Before starting their human family, many couples choose to get a pet dog as a kind of test run to see how they fare with the responsibility and various 'parenting' tasks - especially when they are eager to start their 'family' together but aren't quite ready for kids.

Things can get a little more complicated, however, when you decide that yes, you are ready for a new, human addition to your family. How will your canine kiddo cope when you have to split your attention between him and the new baby? How can you make sure your two 'babies' grow up to become best of friends?

Luckily, dog experts out there have it all figured out. There are steps you can take before the arrival of your baby and once she's born to make sure that your dog is not too startled by the change and is ready to bond with your baby.

The non-negotiables

First of all, there are some things that you should know straight away to prevent yourself from getting into a sticky situation.

Never leave a baby or small child in a room alone with a dog, no matter how friendly or small they are. Accidents can happen, and all dogs - no matter how good-natured their breed is known to be - can act unpredictably when frightened.

Before your baby arrives

Preparation with your dog for when the baby comes along should begin well before she's born. Dogs are creatures of habit more than anything else, so the change in their schedule that's likely to occur when baby comes along may be the most upsetting to them. As early on as possible in your pregnancy, make some changes to your routine that reflect what life will be like once the baby comes along.

For example, as hard as it may be, you may want to slowly reduce the amount of time you spend with your dog one on one.

You can also do things such as take your dog out for a walk with an empty stroller, so he gets used to the feeling of something else being there when you go out to complete your normal activity. Play some tapes or CDs of babies crying and gurgling to get him used to the sounds of the new addition, and allow him to sniff around all the new baby clothes and furniture so he becomes more and more comfortable with all the changes as your pregnancy progresses.

Now is also the time to brush up on commands such as sit, lie down and stay. This will make it easier for you when the baby's in the house - you need your dog to be obedient when you're going about your important tasks.

Once the baby arrives

When you are in the hospital after labour, send one of your baby's blankies or a piece of clothing she has worn home to your dog with your partner or another family member, and instruct them to introduce it to your dog with treats and praise. This will get your dog used to the strange new scent and help him develop a positive association with it.

If possible, have somebody exercise your dog before you come home with your infant, so that he's not bounding around with a ton of energy and will be in a more tranquil mood.

This is where it gets a little more interesting! Once you get home you can begin to introduce your baby and your dog to each other. Put your dog on a leash so you know that you have a good control of him. Sit down and let your dog indulge in a little curiosity, perhaps gently smelling your baby's feet so that he can get used to her scent.

Slowly and surely you can let your dog spend a little more time with your baby. You can encourage good behaviour by giving him a treat when he is around her, which will carry on with that positive association and encourage bonding between the two.

Also learn to give your dog attention at the same time as your baby, so that he doesn't feel completely ignored when she's around - once again, this will help to foster positive connotations for 'baby time' in your pet's mind. Making sure you and your partner still spend some one-on-one time with Fido will also help.

The best breeds

Some of the best, baby-friendly breeds of dog are said to be beagles, Labradors, collies, poodles and cavoodles. If you use these baby-bonding techniques with one of these breeds, you're even more likely to nourish a successful relationship between your furry little baby and your human one.

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