be done to get the dogs ready. Not only do they need to start getting used to the ways life will change once the baby is there, but you will also need them to have certain skills that they might not have. If they do have those skills, you need to practice them and make sure they are as strong as they can possibly be.

Before the full symptoms of my first trimester truly kicked in I was all gung ho. I was ready to hit the ground running with this training. In general, I have been slacking on training with my dogs during the pandemic. There has been a level of fatigue about it for me, and life with them has been pretty bearable without really training, because we aren’t really going anywhere or doing anything. But this was a reason to train! An inspiration and a solid set of goals to work towards. Simple!

Except that pregnancy is tough, and far from simple. And the first trimester tends to be very rough for some people, a lucky group that I am apparently included in. Pretty quickly all of my training plans went out the window as I spent days on end on the couch nauseous and dizzy beyond all reason. “Morning” sickness really is no joke, and the fatigue that sets in is next level. However, we learned a lot about what is really coming for the dogs, and I want to share what we learned with you.

The biggest thing that we learned was coming, and we kind of expected this already, is that I wasn’t going to have the same kind of energy for exercising them as I usually do. Daily hikes pretty quickly turned into every other day walks around the neighborhood. For two of our dogs this really isn’t a problem. However, this is a huge problem for the Border Collie. So, we also learned that we are going to have to find different ways to exercise her, and different rhythms for it. Before becoming pregnant taking a hike was part of my morning routine. I would typically be out of the house by 8am to take one or two of them for an off leash hike nearby. Once I was pregnant though, getting out of bed before 9am became impossible, especially in any real functioning way. So, we started doing hikes around lunchtime and early afternoon instead. This seemed to be a sweet spot in the day for me where I was much more able to go hiking. It still decreased in frequency, to about two-three times a week instead of daily, but more than never! Since this was a bigger problem for the Border Collie as well, she got the focus of these hikes.

So the big first takeaway we had on what to work on through this pregnancy is:

  • Get the border collie used to lower levels of exercise

  • Stop feeling guilty about prioritizing each dog's specific needs

Each of our dogs have very different and distinct personalities, and they each have very different needs. Allie’s major needs and joys in life are sunning herself in the front yard, eating, and occasionally very gently squeaking a toy. She loves a good walk around the neighborhood as well. So for her, time outside sitting with us in the grass every day, a couple of neighborhood walks a week, and some snacks and she’s happy! Cricket, our new Chihuahua, needs an endless supply of squeaky toys and cuddles. So those are the things we focus on with him. Adelaide, the Border Collie, needs to RUN. So, hikes when we can, fetch when we can’t, walks as often as possible, and training or puzzle toys every day. It definitely seems like we favor Adelaide to an outsider, but really it’s just that she’s the only one who really needs that much activity and enjoys it. The other two are very happy little couch potatoes.

However, we do have to get her used to this big change we have coming, and that she’s not going to necessarily have her needs met every day. During the pandemic in general her exercise levels have gone down, just in our effort to avoid crowds. So that was honestly a baby step that has helped us out a bit. And we are starting early. I don’t want the new arrival to immediately coincide with her getting less, I want it to be as gradual as possible.

So how do we achieve this? As I said, part of it is just doing less. We are also going to lean

back on some activities that I had removed from her routine. A little while ago we stopped playing fetch with Adelaide in an effort to focus on exercise that didn’t get her quite so amped up. With my now diminished ability to take her hiking, we are putting games of fetch back on the table. We are making some adjustments to our games to make sure that we aren’t creating the monster we looked to stop when we put these games away. Sometimes that means driving somewhere and using frisbees instead of tennis balls (because for some reason frisbees are much less exciting than tennis balls), and it always means working behaviors into our game. This means occasionally asking for a trick or obedience skill before rewarding with the toy.

We also, at this point, want to start getting our dogs used to changes around the house. Making plans for where they can go while the baby is having tummy time, setting up stations where they are used to hanging out by the time the baby gets here, and making sure that any major changes to the household rules start to go into effect now so that we all have time to practice them.

Success Stations are a big part of baby prep training for dogs. Success Stations (a term I believe was created by the wonderful Dogs & Storks organization, that I was lucky enough to learn about from former coworkers), are areas that we can set our dogs up in for success. This means they do not have access to the things that could create failure, but they also don’t get completely kicked out of family life. A success station can be something like a crate, a leash attached to a wall or heavy piece of furniture, an area behind a gate, or an exercise pen. No matter what station you choose to use (and I recommend having a couple of options) your pup should have access to a soft spot to lay down, and some water to drink. They should be able to be completely comfortable in their station.

So, our second big takeaway is to start making some small adjustments to our lives in terms of what will be allowed, and to get our dogs used to being closed out of certain spaces and used to success stations. We spend some time practicing hanging out behind baby gates calmly, and getting treats for being away from the humans. With Cricket, the Chihuahua, we have also practiced hanging out in an exercise pen and getting treats for relaxing in the pen while we do things on the other side. The first step with success stations is helping our dogs feel comfortable being apart from us but able to see us. We have also gone back to some basics of crate training to help our dogs be successful here.

When it’s boiled down, it doesn’t really seem like we’re doing a lot does it? My dogs have gotten some cookies for hanging out on the other side of barriers, being in their crates, and have gotten one bedroom permanently closed off to them. They’re also getting fewer walks and more puzzle toys. That’s it! But during the first trimester, the exhaustion and the nausea, for us that has been a lot.

As we begin to move into the second trimester, hopefully my energy will pick up and we will begin some more intensive training! Keep your eyes on our blog for updates as we move through pregnancy and life with a baby. I plan to keep you guys updated every step of the way! In the meantime, if you are expecting, or have a young baby as well and you would like some extra help in navigating the balance, please reach out! We are happy to set up some baby lessons and become a part of your support system.

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