Dogs are incredible, intelligent beings. Dogs have been trained to scent out chemicals, weapons, drugs, and more recently, diseases like cancer. Scientists are doing a lot of research on the things that dogs may be able to be trained to smell. A dog’s nose is a powerful tool. Even untrained dogs may be able to tell when their humans’ bodies change. The theory being that dogs are able to smell the surge in hormones that happens when a woman is pregnant, maybe even before she realizes it. So why do dogs act differently around pregnant women? Why do some get protective?
The Root of the Behavior
A dog’s nose is extremely powerful. Based on research findings, dogs have between 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive sniffers than humans. They have around 300 million olfactory receptor cells in their noses. Humans have about six million. So what does all this mean? Researchers have not yet fully explored the full extent of dogs’ sniffing abilities. But they have shown that dogs’ noses are far superior to ours. Dogs may smell scent traces left on your shoes or clothes from someone or something you may have been around for only a moment. They can identify thousands of scents and remember them distinctly. When a woman becomes pregnant, her hormones surge, which may change her unique personal scent.
Additionally, as her body changes—and her movement changes as a result—dogs can pick up on those changes and they may react to them. Dogs may not consciously know why their owner’s scent changes, but they may react regardless. Odds are, something in your routine will change for pregnancy; whether it’s getting up more often at night, cooking and eating habits, arriving home at a different time, or even organizing or remodeling for the baby’s room may send your dog into a different kind of behavior. Your body language will also be giving your dog clues. It’s common for dogs to become more alert or even protective of their pregnant owners. Not every dog will change during their owner’s pregnancy. Some may remain apathetic or unaffected. Others may become more attentive and affectionate. Your dog will notice your change in body language, whether you intended your dog to or not. If your dog perceives all the changes as vulnerability, they may consider it their personal mission to stay by your side and protect you during your pregnancy. Some may even become territorial or defensive of their owners.
Encouraging the Behavior
Once a dog gets used to the change, their behaviors should subside back to normal. And they will eventually also have to adapt to the other sudden change in routine—when your baby comes home. You can prepare your dog for the change in routine during pregnancy so that the sudden addition of a much louder, smaller family member isn’t as jarring. Start by keeping the routine as close to normal as possible. This includes your dog’s usual walks or exercise. If you’re unable to take your dog, try to have someone else walk him or her, whether it’s your spouse, or a friend or relative. Giving your dog sufficient attention throughout the pregnancy will also help reassure them that you’re okay and everything is fine. Pay attention to your body language as well. Pregnant women often place their hands over their bellies, which indicates to a dog that you’re unavailable. Open arms or hands is a more welcoming gesture.
Have a plan for your dog during your hospital stay, and maybe also during the first few days at home. If you can have a friend or relative walk your dog for you, your dog will appreciate the routine reliability and you will appreciate the break. If your dog begins acting destructive or fearful, you may need to consult a vet or a trainer for assistance.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Introducing a new baby to your dog can be a tricky process, depending on your dog and how well they adapt to change. If your dog resists any changes to their routine, you may need to start early, well before baby comes home, to prepare your dog for the new changes to your household. In particular, reinforcing boundaries is important—especially if you want to keep your dog out of baby’s room and off your lap while you are holding the baby. Praise your dog for waiting before leaping into your lap, or set up a rug in front of baby’s room as a visible boundary for your dog. Consult a trainer for other ways to set and maintain boundaries with your dog.
Pregnancy is hard. Having a baby is hard. Your dog may be picking up on the changes happening during pregnancy, both physical and emotional. Preparing your dog can be just as important as preparing your hospital bag. Make sure your furry family member is not being left out of the planning. The better prepared you are, the easier the transition will be.